Last night was another of those ‘pinch myself’ moments that only God can make happen. On (yet another) key evening for our Government amid the Brexit turmoil and uncertainty, I was in Westminster, too - preaching at St Margaret’s Church, part of the Abbey.
The annual Whitehall Easter service, hosted by Christians in Government, is typically attended by hundreds of civil servants who pause to focus together on the events of cross and the tomb.
However history-making the voting in the House, here we were considering his–story.
Here’s what I said:
‘In these turbulent times when much around us is uncertain, I praise God for the certainty and promises that we receive as Christians: the life sustaining, reassuring, transforming power released as Jesus rose from the dead.
This Easter will be my 26th since I found Christ. As you will hear, Jesus’ resurrection power and redeeming love that I first experienced all those years ago has transformed my life.
Prior to finding Christ, I’d ruined my life: I had a difficult early childhood, and left school at 16 as an angry, violent, lost young man. My father died when I was 18, and my mother suffered a severe mental breakdown and was sectioned. Left to my own devices, I became a debt collector.
I rose through the finance industry and was successful, yet underneath I was broken and lost. By my 30th birthday I’d lost my marriage and home, and was in huge debt. I felt abandoned by everyone. I was broken and in crippling debt. I lived with my two daughters in one room of a friend’s house.
I know what it’s like to be poor. I’ve experienced putting things back on a supermarket shelf. I know the shame of not being able to provide for my kids - the brokenness, guilt and hopelessness.
But someone showed me the love of Christ and I accepted Him as my saviour. My faith journey was a challenge. For the first couple of years I was still lost, in need of his grace, as we all are, but through his love and that of the local Church I recovered.
I set up a system to get my debts paid, work improved, and with a newfound focus and Christ in my life I saw things change. I met Lizzie, who was very much part of the rebuilding of me.
Everything looked amazing as I approached my 4th Easter - a life transformed by his grace! Little did I know he was about to call me to start CAP.
In 1996, 18 weeks before we were to be married, I felt Jesus say, 'Okay Johnny boy, remember when you were in that one room, you said you’d do anything I asked? Well, I’d like you to help the poor.’'
"What? Now? When it’s all looking so good? When I’m getting married in 18 weeks?"
"Yes, Johnny boy. Now!"
I knew God was calling me to help the poor in my home town of Bradford. So, not knowing what was going to happen, we got married and started CAP from my home office with £10. 23 years later CAP has grown to 600+ centres all based in local churches. We reach over 23,000 people every year, releasing thousands from the misery of debt and poverty. Every day ten people go debt free, three find work through our CAP Job Clubs after being out of work for more than two years, people are released for life controlling habits and get a fresh start.
God has drawn tens of thousands to support us. We now have 30,000 regular givers and over 10,000 supporters, pray-ers and advocates who make sure our quality services, that work, are free. They enable us to keep faith. Our heart is that no life is beyond his redeeming power – it’s the core of who we are. We have been included in conversations including on debt, universal credit, fuel poverty and more, highlighting the scale of the complex problems our clients face.
Through our work with government, we have had ours eyes opened into how much you do and the burdens often carried. You may think your role goes unnoticed (perhaps it does) but I am here today to tell you that we see what you do and we appreciate it. You are following God’s call on your life to do his work right here in Westminster. My hope is that you will feel God’s smile and favour over you as you continue to shape legislation and support those in wider society.
Jesus is leading us to serve him through what we do, and you to serve him where you are, through what you do as public servants, with a genuine heart for the people of this nation, who perhaps don’t often tell you of their gratitude.
So, on their behalf, thank you! You outwork the same Easter miracle, same Jesus, same call to see our life count for others. The practical help we offer is great. But we know that true transformation is found through a relationship with Jesus.
When Christians are living a life that reflects Jesus, people can sense it. When we are non-judgemental, kind, helpful, willing to go the extra mile - generous people are easy to spot in every walk of life.
At Easter, we are once again reminded that Christ died, was buried and rose again for us. For me, for you, and for each and every one of our clients that we help. We want them to know that Jesus loved them so much that he died on the cross for them, to share good news of the resurrection.
For over 20 years, CAP has committed to be the best reflection we can of who Jesus is, to show this nation that the Church is relevant to the communities we serve.
As Christians, we all play a vital part in showing a hurting world that God is love, forgiveness and compassion. He’s a God of second chances, a God of "your life can change", a God of "I believe in you", a God of salvation.
As Christians, we have a hope that does not disappoint.
Thank you for all you do and please pray and help wherever you can.
For me, it’s only ever been ordinary people that believe it’s possible to change a nation who ever do - let’s do this together.'