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In the beginning.....

I began following Jesus when I was 8 years old and for the next few years did what most Christian kids do here in Northern Ireland: Sunday School, Church, and Youth Fellowship. I also got involved with Child Evangelism Fellowship, doing "5-Day Clubs" during the summers and "Good News Clubs" in the winter months. The plan had been to get married to my girlfriend and go into full time work with CEF. But instead, we went off to Bible College in 1986 and via the States, ended up serving the Lord in Latin America. By the time we returned to the U.K. in 1998, we had 4 children, 3 girls and a boy.

I think, looking back, I had a view of Christianity that a lot of people do: I was saved, but struggling to understand how on earth to grow into the kind of person the Bible speaks of. I read my Bible, went to church, prayed, got involved in ministry, preached and lead worship.

Over many years, I found myself constantly striving, but never reaching the impossible standards that had placed on me by both myself and the ultra-strict missions organisation that I was a part of. The problem was that I had been going about things the wrong way by trying measure up to a seemingly endless checklist of expectations created by men. Jesus had only asked that I follow Him, obey His words and become his disciple, His apprentice. Although I would never have admitted it back then, I found myself exhausted, cynical, burnt out and wounded. I had found myself going through the motions, putting on a good show to the people around me, but feeling empty inside. The decline had started years earlier, but everything finally came crashing down in 2000 until I wound up living all alone in a 1-bedroom flat in Cleethorpes, ministry and family gone, and my life in tatters.

I spent the next 18 years drifting away in a daze from a relationship with God. I was told by my then-pastor that my life as a Christian was over, I would never been involved in ministry again. So, I gave up. I turned my back on everything, yet when people would talk to me about my life, I assured them I was a lot closer to God than they realised. But the truth of the matter is that I was only lying to myself. I mistook God's abiding love and presence in my life, for MY being "close" to HIM. My mental health suffered, I constantly felt low and suffered from anxiety attacks. I had given up on life, nothing mattered anymore. I couldn't seem to hold down a job, trapped in a vicious circle of one short-term job to the next if I was lucky, unemployed if I was not. If it had not been for my grandfather and my parents, I don't know where I would have ended up. But even then, the Lord was using them to help me.

The funny thing was though, that despite the mess I had made of my life, I was always completely convinced that God had not stopped loving me, and that He was pursuing me. My gripes and issues were more with people and circumstances, rather than the Lord. But the devil used those things to keep me from finding God’s healing and restoration.

I was caught in a downward spiral. When sin has you in its grip, its a one-way street. The book of James tells us in chapter 1: 14-16 :

"14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers." (ESV)

As I look back now, years later, its so obvious to me that I had been lured, enticed and entangled. Death in the Bible speaks of separation. I certainly was separated from God, and my stubborn pride kept me from moving towards Him, scared of what it would mean for my life if I yielded control to Him. Could I trust Him not to ask something of me that I wasn't willing to give? Of course, it was an illusion that I had any real control of my life.

There were times over those 18 years when I would seek out a church where I could feel accepted. The enemy of our souls knows how to manipulate our fears and doubts to keep us out of reach. I felt the constant lonliness of being away from my Lord, and of having no real friends, Christian or otherwise.

Then one day in April 2018, I plucked up the courage to walk through the doors of a church and on the wall saw the words "Welcome Home." It was monumental. Something shifted for me. I went in and sat at the back. This place was different. No swanky suits and 6ft bibles. Noone checking who had the biggest hat or what version of the Bible you were reading from. In fact, the lights were tuned down, making me feel much less conspicuous. Over the following weeks, the pastor spoke about becoming an apprentice of Jesus. About removing noise and distraction from our lives to create space for God to speak into. There were a few book recommendations that I took note of. I would say that was the first step.

I felt a real hunger for the presence of the Lord begin to grow in me. The next step was starting to work through the books I had bought. The first was "This Means War" by Levi Lusko. Then I started reading "The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry" by John Mark Comer. I'll try and review these books down the line a bit, but suffice to say these 2, along with "Soul Keeping" by John Ortberg were absolutely foundational and earth-shattering for me..... they drove me to reignite my devotional time with God and to look to simplify my life and to look at the things veying for my attention.

My phone was one of the biggest culprits. Back in 2000, the Internet had caused so much damage to my life, but here I was in 2018, seeing once again its grip on my soul, as my phone or ipad were continually beeping or buzzing, alerting me to things happening, of which maybe 2% (at most) were actually relevant to me! I began to purge my devices, reducing my Facebook friends list from 500 down to around 100. I turned off notifications, and unfollowed most people on my list. I didn't need to see what they had for lunch. I set up DND (Do Not Disturb) settings on my devices between 10pm and 9am so I could sleep and to create space for me to engage with my loving heavenly Father Who wanted nothing more than to share His life with me. A lot of this focus came from John Mark Comer's book which I mentioned above.

The single biggest impact upon my life was the teaching and writing of Dallas Willard. All of the above-mentioned authors, made mention of him and I'd heard about him before, but in particular John Ortberg's book really introduced me to him and his teaching. I began to scour Youtube for teaching videos and downloaded podcasts of his teaching. (There weren't loads of podcasts, but I have 6 or so on my phone and in my car that I know without fear of exaggerating I have listened to more than 50 times. Now, I have a number of his books, but they are so full of rich content it takes me a long time to read and absorb them. To date, I haven't finished a single one! I have actually restarted reading a couple because I need to really 'get' what he is saying. God has really exercised my heart that 'I'm not playing church' anymore. This is real. I'm in no rush.

And so, I've begun to try to introduce some spiritual disciplines back into my life. For the past year, I have been taking a day a month off work and go somewhere secluded to spend time in solitude with God, just to hear His voice and experience being in His presence without distractions. I remember when I told my parents I was doing this, their first reaction was, "What's wrong?"! Nothing was wrong, in fact, nothing could be righter, I told them.

So, if you've been patient enough to read this far, you're probably asking yourself, "What's the point of this blog?" I have often thought of the journey I have been on these past 20+ years and more recently, I have felt God challenge me about putting something out there online to help others that might be in a similar place. People who are drifting from God, but who are searching and struggling to find a way back.

Don't worry, my other blog posts won't be THIS long! I'm just thinking I'll share thoughts from my journey. Things God is teaching me, showing me. Things that are helping me, and probably some things I might be struggling with too. I would like to review some of the books I mentioned above and try to develop the site to be a resource or at least a signpost to other great resources.

I feel a particular burden to help others who are reaching out for some help and context to their angst, and so I am hoping these words encourage you as you read them to realise that no matter how hard things are, how low you feel, you are not alone. None of us are. This past year I lost a dear friend to COVID and suicide and it pains me to think how there are people we rub shoulders with every day in life who are spiralling downwards, who feel hopeless and alone.

But God. But God is with us even in the darkest place we find ourselves. And there is hope for us because Paul tells is in Philippians 1:6 that Jesus has not given up on us and He has not finished what He has planned for our lives.

"And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." (ESV)

Grace & Peace.

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