On a dark wet July night in Scotland, I stood under a big Sycamore tree and for the first time in my 33 years of life, I spoke to God. Most would say it wasn't a prayer, but I have learnt that anything you say to God is, so I guess it counted!
What did I say? Well, I am now and always have been a very uncomplicated person. So all I said was "Well God, if you are real perhaps its time you and I got to know each other".
Those words represented a life change, I don't mean a make over or a bit of a change in attitude, I mean a total change motivation and priority. In fact, those words meant I had become Born Again.
John chapter 3, that's the reference where we can find Jesus explaining to Nicodemus (a very religious leader) exactly what Born Again means.
Nicodemas, despite being a very traditional and religious man, could see in Jesus something different. He knew He was connected to God but not perhaps in the same way that he had ever seen before.
The truth is that God sent Jesus because religion didn't work. God knew there needed to be something different, a relationship through Jesus to God. God lives and that is why religion doesn't work, it didn't work then and it doesn't work now, why, because religion is dead.
In my service to God I have travelled extensively, worked with drug addicts, planted churches, been a prison Chaplain, preached in churches of 4000, seen many lives changed as God has touched lives - has it been easy? No, not at all. But then no where in the bible does it say it would be easy.
What it does say is that in our relationship with God we would have peace and joy. I can vouch for that, in the storms of life, if I am honest, I have sometimes wondered if God was there, but then I remember the account of Jesus dying on the cross when He said "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?"
Did God really forsake His own Son in the most awful part of His life? Well that is a discussion for the theologians, what I understand in those words of Jesus is that at that moment of darkness and pain, He could not sense the presence of His Father.
And so I know, there is no situation that I can be in, that Jesus cannot understand and sympathize with, He is always in the boat of our life no matter how fierce the storm.
So as I humbly accept the call of God to pastor the church here in Belper, I am expectant and excited as this new chapter of my life opens. My prayer is that His Kingdom will come and His will will be done, in my life, in the life of the church and beyond.
I look forwards to meeting you soon. Until then, peace and joy,