If studying history at Cambridge has left me with anything it is a sense of how confusing the past can be. Looking back on my journey to this point there is equal confusion. To some of you who know me it may seem straightforward why I am here now. But my experience is one of a jumble of doubts, failures, missed opportunities, and apathy. Yet through that, an overriding sense of God’s faithfulness shines out, to continually and patiently whisper and guide me when otherwise I would have gone in the opposite direction from him.
I have been thinking about what I should say today for quite a while now, hearing other people’s testimonies and trying to track the key events of my life. When I first started thinking about it I was reading Galatians and a passage at the end of chapter 1 really struck me. Paul is describing his previous persecution and then his later conviction to support it. It has the awesome phrase: ‘but when God who set me apart from birth was pleased to reveal his son in me…’ Reading that passage I got an overwhelming sense of God’s power and purpose for my life, that even before I was born he knew all the times I would fall short and reject him, but he still planned for my salvation and achieved it in Jesus on the Cross. Those of you who know me will probably agree I’m quite a laid back character, my ambling approach to life and Paul’s conviction to his cause probably seem about as similar as chalk and cheese. But as I look back I can see that there was one thing that I couldn’t just amble past or sleep through and that was God and his plan for me.
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t believe in God, growing up at home with Mum and Dad ensured that I always felt the Love of God very close at hand, they always served as examples of what it meant to radiate God’s affection and Grace, and as I have grown up I have valued above all others their advice and support. More than that though, as a child growing up in my church in Birmingham I really felt a special bond between all the Christians in that community. Here were adults who were not my parents, but I got a sense that somehow they cared about me in a way that I never had from the other adults I met. Not in any other group did I feel so accepted. That feeling of a community of love in the church and that there was something different about these people has really stuck with me.
As I grew up I studied more and more the teaching of Jesus and God’s truth presented in the Bible. I really enjoyed learning more about what the Bible taught, but I think for most of my school career my faith was largely intellectual and theoretical. I enjoyed arguing and discussing, (if any of you want to challenge the fact that I am an argumentative so and so then I will be happy to put you straight after the service) but when I went away from Bible study my life looked as if I had never known Jesus' teaching at all. I would get constantly drunk and tried to make people laugh in a effort to fit in and be accepted, and yet I never really felt safe, always worried people might find out I was secretly boring and not worth talking to.
Coming to Cambridge for the first time I met Christians my own age with a real living faith and a desire to live it out in their lives. I saw again that there was something different about them, something which I needed. Coming to Eden as well I was overwhelmed; first by the amount of people here, compared to my church at home this place is a small country; and secondly by the teaching. God made me aware of the danger and power of sin in my life, and of his desire and ability to remove it.
Over these past two years I have come to know God’s power and guidance in my life in a way I would never have thought possible. God has begun to change me. Not only has he helped me to test his truth by giving me such great friends who are willing to challenge everything and anything I have taken for granted, but he has also increased my faith by showing how his truth is a living truth and how much effect he can have on my life. I won’t lie and say I was unhappy before, but the joy I have now in the beginnings of my new life compared to what I had before just pales in significance, it’s just overwhelming sometimes. Romans 5:8, when I read this verse its amazing to think that God knows all I have and ever will do and yet he has sent Jesus to die, in the cross I found that acceptance which I got a taste of as a child and longed for as a teenager.
As I look to the future it is only with joy as I think of coming to know him better and have his power in my life increase. One of the reasons I have chosen to get baptised is so that I can make a public declaration that I am a servant of Jesus so that all of you here Christian or non-Christian can keep me honest and ensure that I continue to follow Him and Him alone, and to do that I need your help as well as his. In all the confusion I know one thing, he has brought me this far and he will carry me home.