From violence and from golf to Christ
"People pay attention when they see that God actually changes persons and sets them free,” comments Brooklyn pastor Jim Cymbala. He continues: “When a new Christian stands up and tells how God has revolutionized his or her life, no one dozes off. When someone is healed or released from a life-controlling bondage, everyone takes notice." Well, that was certainly the case last night at our Alpha launch when we set out our stall for our 50th Alpha course here at Christ Church. It was an evening of two stories. First Shane Taylor, who had travelled over from Middlesbrough for the occasion, told his remarkable story of how God rescued him from a life of considerable violence. In fact, he has just messaged me; “Got home fine. Hoping the testimony went well and it wasn’t too violent to use.” Well, it wasn’t easy to listen to. We heard of two violence knifing and then when in prison his attacking two prison officers with a concealed broken bottle. In fact, Shane wasn’t just sent to a high security prison, not just to its segregation unit but to a special cell within the unit where all human contact was eliminated. I had a meal with Shane before the meeting as he shared with me his story. A gentle and sensitive man, nervous before the meeting, it is a credit to the Holy Spirit that I could not imagine how he was once classed as one of the six most dangerous inmates in the prison system. His life changed dramatically while still in prison when he found himself at an Alpha course. Even today he’s not sure how he came to be in the prison chaplaincy, walking into a meeting with prisoners watching a video of a “posh man with grey hair.” But through a strange and unexplained series of events, there he was. I couldn’t follow all the details but it seems that the prison officer who broke prison rules by letting Shane through into that wing could have lost his job. I don’t know how long it took him to pray but Shane told us of his first prayer: ‘Please God, if you are real, come into my life because I hate who I am’. “I started to feel an energy in my stomach, which raised up until I just burst into uncontrollable tears.” “From that moment on, my life changed.” But we had another story of a life being changed – and it couldn’t have been more different, that of our own Geoff Fallows who 17 years or so ago phoned the vicarage to enrol on our 8th Alpha course. A successful businessman, Geoff had everything he wanted. As far as I could see his only difficulty in life was a golf-dependency problem. But God used even this. Geoff was watching on television American golfer Tom Lehman receive the trophy for winning the 1996 Open Championship at Lytham St Annes. In his acceptance speech Lehman thanked God, making very clear that his Christian faith was at the heart of his golf. Geoff tells us that he turned to Helen and said “Do you think he’s has something we haven’t got.” Over the next three years God gave the occasional prompt, the unusual conversation, the unexpected meeting to prompt Geoff into coming to a meeting where he too watched a video of a “posh man with grey hair.” Two lives transformed. Geoff tells of how much he enjoys being a street pastor. He chairs the Ormskirk Food Bank and leads Table 49 as part of our church’s outreach. Shane now works for Alpha in prisons, helping prisoners discover true release. God not only at work in their lives but through their lives.
And two very different stories of how two men became disciples of Jesus – one from a life of violence and failure, the other from a life of comfort and worldly success. Whoever we are, whatever our history, we need Christ. You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” (Augustine)