“Church is for good people ennit? You know the sort who wear hats and don’t smoke” I told the Preacher as he tried to convince me that Jesus actually loved me! “There is no way this Jesus loves people like us. We are not exactly Church material are we mate?” The preacher’s eyes seemed to look right into me as he replied “Jesus still loves you Steve, regardless of what you have done!”
And done it we had. Emma and I got involved in the Punk scene is the late seventies and early eighties. We were products of a rebellious, youth culture desperately searching for reality and the meaning of life. We could not stand all the ‘squares’ around us who were content with doing boring nine to five jobs and dressing in mundane fashion. We decided to counteract the blandness all around us by dying our hair, listening to angry, aggressive music and dressing like something that resembled a cross between the Adams Family and Mad Max. We were part of the Punk/Gothic movement and living the lifestyle of Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll to the extreme. Dirty leather jackets, chains, heavy make-up (for Emma that is, my make-up was always more subtle) were the dress code for the hour. The colour of everything needed to be BLACK, BLACK and more BLACK. We hung out with people who enjoyed sleeping in coffins, sleeping around and sleeping rough. We were thrilled to try the latest ‘high’ whether it be sniffing ‘poppers’, smoking pot and diving deeper into the world of LSD and speed. We even smoked banana skins once in a desperate attempt to get high.
Getting high was our goal. We needed something to elevate us from the humdrum boredom that other people called life. We were searching for excitement and enjoyment! We looked in all kinds of corridors and holes to find pleasure. By our late teens we had had multiple sexual partners (including transvestites and Sadomasochists). We were hooked on pornography, violent films, alcohol, cigarettes and an assortment of drugs. By this time in our life Emma had tried to commit suicide twice. She suffered from anorexia and bulimia and would spend her days starving her body and vomiting up the little food she had eaten. She heard voices in her head saying that she was fat. Emma was hardly overweight weighing in at barely 6 stone (84 pounds) at one point. She could barely do a days work without bursting into floods of tears as she suffered severe panic attacks. The voices in her head continued to drive her saying “Kill yourself! Kill yourself!”
By my late teens I had got involved in a post-punk band and enjoyed exercising my massive ego by singing in front of audiences all around England. I appeared so confident on the stage to the crowd, yet inside I was empty. I just wanted to be loved. The more I tried to fill the emptiness the bigger the hole inside of me became. The more concerts I played in the band the more I needed to play. I was hooked on trying to fill a huge black hole inside of me and nothing was filling it. By nineteen I was drunk four nights a week and singing and coughing like an old man.
During this time a handful of people tried to reach out to us and tell of the love of Jesus. But the words did not seem to hit home. We did not know if there was a God. We thought about religion and supernatural things. We tried a bit of Buddhism, Astral Projection, Ouija Boards and TM but nothing seemed to satisfy the hunger for reality. The only time we were ever in a church service was either stoned or drunk on a Christmas Eve midnight mass service. We used to sit on the front row giggling at the people taking communion. No-one ever condemned us for this. Oh how we must have looked with our black, spiky hair and anarchist tee-shirts in the middle of a church service!
Our first ‘sober’ church service was in North America at a smallish Baptist church in Rockville, Maryland in 1990. We had been invited there by the preacher mentioned earlier. We were overcome by the people in this little church. They all seemed so pure hearted. We were rebellious, sinful post-punk anarchists and were happy to prove it! These people seemed holy, kind, humble and very, very loving. It was all a bit too much for us in one go and we were delighted after an hour when the service ended, so we could hurry outside for a cigarette!
Let me make myself clear right here. One of my favourite songs at this time in our lives was Anarchy in the UK by the Sex Pistols. The words to this song go “I am an antichrist, I am an anarchist. I wanna destroy passer by.” My favourite tee-shirt was by an anti-establishment, super-tough, cult band called Crass. The tee-shirt read “Jesus died for his own sins not mine.” I wore that foolish tee-shirt (and many others too inappropriate to mention) with arrogance and pride flowing out of me. I did not care what people thought of me. I put up a hard exterior shell to hide the pain and loneliness inside of me. I put on a brave front, but I was dying inside.
Now try to get the picture. Here I am listening to the words of the hymn Amazing Grace in some church building in North America. The words to this song go “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me!” Honestly! I am sure there was a tear in my eye as the people sang it.
God Almighty had begun to soften my heart. The only reason we went to the church service was because the preacher had put us up in his house with his wife and three teenagers. We felt obliged to go! But what a shock when we did. We met with the ‘churchy’ folks after the service to ‘suss’ the congregants out a bit. At first we heard what we expected to hear; “my mother came to this church, and so did her mother and father” etc. etc…
But we were then horrified to find out that some of these people used to have fairly messed up lives. One massive fella used to be a bar brawler and would spend his weekends beating the living daylights out of people. Others used to be involved in drinking, drugs and
similar vices we had. We were shocked and amazed at how these everyday people with everyday problems seemed to glow with something different than the other people we had crossed paths with in our life up to that point. These people had something; some kind of weird, inner-joy that we wanted. Our problem was we did not know what the inner joy was or how to get it.
After a few hours of interrogation from us the people in the church began to tell their story of how Jesus ‘saved’ them. Each story was different. But each life seemed so sincere we found our eyes being opened to this ‘God’ stuff! The truth about the love of Jesus was beginning to become more real to us.
Within days I actually found myself turning from my sin and believing that Jesus, the Son of God, died for my sins. That He paid the price for me. That He rose from the dead, to give me a new life. I found myself with my sins forgiven and washed clean before a Holy God. I was pronounced ‘clear’ before God because of what Jesus had done by dying on the cross and rising from the dead. It was quite incredible to find myself guilty before God one minute and the next minute pronounced forgiven. I felt like I was in the courtroom of heaven and had just received triple life sentences for the sin I had committed. Then in walks the Holy Son of God and says ‘I will take the sentence upon myself, this one can go free!!!’ My whole body was flushed clean of the weight of my guilt and shame. Jesus had paid the price and taken my sins on Himself! At this point, as the love of God flooded my heart and mind, I devoted my whole life and entire existence to Jesus. He was the only one who ever had the power to save me. He brought me from darkness into light.
Emma had some similar experiences. On the same night as me (October 8th 1990) she realised that God Almighty loved her beyond anything any human love could offer. The huge hole of emptiness in her heart was filled immediately as she came face to face with the love of her Heavenly Father. The anorexia and panic attacks simply left her in the light of God’s love for her. We are both thrilled to say that they have never come back. Now that is what I call good therapy!!!
Before we go any further let me remind you that Emma and I were not always this wild. We did not grow up in coffins wearing black leather. Our parents did not force feed us drugs and alcohol. So what went wrong I hear you ask? Bad parenting probably. Rough childhood most likely. Actually, neither of the above. Emma and I were brought up in fairly normal environments. Neither of us were from broken homes. We both have ‘nice’ brothers and sisters and lived in average, working class areas in Oxford. We both did well at school. I went to a good school. I studied Latin,
German and French by age 13 and advanced Maths at age 15. I received commendations for excellence in education at age 13 and passed my Maths ‘O level’ one year early. I enjoyed all the things young men do; pop music, drama club and hanging out with friends and girl friends. Emma was also a ‘nice’ little girl. She went through confirmation classes in her local church and enjoyed a relatively normal home life. She enjoyed ‘origami’ for goodness sake!
SO WHAT WENT WRONG? How could two normal young people exploring the normal things teenagers explore end up so enslaved in a lifestyle of drugs and sexual immorality that they could not break out of? The Bible says that “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.” We knew that our hearts were deceitful and we were not living right, but we could not seem to get out of the rut we had got ourselves in .
If we are truly honest we all recognise we do not live right. Most of us know what is right and wrong. The truth is we, more often that not, we gravitate towards the wrong. The Bible says all of us have sinned and fallen short of God’s high standards. Then means every single one of us stands guilty before God because of our own sin. Please hear me on this. We were not sinners because we did drugs. We did drugs because we were sinners. We are all sinners.
and not my grandmother. I thought I was pretty righteous smoking soft drugs because I have never injected hard drugs!!! But the truth is I was a thief for stealing, however big or small the catch was. Some would say “I am okay. I have been faithful to my wife (or husband) for years. Yet inside that very same person has lusted after the opposite sex for years, fantasising to the point of enslavement. According to the words of Jesus, lust in your heart is the same as committing the sinful act of adultery. High standards eh? Yet when each one of us compares ourselves to God who is totally pure, we all fall far, far short. We have all blown it. God is totally pure, totally holy and has never sinned. There is no darkness in God whatsoever. This i s the God we will a l l face immediately after we die. And when we die we will all stand before God to give an account of our lives. Not one of us will qualify to enter His holy heaven because of our goodness or niceness. I do not care how much money you have given to charity. How good you have been in public. How polite you are outwardly. God sees our hearts, He sees and hears our innermost thoughts and watches our deepest motives. The truth is all of us have blown it. OUR SIN HAS SEPARATED US FROM A HOLY GOD.
The Son of God (Jesus) was totally sinless. He was holy in every way. His death on the cross paid the price for the sins of the whole world. He was then raised from the dead and offers freedom and forgiveness from sin to anyone who puts their trust in Him.
If you turn from everything you know to be wrong in God’s sight and throw yourself into the merciful arms of Jesus, He will embrace you. I am not lying to you. Jesus truly has changed our lives.
By the power of His Holy Spirit, working inside of us, we live different now. Our lives are full of His holy presence, caughtup with His holy love. We live life to the full now because we have personally met the one who created us. He is alive and is reaching out to everyone. He is not willing that anyone should be separated from His love.
Please allow me to encourage you to pray and seek the face of God. Even if you feel God could never accept you because of the mess you have made of your life. Cry out to Him, He will accept you. He will forgive you and cleanse you from all your sins. He will set you free to live a new life the way He intended. God will give you a fresh start, even when others have written you off as useless. Read the Bible (start with the gospel of John) and ask God to reveal His love to you. You will never be the same again.