I didn’t just grow up going to church, in a lot of ways I was raised by it. It was a home from home and in some ways, it was more of a home than my actual home. Growing up, my home life was a little complicated. My Mum was a believer, but as a teenager and on into her young adult years she was a little rebellious. Part of that rebellion was my Dad, who was a long haired, peace loving, hippie, Yorkshire man, who hated God and loved a pint.
My Dad was an alcoholic, and although he never put any of us in danger, he would, at times, be quite abusive towards my Mum. Although she worked hard at sheltering me and my siblings from a lot of the trauma, we saw enough at a young age to know things were not okay. To cut a long story short, we felt his absence and saw things we shouldn’t have seen. So, church became family.
When I was just four, I remember being in a kids-work session at a Christian festival, and I could hear the speaker in the main venue. They asked anyone who would like to accept Jesus into their heart to come to the front. I knew in that moment that I wanted to do that. I asked the kids worker if I could go up, but I was told I was too young and that it was for adults, not kids. I persisted, and eventually the lady took me to my Mum, and I prayed, there and then, for Jesus to come into my life. From that moment on, I have always known the love of God. I didn’t have the language for it as a kid, but I knew that in the absence of my earthly father, God was my Father, and he became so real to me in those early years.
As I grew up and started to understand the world a little more, it became harder for Mum to shelter us from what was really going on at home. With me and my three siblings getting older and my Mum looking for a divorce, my Grandma managed to convince my Dad to come to her church – you can’t say no to my Grandma, she is a little ‘too saved’ if you know what I mean! As the preacher was speaking, he pointed at my Dad (unintentionally) and said, ‘You think you are free, but you are not. Only Jesus can set you free.’ My Dad said it was like a rod of lightening had shot through his system and right there and then he gave his life to Jesus. He realised he had got himself into a pit that he could not get himself out of. He needed a Saviour, he needed Jesus.
It wasn’t an overnight, dramatic change, but slowly and surely my Dad was being changed. He was a new person; he was truly born again. He gave up the drink, started his own business and got stuck in at church. I only had one conclusion; God is real, he must be real, I could see him at work. I was witnessing the transforming and living power of God. This power went beyond self-help, beyond a support network – this was salvation. Jesus truly saves. His life, death and resurrection are real. I saw a broken, addicted, and at times violent man, transformed into a whole, free and loving man.
God had not only shown himself to be my Father who loved me, but he had shown me what his love can do, in that he gave me back my earthly father.
Psalm 38 says, ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good.’ I had tasted and I had seen.
As I continued to get older and on into my teens, I started to ask the bigger questions. You know the ones: Why am I here? What is the point? How do I make sense of all of this? The world I knew was getting bigger and I was beginning to shape my worldview. I watched as my friends pursued things that they believed would satisfy them – girls, drink, success, and I watched as their desire to be satisfied was only every filled for a short and fleeting moment. Their worldview failed them. Then I remember reading Romans 7:14-20 – It’s where Paul explains that he keeps doing what he doesn’t want to do, and the good he knows he should do he doesn’t do. As I read his words it just resonated within me. That was me! Why do I do things I know aren’t good? Why can’t I just do the right thing? Why was I selfish at times? Why would I think things I wouldn’t want anyone else to know? Why am I broken?
The only worldview that made any sense and answered these questions was the Christian worldview. I did these things because I was human, because I was fundamentally broken, I was a slave to sin and despite my best efforts I was never going to break myself free. I needed saving. I needed Jesus. He was the only one who could rescue me, he was the only one who had power over sin and its consequence – death.
In 2012 my Dad passed away from terminal cancer, I was 17 at the time. I remember my Deputy Headteacher coming up to me and trying to offer some words of comfort. He said ‘Aaron, I’m so sorry for your loss, I wish there was something I could do’. The world had run out of ideas. In the face of death and in the face of brokenness it had no answer, it had no hope to offer. So not only had the world failed to save me or my dad in our living, but it had also failed to deliver us from death. Thanks to Jesus, I have hope for today and I have hope for eternity.
So, in some ways, I’m a Christian because it made sense of the world I saw and experienced. However, I’m also a Chrisitan because I witnessed that saving power at work. Jesus and his gospel delivered on the promise to break the power of that brokenness and rescue us from death. That’s why I am, and it is why I will be, for the rest of my life, in love with Jesus and his gospel.
Written by Aaron Routledge. Aaron lives in London where he is married to Sophia and works as both the Head of Advance Youth and the Message London Hub Manager.