I am the door

On Sunday 22nd February, I was able to speak at Oasis on a Sunday morning for the first time, a wonderful opportunity, and one that I thoroughly enjoyed! We’ve been going through a series in the gospel of John looking at all the times where Jesus says “I am…”, and then makes a big claim about himself, and my week was looking at Jesus’ claim to be “the door”. It might be the “I am” statement that’s most easily forgotten, but don’t knock it! Week on week, we’ve been discovering that what Jesus is saying is that he is enough for any time or circumstance of life; we can rest in him and his finished work on the cross, and draw close to find everything we could ever need in him.

I am the Door

Following this theme through in John 10:1-10, I sought to show how when Jesus refers to himself as “the door”, he’s showing that he is enough for our salvation, our security, and our surroundings. You can find the whole talk online by clicking here to head to the Oasis Website.

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The Victory of the Cross

On Saturday 14th February, I had the privilege of speaking at Oasis Church’s Student and 20’s Weekend Away, at Cefn Lea in Wales. The weekend was themed around “The Cross Centred Life”, and my talk was the first of three – aiming to set the scene and lay a foundation for the next couple of days by looking at what the death of Jesus achieved by taking place as it did in history. To do that, I asked three questions, “Why is the cross necessary?”, “Who exactly is it on the cross?” and “What difference does it make?”, and tried to allow Romans 3:21-26 to answer them.

WeekendAway

Overall, the weekend was a fantastic experience for the 70 of us there, bolstered by a real sense of community, loads of fun, and the presence of God. Alongside the three main meetings, we tasted culinary excellence at The Great Cefn Lea Bake off, marvelled at different people’s secret skills during a talent show, experienced the countryside on walks, challenged one another at football, frisbee and wide games and shared time building friendships over meals and board games. You can find a link to my talk, The Victory of the Cross, by clicking here.

Leadership Foundations 2

Another month has absolutely flown by, and so it seemed like no time at all before I was back in Milton Keynes for the second Leadership Foundations training block. It was great to catch up with some of the people I’d met first time around (despite my lack of skill in remembering names!), as well as getting stuck into something completely different. Complementing the first weekend, which was quite ‘theologically heavy’, this block was a lot more practical and hands-on. On the Friday, the theme was ‘Everyday Evangelism’ with Duncan Podbury, and Saturday was “Vision, Strategies, Systems and Team Leadership” with Richard Wightman and Colin Baron; producing a real variety of topics, approaches and styles over the two days.

theridgewaycentre

Here are some of the key things that stood out for me:

It’s a Journey
One thing Duncan particularly highlighted was that too often when thinking about evangelism, we use conversions as the measure of how well we’re doing. If people aren’t becoming Christians left, right and centre, we must be failing! We forget that coming to faith is a process, not an isolated moment. The Bible uses illustrations like farming, growing, building and even baking to describe the journey of developing a relationship with God – and most of our journeys will include times of going both backwards and forwards too! Instead of despairing when we put on an event or run an Alpha course where nobody becomes a Christian at the end, we need to celebrate the small and celebrate the journey that people are on.

The lady who had never before set foot in a church, but came to a carol concert and enjoyed it.

The man who’s been on three Alpha courses and keeps seeking, even if he’s not convinced yet.

The student who only came to a CU lunchbar for the free food, but stayed for the talk and asked some questions at the end.

That only comes by walking alongside others, building genuine relationship and not seeing individuals as projects to work on, but as people to be valued. “If people are going to see the treasure on your jar of clay, they need to be close enough to see through the cracks”.

Looking for gold, not dirt
Thinking through how we raise up and develop leaders, Colin used the illustration of a miner; looking past the dirt and mud of the ground for the smallest glimmer of gold. It can be easy to look around and wonder where the perfect people are who can step in or form the next generation of leaders, but the reality is that nobody (and certainly not your existing leaders!) have it all together. The way you develop positive people is by looking for their positive qualities, purposefully choosing to not add qualifying statements, and giving them a go with full support and guidance. If you’ve looked for gold, the dirt gets sorted out on the journey.

I hope that gives a little flavour of the weekend. Next time: Preaching and Teaching!

Freedom in Christ: Identity

Last Sunday evening, we held our first Student and 20’s Thirst of the term at Oasis Church, and it was a massive privilege to get to speak and kick off our new series looking at “Freedom in Christ”. The night centred around the theme of Identity – how our identity in the past has been that who were ‘slaves’ (not physically, but rather to ourselves; our emotions, desires, and other things), but now are those who have been set free. We looked at the question of why it feels uncomfortable to describe ourselves like that, some of the characteristics of this kind of slavery, how they are transformed through new life in Christ, and what happens when we mess things up. After starting with sung worship, a time hearing about Street Teams (an initiative Oasis runs to help the homeless), and the shorter, fifteen-minute talk, we broke up into discussion groups to chat things through and press deeper into what this truth might mean for us individually and as a community.

There’s no recording due to the nature of the event, but here’s a word cloud which gives an impression of the main focus!

Word Cloud for Freedom in Christ - Identity

All in all, it was a really enjoyable evening; and a great basis from which to build throughout the rest of the year. We have three more Thirst’s scheduled this term, once per fortnight, looking at how Freedom in Christ impacts our Purpose in the world, Decisions in daily life and Relationships with others. Lots to be excited for!

Regards,

Richard

Book Review: The Heart of a Servant Leader

This is the first Book Review I’ve done this year, largely because this is the first book I’ve finished since I started blogging again! In doing these, my aim is not to provide a critical “good or bad?” analysis, or to puff myself up by showing how many books I’ve read (it probably won’t be that many!), but rather to give an insight into what I’m learning this year. I’ll be focussing therefore on the key things that stood out for me from each book and helped me in my walk with Jesus, in the hope that they might be helpful for you too.

Having read a couple of excellent Christian books over the past few years with a number of guys from the CU, but not done much outside that, it was admittedly a struggle at times to keep going without the structure of a “one chapter a week, then gather to discuss it” model. Alongside this, The Heart of a Servant Leader has quite a unique style; it’s a collection of letters written by Jack Miller (I hadn’t heard of him either) to individuals he was mentoring, arranged into quite broad sections and covering a huge range of pastoral issues. As someone who feels wholly inexperienced in this area, I found myself reading just one or two letters a night in order to try and absorb as much of it as I could. That’s not a bad thing, but it does mean that it took quite a while to get through! Ultimately though, the truth is that I could never remember his exact response to each individual pastoral situation anyway, and even if I could, my experiences in real life will necessitate so much more of a personal response than any copy and paste answer, no matter how good it seems. Instead, here are a few helpful principles that stood out to me as I read the book:Heart of a Servant Leader

Prayer
Jack’s reliance on prayer comes through time and time again in his letters, as does his high view of its importance for Christian life. So often, it’s the starting point for dealing with the most difficult issues and the fuel to keep going during the toughest times. Jack is particularly bold in asking how specifically he can pray for those he is writing to, and for humbly asking for prayer from them too. I know that’s definitely an area I need to grow in.

Humility
Alongside asking for prayer for all kinds of different struggles in his own life, Jack models a gospel humility throughout his letters. He’s honest about his own faults and failures, but doesn’t dwell in misery, using his weaknesses to give the glory to God and demonstrate how God has moulded and shaped him through them. In speaking challenges to sinful behaviour, he never fails to offer up examples of where he too has fallen short and needed the truth to be spoken in love to him; alongside recognising that he could be mistaken and asking his recipients to simply prayfully and honestly consider whether changes were required in their own lives.

The Power of the Gospel
In the midst of such a wide range of pastoral issues, another highlight is Jack’s belief in the power of the Gospel to change any life and transform any situation. From missionaries struggling with the fear of violent oppression to fellow pastors whose churches have split apart, Jack remained convinced that the gospel was sufficient to provide hope in the darkest situation. For me, this was a real challenge for the Church to raise our eyes and raise our expectations of what Jesus can do with any person or situation; to reject a watered-down Jesus and embrace the crucified yet conquering Saviour.

Overall, I really enjoyed The Heart of a Servant Leader. Despite most of the letters being written at least twenty years ago, they addressed issues which are real and relevant for us in the Church today, and Jack Miller brings a lot of wisdom to what are often difficult and complex situations. I’ve certainly learnt a lot from it, and from him.

Regards,

Richard

Leadership Foundations 1

On Friday and Saturday last week, I visited Milton Keynes for the first time to attend the first training block of Leadership Foundations; the leadership and theology course that I’m doing this year as part of my Pastoral Internship with Oasis. It was a really great couple of days spent looking at the Theology of Scripture and Hermeneutics – or in other words, why the Bible is important and how we interpret what it says. In a topic like that, it would be easy to get lost in the multitude of complicated words and concepts, but Andrew (the course director and speaker for the two days) was excellent in ensuring that things remained accessible through creative illustrations, had real practical applications, and heavy theology was broken up with humour and frequent Q&As (and coffee breaks!).

Leadership Foundations 2014/2015

One thing that really struck me was the variety of people there. Some, like me, were freshly graduated and involved in part-time work with their churches, some had just arrived from different countries to move to the UK, some worked with UCCF helping students reach students and some had full-time jobs in all sorts of areas. There were even a few people who had been Elders of their churches for 20 years, and wanted to go deeper in undertaking a more practical theological course! From 20-somethings to Grandparents, men and women from all over the country, all united by a desire to hunger after Jesus; to seek more of Him and learn to love Him more with all of their heart, all of their soul, all of their mind, and all of their strength. Meeting such a mix of people was a great experience, and I’m looking forward to spending the next year working through some big questions with them! I also met a lovely couple called Martin and Ros, who I’m staying with on the Friday nights of the course. I definitely didn’t expect to be greeted by a full roast dinner (very tasty indeed), but am exceedingly thankful for their warm and generous welcome!

There’s fortunately a whole month now to chew over everything I learnt over the two days, along with a few assignments to complete, but I’m already looking forward to being back again.

Regards,

Richard

Unchanging

Having been back in Birmingham for nearly two weeks now, the roller-coaster experience of my year working with Oasis has well and truly started. Already, there have been ups and downs; times of great excitement, planning and dreaming for the future, tempered with the realities of personal struggles and the difficulties of adjusting to a brand new situation. In that, it was truly wonderful to be able to get some time this week to pause and refocus on what’s important. For a couple of days, I was able to join my Mum and Dad on holiday in North Devon – a 4 hour drive away, but definitely worth every minute. The company was (of course!) excellent, but more than that, the experience of being able to hit pause on the rush of starting a whole load of brand new things in Birmingham was just invaluable. In the past, on family holidays, we would often spend the time building sandcastles and ‘sea defences’ that would eventually wash away. For some reason, a foot-high wall of sand never proved enough to keep the tides at bay! Yet, in the years since I had last been there, so little had really changed. Certainly, a few of the shops were different and perhaps something of the cliffs had slipped into the sea, but the timeless quality remained.

Barricane BeachWoolacombe

The sheer beauty and scale of the natural world, so starkly illustrated by the Woolacombe coastline, brings with it a genuine sense of perspective. Though I might change, He won’t. Though my situations and locations and feelings might change, He won’t. An unchanging, eternal God. One who was here long before the coastline was formed and will be here long after the sea itself has ceased to exist either. Psalm 90, Verse 2 puts it very simply:

Before the mountains were born
    or you brought forth the whole world,
       from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

So as I return to Birmingham again, and prepare for the influx of students about to come and join the city once again, I rest anew in the one who is unchanging, and return refocused and refreshed. My past, present, and future is wholly secure in Him. Look to Him, gain some perspective, and continue on knowing that I am loved by the one who reigns from everlasting to everlasting. Father, Saviour, Lord.

Regards,

Richard

Mountaintop Experiences

Last Sunday, my last day back at home in Waterlooville before I moved up to Birmingham for this coming year, I had the very great privilege of leading the morning service at Waterlooville Baptist. If I’m being honest, it didn’t start particularly well! As someone who isn’t yet very confident in the ‘hosting’ aspect, it was easy to become slightly flustered by the five or six notices handed to me to read out before the start of the meeting, and coupled with a difficult first song meant that ten minutes in, I was not feeling too great about what was ahead. Thankfully though, the next section of the meeting had a time scheduled in for a couple of people to come and share their testimonies of what God had done at festivals over the summer (including my Mum!). As I listened to the stories of God moving in some incredible ways, through prophecy, conviction, visions, the building of community and loads more, it was as if the weight lifted; I remembered the awesome nature of the God we serve, and allowed myself to return to Him, lean on Him more fully, and rest in Him. It’s a rather freeing thing.

The theme for the morning was Mountaintop Experiences (Based on Mark 9:2-19), and the talk is available to listen to here with the supporting Powerpoint found here. As a little taster, here’s the Word Cloud. Any guesses who the main focus of the talk is?

Mountaintop Experiences

If you get a chance to listen, I would really appreciate any feedback you might have – so please do feel free to leave comments here or drop me a message. This is all still relatively new for me, and I’m always looking for ways to grow and develop my speaking for the future. Thanks!

Regards,

Richard

A New Chapter

In just a couple of days time, I’ll be moving back to Birmingham to start a brand new chapter of my life. It’s a thought that thrills me and terrifies me in almost equal measure! Here’s a quick breakdown of what I’m doing as of September:

1) Taking on the role of Pastoral Trainee with Oasis Church Birmingham
– As this is a brand new role, it’s somewhat of a step into the unknown, but will include discipleship, speaking/preaching, working with Students, Alpha, Sunday morning logistics, and loads more.
– I’ll also be heading to Milton Keynes for a couple of days a month for the Leadership Foundations training course.

2) Working part-time for a well-known Supermarket

3) Moving to the beautiful city of Birmingham to live year-round!

As you might have noticed, I’ve not managed to get into a routine of regularly updating this blog over the past year or so. With the start of something totally new though, I’m going to give it another go, and try to make this a key way of communicating how the year is going to anyone who is interested in following or supporting me with prayer – which would be very greatly appreciated! Expect sermon summaries, book reviews, random musings, prayer requests and the like, and please do give me a nudge if I’ve been quiet for a while.

There’s so much to look forward to about the year ahead, and I honestly can’t wait to get stuck in and start encountering the challenges and opportunities for growth that are to come. As I start this new chapter, I’m reminded of a verse in 2 Corinthians:

For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

Right now, it feels like there’s so much ahead. So many things to get started on, so much to be hopeful for, and it’s all there just waiting for me to throw myself into. Yet, before any of that, comes the realisation that none of it is for me, or about me, or because of me. I’m a jar of clay. My best efforts in working for Oasis, in growing my character and giftings, in engaging with secular employment, in making this city properly home; each and every one is fragile pottery. It’s only ever about the One who lives inside me. Through my weakness, through my brokenness, let His light shine. Before I throw myself into the new adventure that lies before me: Pause. Centre on Him. And here we go!

Regards,

Richard

Prayers

Last week, I was fortunate enough to be able to go for a week to Camp with the 1st Waterlooville Boys Brigade. I was in the company for quite a few years before I went to Uni, it’s had a big impact on my growth as a Christian, and it was good to get the chance to spend some time getting to know a whole new generation, most of whom were new to me. The boys, ten in all, were aged between 13 and 18, and there was an incredible variation in where they were each at on their journeys in faith – some had grown up in Church all their life and would openly say they were Christian, others had somewhat thought about it but not decided anything concrete, and for others, Christianity was something thoroughly new. It was a wonderful surprise, joy and challenge then to be asked to run the evening “Devotions”, a 10/15 minute talk each night exploring Christianity, which was a totally new challenge for me! I’ve done a little preaching before, but nothing in the way of a Bible Study for  small group of semi-Christian guys. To give it the feel of a series, we looked at 1 John, taking a few verses every day and unpacking them, and I tried to incorporate an activity or extended illustration into each one to keep things fresh and link it back to their lives and the 21st Century.

I’ll be honest, the first night didn’t go too well! The guys didn’t look too interested, a few looking across the table and whispering, and only really engaging with the activity of writing down hopes and dreams for life (to compare to John looking back on his life). I also tried an ‘open’ time of prayer, praying at the start, and then leaving it open for anyone to pray before closing. Needless to say, we sat in silence for a few minutes until another Officer thankfully stepped in with a prayer!

For the second night, I shifted things around a little, changing the layout from just the regular layout of our dinner tables and pushing them together to form a big circle, which gave me the chance to look everyone in the eye as I was talking and I think did a better job of holding their attention and cutting down on cross-table whispers! Then, at the end, I picked up a tennis ball, christened it the ‘prayer ball’ and explained that I would pray, and pass it around the circle, and when it got to them, everyone could either pray if they wanted to or simply pass it on. I could hardly believe it. Every single guy, spoke up and prayed when the ball got to them! All of them! It was massively encouraging, but the thing that struck me most was the innocent power of their prayers – they might not have been the kind of deep, theological prayers that a Minister or Pastor might pray, but I really got the sense that they meant them. It is incredible how powerful ten prayers thanking God for the weather, for dinner, or for the day we’d just enjoyed together can be when they are spoken with heart and in truth.

As I went to bed though, some doubts crept in. What if I hadn’t explained it properly? What if the guys had felt pressured to pray when they were holding the ‘prayer ball’, even if they hadn’t wanted to? What if that would actually turn them away from God, regardless of what I’d been saying? I went to sleep thanking God for the response, but resolving to be crystal clear the next day that prayer was not compulsory.

The next night though, as I sat there, explained everything again, and passed round the newly christened ‘prayer peg’ (a mysterious new object every night!), exactly the same thing happened. Every single guy prayed, and with incredible honesty and conviction. It was a real joy. That happened again and again, every night, and it really got me thinking about the beauty of simple prayers. How often do I open my mouth to speak, forgetting that what I’m doing is talking to my loving heavenly Father and mistaking it for a chat with an eternal Theology Professor who is just waiting to be impressed by my clever phasing? It’s not that good theology is bad, far from it, but I find sometimes that the more I try too hard to wrap up what I’m saying in academic jargon, the less it reflects what I’d actually wanted to say in the first place. True prayer is a conversation, speaking from your heart and listening and responding to God’s prompting, and that can only happen when you’re willing to open yourself, be a little bit vulnerable, and pray freely, honestly and without restriction. It’s something I pray that I will become better at.

Jesus once said that to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, we need to become more like children – those who run freely to our heavenly Father, secure in His love and in our identity as His beloved children. Prayer seems as good a place as any to start.

Regards,

Richard