27 stories of how God is at work in the lives of ordinary people at Kings.
‘Dinosaur’. That’s what my three year old replied with when I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. My five year old’s answer was a little better: ‘astronaut’, he said. I was pleased with that answer. He may not know it but he comes from a line of astronauts. When I was 10 I announced to the world that I too was going to become an astronaut someday, and I’m still expecting it to happen. The way I see it, Tim Peake is 43 which means I’ve still got a good ten years or so before it becomes an unrealistic goal. It may be too late for me to be a professional footballer but my astronaut days are still ahead of me. Or maybe not.
There comes a time in everyone’s life, doesn’t there, when the question ‘what am I going to do when I grow up?’ turns into ‘what am I going to do today?’ When the ‘somedays’ become ‘todays’. But let’s not miss the connection. The grown up you is simply the sum total of the today’s you. Growth, you see, is cumulative and the lesson is simple: we should live today with that day in view. But what is ‘that day’ for you? What do you want to become and how are you going to reach it? Consider how we grow as Christians.
In John 15 Jesus introduces the theme of Christian growth with the words ‘I am the true vine,’ and tells us that growing occurs not as a result of hard work and determination but naturally and deliberately as we trust him and stay close to him (15:5). Spiritual growth, like biological growth is both a natural process and a deliberate one. Let me explain what I mean but considering the key role that perseverance and other people play in our development.
John 15:5 ’If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.’
This has to do with deliberate growth. Andrew spoke recently on a Sunday about the difference forming good habits can make in our lives. Aristotle famously said “we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act but a habit.” True as that is, we know that for a habit to really run its course it needs to last longer than a few weeks or months. It requires perseverance.
I love how the epistle of James opens: “consider it pure joy my brothers and sisters whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4). Did you spot that last bit? Perseverance when it’s done with us will leave us mature, complete, and lacking in nothing. Another translation uses the word ‘perfect’. I’ll take ‘perfection’ over being an astronaut any day. ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ Perfect. You can’t argue with that.
“we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act but a habit”
Jesus then rounds off his message on growth with the words ‘My command is this: love each other as I have loved you.’ (John 15:12)
The watching world ought to be able to spot Christians by their love for one another and since love is a verb, they ought to be able to see our love by the way we express it. Having said that, loving others is not just a good gospel strategy, it’s also the way we grow. If perseverance is the deliberate form of spiritual growth then being in Christian community is the natural way it occurs. One writer puts it like this:
“Just as the single most formative experience in our lives is our membership in a nuclear family, so the main way we grow in grace and holiness is through deep involvement in the family of God. Christian community is more than just a supportive fellowship; it is an alternate society. And it is through this alternate human society that God shapes us into who and what we are.”
Think about it for a second. You are the way you are, in large part, because of the home you were raised in. I have my issues and not your issues because I had my parents and not yours, and that happened naturally.
Therefore if you want to grow as a Christian, belong to a church; serve in a church, be part of a group (there are dozens to choose from in this booklet), pray with other Christians, listen to people, teach people and be taught by people. Get to know people well enough to be honest with them about your shortcomings and listen to them be honest about theirs. Christian character isn’t formed in a vacuum; we can’t simply go away on a retreat, read a book, get prayed for, or go to a conference. Christian growth occurs by being with and by being around people.
“Christian character isn’t formed in a vacuum. We can’t simply go away on a retreat, or visit some monastery”
The True Vine
So how do we grow? Both naturally and deliberately, by being with people and by persevering over the long haul.
Here in John 15 Jesus says ‘I am the true vine’, and in so doing he conjures up references in the Old Testament where God’s people get described as a vine. The difference is that whereas they’re accused by God of being a corrupt and fruitless vine, Jesus is the ‘true’ or ‘fruit bearing’ vine. Jesus lived his todays with his Father’s plan in constant view and the one glimpse we get of him as a child makes this clear (Luke 2). He didn’t go around making idle boasts about being an astronaut or a dinosaur; instead he prepared himself for a life of devotion and obedience to God. And the difference between him and us is that he actually did it, whereas we only say we’ll do it.
How can we be confident we’ll grow and bear good, lasting fruit for God? Because we’re not left to go it alone and try hard on our own. Instead we can know confidence, hope and joy by being a branch attached to the true fruit-bearing vine of Jesus. He is both our inspiration and the one who makes it all possible.
When I was five my parents split up so I went to live with my grandparents, and my aunt and uncle. I suppose I was quite spoilt. I had riding lessons, pony lessons and even had ponies bought for me. From the age of six I was only ever going to be a jockey.
I left school when I was 14. Only weighing 5st 7lb, I was tiny. I went straight to the racing stables and started living my dream quite quickly. I rode a winner on my second ride at the age of 16. At 17 I was being interviewed on TV and featured on the cover of Sporting Life. Suddenly I had a rather high opinion of myself and took arrogance to a new level.
Pride was welling up in me, and being fed. I was living away from home and so I never had anyone overseeing me. At 19 all I had ever done was racing, gambling and the like. And then, as I was walking down the road with a friend of mine, I looked across into a shop and saw this amazingly beautiful girl.
She was laughing and smiling. There was just something special about her. Everybody else sort of faded into the background. I’d never met this girl but I turned to my friend and said “I’m going to marry her”.
This was the most beautiful woman in the world and I was a short and skinny jockey. What if she said no? Being so arrogant, I decided I wouldn’t ask her, I would tell her. Fortunately she said yes! And we saw each other everyday from that time on.
“I rode a winner on my second ride at the age of 16. At 17 I was being interviewed on TV and featured on the cover of Sporting Life.”
As I was getting older I was getting too heavy to ride. You really need to be under 7 stone, perhaps 7st 4 max. I was about 8. Pauline cried when she saw me one time as I had made myself so ill from under-eating. The dream had come to an end, and I realised it was time to do something else.
We got married and I had all sorts of jobs. I was into music and in the evenings I was playing in bands. That led to doing music professionally. And again, the recognition was there. We worked with a lot of cabaret acts, like Jim Davidson, and I discovered what they were earning doing stand-up comedy. And I thought ‘well I can do that!’
So I went into comedy. Again, I found a lot of success and my ego was being fed. I got with a lot of top agents, top of the bill again. But unfortunately a lot of the mid-week shows were stag shows — ‘gentlemen’s shows’ with strippers. It was never really my scene. I had never been to a stag show until I had compered one as a comedian. It’s not a nice environment, but I thought ‘it’s just a means to an end. When I’m on TV as a superstar I won’t have to do that’ — you can see how arrogant I was!
This was going on for about three and a half years, and I was becoming more and more uncomfortable with these shows. I would repeatedly have conversations with myself saying ‘you shouldn’t be doing this’. And then one night I realised this was more than just me talking to myself. It was actually God speaking.
I didn’t hear an audible voice or anything, but I knew it was God. I found myself talking back, saying ‘so what am I going to do?’. But all he kept saying was ‘I don’t want you doing this’. I wasn’t a Christian, but it got so bad that I would be praying for the car to break down so that I would have a genuine reason not to go. But they kept booking me and the money was really good. Then one night, I left it later and later to leave for a show. Pauline noticed that I should have gone and I just said ‘I’m not going anymore’.
In that moment I gave up another dream, another goal that I had studied hard and been working towards. We had three children to provide for, so I ended up cleaning carpets. I had a few conversations with God about that! But the weird thing was, nobody else could have got me to give it all up and clean carpets instead. Not even Pauline.
So we started going to church. Suddenly all this pride and arrogance was lifted from me (well a lot of it, but not all!). That desire, to walk into a place and have everybody know who you are, that was me, but I found it was now completely gone. I’d had this peace which I had never had before. Instead of going out every night and getting back at 4am, I was at home, playing with my children.
From the world’s point of view it didn’t make sense. My friends thought I had gone crazy. My whole life totally changed. I was now cleaning carpets and enjoying it. I’d work all week and earn less than the price of one show. But I had given my life to Jesus, and I knew I had to follow him.
I got very involved with the music in the Anglican church we went to and started serving there. I knew I had changed as I had always performed for my own glory, and to promote myself, but now I was doing it for Him. Unfortunately, when we left our church to move to Eastbourne, we drifted for 16 years. It wasn’t ego or money or anything, we just got side-tracked with our furniture business. But 5 years ago God started calling us again. We came to Kings, and again had this real burning passion to serve and tell people about Jesus.
“I had always associated owning a Rolls Royce with success. And then I got one. After a few weeks I thought ‘what on earth do I want this for’.”
I started doing some mission work in the streets, using music as a way of connecting with people. I often spend time in town, asking God if there’s any way he wants to use me, if there’s anyone he wants me to serve. Just simple things like buying people a cup of tea and taking the opportunities as they arise.
If you smile at people, are friendly and polite, they’ll always respond. We’ve only been stepping out and doing it intentionally the last year or so, but we’ve seen people come to church, do the Alpha course (where we have dinner and discuss all the big questions of life). We’ve seen people give their lives to Jesus, get baptised and join the church. With all of the success I’ve had as a jockey and comedian, nothing compares to the joy and the peace you get when you talk to someone about Jesus.
I’ll sometimes say to my non-church friends: ‘you’re betting your life on this. Shouldn’t you look into it? Just come and see’.
As young lad, and a jockey, I thought I had everything I wanted. But really it was all meaningless. While fame and success is happening, you think it is what you want, because you’ve never had a comparison. I had always associated owning a Rolls Royce with success. And then I got one. After a few weeks I thought ‘what on earth do I want this for?’ The things you associate with success won’t fulfil you. But when Jesus comes into your life, you experience this amazing peace and love. Until you’ve experienced that, you still think you can achieve it in the world.
Looking back I can now see all the ways that God had his hand on me. My only regret is that I didn’t feel like this when I was 15 — I didn’t have this relationship with God back then. I would trade everything, at any point, to experience the peace and love that I have now through Jesus.
“Before I was a Christian I came from an atheist family. I didn’t believe there was a God and had no intention of trying to believe … I remember having this overwhelming feeling that I just have to be prayed for.”