The many many times God has changed my life and how I became an Anglican!

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The many many times God has changed my life and how I became an Anglican!

I have edited this piece as I realised it was fairly full of errors and needed clarification

Gas and Oil

SO many times It seems God has changed my life, changed my direction, changed my world view.

Looking back, I can see how that when I thought I knew all the answers, I had many ideas and opinions about God and how church should be. Its those ideas and opinions which we love to cling to, that God in His grace, through trials and difficulties, has to sometimes prise away from us, like a Father, with that thing which does His child no good. We can’t let go easily but The Lord has a way of humbling us, like He did with Israel, leading us as they through deserts and wildernesses, pits and valleys to bring us to a better place and to a better understanding of His ways, our own ways and the ways of those around us.

Deuteronomy 8.2 . . ..and you shall remember that the Lord…

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Brother of mine.

Brother of mine,

Come over here,

where the light of the sun really shows,

the lines,

the dirt,

the stress,

the war,

Where the tears streaked it 

All down your face.

Why do you stand there?

Back of the alley?

Back, in the shadows,

it’s cold in there and the light doesn’t reach 

and your movement is limited, constricted, 

bound by those protective walls.

It’s not the great wild open,

it’s not outside the box,

Not the God promised green pastures,

The ones you long for.

Still, I suppose there’s a security,

at least the wind doesn’t bite,

The ice cold rain spits less vehement

and the cloak of alley hides little guilty sins,

and yes, I have stood too in the shadow alley,

breaking down the shades of night,

with shades of night,

pissing on the bricks of yesteryear,

looking how the moss grows green,

on damp mortar,

but hey, brother, just step out,

over here,

look at this hill fort,

this green place,

that mountain stream,

life outside the alley goes on without you,

but calls for you to join again.

 

The many many times God has changed my life and how I became an Anglican!

SO many times It seems God has changed my life, changed my direction, changed my world view.

Looking back, I can see how that when  I thought I knew all the answers, I had many ideas and opinions about God and how church should be. Its those ideas and opinions which we love to cling to, that God in His grace, through trials and difficulties, has to sometimes prise away from us, like a Father, with that thing which does His child no good. We can’t let go easily but The Lord has a way of humbling us, like He did with Israel, leading us as they through deserts and wildernesses, pits and valleys to bring us to a better place and to a better understanding of His ways, our own ways and the ways of those around us.

Deuteronomy 8.2 . . ..and you shall remember that the Lord your God led you these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.

So goes the story of how I became an Anglican.

Rev. Simon Ponsonby once said, slightly tongue in cheek that with his upbringing in a brethren church he was kind of led to believe that the Roman Catholic Church was the whore of Babylon and the Anglican Church was her illegitimate heir! Awful as it now seems I related to that thought, as my upbringing had been similar, though of course understated, not directly preached, but nevertheless still there. Free church evangelicals have their spiritual pride and sometimes look down on everyone else as apostates or on the way to it. I was once pretty much in that camp.

Growing up in an evangelical free church of course The Reformation was everything. You were either an Arminian or a Calvinist and as teenagers we tried to suss out the big deal. As a Christian all my world view seemed to be coloured by this. A diet of Martin Luther, The Wesleys, and John Bunyan (mostly) were to be our role models for modern life growing up in the 1970’s. Childhood teachings bear their fruit sometimes years later and such fruit grew on a holiday to Rome with my wife in our 20’s. In Rome there is a church which contains the ‘Scala Sancta’ or Holy Stairs. These are believed by many to have been the stairs which Christ himself ascended on the way to His trial, then moved to Rome by The Emperor Constantines mother St Helena. Ever since, Roman Catholics have traversed these steps on their knees in penance and reverence. I had heard, of course that that great hero of Protestantism, Martin Luther had gotten halfway up and, divinely inspired, had got off his knees understanding that ‘the just shall live by faith’ and hence walked the rest of the way. In the steps of Luther then, I marched to the top making my wife come with me, amongst all those penitential works blinded Roman Catholics kissing their rosaries and entreating me to get down on my knees.  I imagine that the same scenario has been played out many times since the reformation. When we arrived at the top, a guide quickly showed us down the back steps and out of the building. Had I acted out my faith like Luther? Maybe, more of an act of violent sectarianism and disrespect.  Alas I was yet proud and worse still proud of my faith and like that story Jesus told of the Pharisee and tax collector in the temple, maybe I had more in common with the Pharisee. “Thank you Lord, that I am not like those works blind Catholics”.

I was not aware then, that my thinking was amiss and considered myself to be a good evangelical. I would often seek to share something of Christ at work or out on the streets with friends or as part of outreach teams. God has His own ways of humbling our proud hearts for His own purposes.

It must have been around 1998 when my wife and I became disillusioned with prosperity teaching in the Pentecostal churches which we had been attending and became part of another non conformist experiment. This church was made up of many who were disaffected with extremes of teaching at the time of the Toronto Blessing and also a large contingent of people who had leanings or pretensions as messianic believers, teaching that to really understand the bible you had to approach it from a Jewish mindset, rather than a western mindset. Some of these folk, though very sincere reminded me of the false teachers whom St Paul warned against in his epistle of Galatians, people who wanted to hold up justification by law and by faith at the same time. One person even went so far as to get circumcised! A third element in the church were brethren, in which that particular church had its roots. These people tried to understand the other elements and be a steadying reasoned word based influence, which they largely were, though there seemed to be little clear and distinct leadership, amongst us. ( Maybe a brethren reluctance to be called Pastor, in itself a noble enough sentiment, though churches do need strong leadership.)

As the 20th century closed many in our church and elsewhere fully expected the millennium bug to stop everything and planes to fall out of the sky as all computers would cease to work. Some stockpiled water and other essentials, but like clouds without rain the year 2000 dawned and nothing came of the predictions.

Around the same time I discovered a group of Christians on-line who would go every year to do outreach at Glastonbury Festival and also to Sidmouth Folk Festival for a week of evangelism. This interested me, so I managed to book a place on their team to Sidmouth that summer. That first year I had an amazing time, just sharing my faith and joining in extended times of worship with the team, serving coffee, tea and chai in the little cafe at Sidmouth YMCA. We would sing and pray and talk in tongues and then walk off down to the town to speak to people, really walking on air, it seemed. High on love and the Holy Spirit. Peoples lives seemed to get touched and there was a great sense of  excitement about being part of Gods work. I wanted more of this, much more, it seemed that for years I had been alone, trying to plant seeds as best I could, now I had a direction, I felt this was Gods leading. If I had any doubts or reservations about what I was involved in it was that the leaders of the team embraced and taught extreme prosperity teaching, health and wealth, name it and claim it Christianity, something which I felt at odds with at that particular time.

That following year another element had came arisen to change my thinking. This was a film. The life story of St Francis of Assisi, made in the 1970s by Francisco Zafferelli is a somewhat rosy and romanticised life of St Francis, but it really caught my imagination at the time. Francis became one of my heroes, then, I think, as he loved the poor, preached against the excesses of the medieval church and renounced his earthly fathers wealth to gain his heavenly Fathers blessing and enter his kingdom. This seemed suddenly much closer to the teaching of Christ than a modern health and wealth teaching which seemed to have the blessing of self at its centre rather than the love of others. I watched the film several times, till my family were bored, made my mother come round and watch it, told friends. I guess that’s what you do when God impresses something on your heart and mind, you tell others, it spills over into your life and conversation and it colours your thinking. Yes Francis was a catholic, but God seemed to be using his life and witness to speak to me, beginning to humble my proud Protestant mindset.

I wanted something of Francis’ experience too, something radical, untainted and an experiential Christianity, where people really knew God and walked with Him, not only talked about doctrine or claimed to know Him. Blessed are the poor, one of the foundations stones of Franciscan life, straight from the teaching of Jesus, really captured my imagination too at that time.

Here reaching out at Sidmouth Folk Festival were a group of fundamentalist believers convinced that God really wanted them wealthy, whilst by contrast many of the very people whom they were preaching to at Glastonbury and Sidmouth had renounced wealth, renounced materialism, renounced capital and self aggrandisement and were trying to live simply, spiritually and differently. I felt at that time that these hippies and punks may have been closer to the kingdom than those trying to convert them! Maybe that was an extreme thought and yes, these people still desperately needed to meet with Jesus as their saviour, but hadn’t even Jesus himself taught the religious leaders on one occasion that the tax collectors and prostitutes were entering heaven ahead of them.? So was my reasoning, that summer of 2001 as I left for Sidmouth Folk week.

I wondered also, how will lives be changed sowing pieces of paper with words about Jesus? It suddenly occurred to me that I had been doing this for years and years with little fruit to show. I thought of the words of someone who had rejected a Jesus tract on a previous occasion. “It’s just more paper, people don’t need more paper about God they want evidence”. With this in mind I decided to try and fast whilst on the outreach, desperate for something to happen in someone’s life and to make a difference. I informed the leader that this was my intention. He said to me, well it can’t do any harm! So I began to fast from then. I didn’t embark upon a total fast as I had never done that, as I was a total novice at such disciplines and I didn’t stop drinking fluids. When communal mealtimes came round I didn’t want to to tell everybody I was fasting so I just took very minimal amounts of food, like plain rice. As the week went on I became more and more dissociated from the team and the joy and banter around the table, really sinking down into myself  (and God) and unable to join in. People were asking me  if I was ok so were obviously quite concerned about me. Another element which added to my difficulty was that the leader had me on the rota to work in the kitchen for the cafe for the week, quite difficult preparing food for others when trying to fast. There were some times of relief and quiet, such as the time when I stumbled into the parish church for some moments of prayer. Tourists and sight seers came and went with their cameras and their chatter but I was aware of God in that place. Peace and rest aside from clamour and noise. I headed back to the YMCA strengthened within, not really because of a church building, but maybe excited about God building His church.

At one point during the week I was serving in the Cafe and spoke about Jesus to a hippy girl asking her what she thought about Jesus. Her name was Angie and she had travelled from Germany, renounced material possessions and was living in a community of travellers in the woods nearby. Angie told me that she believed not in a “god”, but “gods” and embraced Panthiesm, believing that God filled and was a part of everything and she didnt really believe in a monotheistic God distinct from His creation like Christians do. We didnt reach an agreement, and she left the cafe that day.

On the last day of the outreach I stepped outside the kitchen and into the street.

There was Angie again, sitting on the pavement busking with her violin.

I went over and just sat nearby praying for a while. The Holy Spirit seemed to inspire me then and I went over to her.

In one hand I held a piece of sliced white bread. In the other hand I held a five pound note. I found myself saying these words, “Hi Angie, you believe that less is more don’t you?” “Yes” she replied. I continued, “So which is more, this piece of bread or this five pound note”? She thought and replied and said “The bread because its food”. I answered “Yes, and also because its a symbol of the body of Christ broken for you, and because that is more, take the five pound note as well.” Angie said, “well OK if you really want to and then got off the pavement and put her arms around me, holding on tight. Just then, as if on cue the leader of the outreach walked up to me and said, “Hey, Colin, you are supposed to be working in the kitchen”. This provided me with a timely exit and I went back to the kitchen. I never saw her again, but have always felt that this had been a life changing encounter for her. I have always liked to think that she is somewhere worshipping Christ in a church as a result. I may be completely wrong and we dont always get to see the rest of peoples story, but something happened and it was more than just paper. Jesus is the bread of life. The experience certainly touched and spoke to me (maybe more than it did her) though starting out so positive can sometimes also go horribly wrong too. I found on returning to Bournemouth, normal working life, church life, that I wanted to stay in that place with God and the things I had discovered.  I felt unable to let go. I didn’t want to stop fasting. Though I hadn’t realised at the time, it had become a security, a little God bubble where nothing could reach me. I only realised this later. It definitely had elements of addictive behaviour, giving me significance, rather than finding my significance in Christ alone.

Soon after I returned I found myself fasting through a wedding celebration at our church, I think I really must have been desperate not to lose whatever it was I had found.

The elders were trying to talk to me, meeting up with me as I wasn’t really getting on very well with some of my brothers at church. I was becoming harsh and judgemental and argumentative. I didn’t even realise that I was upsetting people, I was in another place. Looking back, it had begun to affect my mental health.

That which begins in the Spirit can so easily end in the flesh, when we take it out of context and make it our security.

So I became an Anglican. After the big fight. The big fight happened one Sunday morning when I over-reacted in a church service, after misunderstandings turned to frustration and in turn anger and my ugly fists were raised to elders, so there were tears and rent friendships and leaving and meltdown.

And there was this Anglican Church.

Waiting,

welcoming,

willing to know a failing brother

and call me brother.

a refuge,

a place to think and consider

and be sorry

and realise how religious, non-conformity could be.

and I sat at the back and gradually realised

Gods leading all the way along

even in the mistakes

and foolishness

and that God is there

within Anglicanism too

and so my pride was broken down some more . . . .  God be thanked!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Warm Snow

Romantic, nostalgic, drivel? Well maybe. Things always look better maybe as we look back and the Bible itself says “It is not wise to ask why were the old days better than these”. I know this, but still, as I look back it seems this way and whether it was so or not, I know I can look to God right now and know the warmth of His presence, which is the greatest thing in the end.

 

 

The snow was so warm,

Those lamplit winter nights of our youth.

Could I have remembered it wrong?

There was the night-time, newly acquired,

It pulse and heartbeat giving meaning

To every new thought and song.

Lifes’ opera in the making.

The equality of our youth,

No boastings yet to separate,

No worldly wealth,

To entangle our souls.

Or come between,

Or raise up walls of coveting,

Or coverings of pride.

Where are they now, those beginnings,

Those first flurries?

Those attempts to understand?

Have they deepened, like the silent snow?

Thought on thought and thought to action and purpose.,

The things that life has taught,

Or cold snow only?

Piling up,

In heaps of regret,

Frozen quite solid,

Memories that just wont shift,

Scarves that refuse to warm us,

Layers of pain, that freeze out the soul.

 

There we were, friends,

Drifting in the dark,

looking for the light,

Looking for a light,

Any light,

Maybe God,

Or one another,

No void yet,

Every corner packed with hope,

And meaning and promise.

But that is youth.

The hope of the night,

The promise of another dawn.,

Things we haven’t seen,

So much time for dreams.

 

And so, at least in my memory,

The snow of youth shall always remain,

Warm and light and feathery,

Quietly falling into the night

As I remember how I reached my father gate,

Quite happy,

Nothing pressing on my mind.

My Father gate still beckons,

Come open it,

Enter in,

To love and joy and peace

And everything

Which goes against

The lows which I have seen.

Come on in again,

Lift the latch again,

The way back to youth,

The Fathers love

The way back to love,

The Holy dove,

So the snow is warm again,

So the wintry winds

Blow less chill.