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

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

Gardening

It was many months ago now that myself and a good friend (the similarly named Rich Pitt) promised, as part of the UBCU fund-raising Promise Auction, to complete some gardening for the highest bidder, and last week, the time came to cash in that promise to our wonderful friend Kristi. Quite a few hours of work later, and with some extra help, the garden was successfully transformed; not quite to a masterpiece but definitely to a the level of a collage I’d be happy to stick on my fridge.Garden

It’s probably the first bit of gardening I’ve done in a while (certainly, my garden here at Uni is testament to that!), and it got me thinking. I’ve spent a fair bit of time in hn 15 lately, from going through John in my quiet time to our Oasis series “Fruit that lasts” looking at the fruits of the Spirit and to our CU’s vision for the year ahead of being totally and utterly Rooted in Christ as the basis and foundation of our shared mission on campus. I feel I know it quite well. However, there is something about having spent a few hours cutting, mowing, strimming and bagging 23 bags worth of garden waste that really shifts “knowing” a passage from head knowledge to heart knowledge. Looking closely at the word of God is wonderful, but there is something about experiencing what it talks about physically which truly hits home, particularly when it is using metaphors and imagery. Some things I’ve learnt from that afternoon:

–          Gardening is hard work. It’s tiring, fiddly and frustrating at times; and that was only for one afternoon. To see truly great results would require you to go back, day after day, month after month, working hard, constantly striving to care for something so fragile, and yet so beautiful. John 15:1-2 talks about the Father as our gardener, shaping and moulding us more into the likeness of Jesus if we allow Him. This too though, is hard work! It takes time, day after day, month after month, and more often than not, we’ll probably fight Him all the way, but you know what? He thinks you’re worth it!

–          Plants are strong. Even the ones which don’t look like anything special can hide roots which go way down, and once bedded in, boy are they tough to get out. Plants bed themselves in deeply, roots to stem, stem to branch, and even with the right tools it can be a challenge to break through. Jesus talks in John 15:4-7 about us “remaining in Him” as branches remain in a vine. What a challenge! Are we so deeply stuck into Him that no supernatural secateurs of the enemy can cut us away? Jesus is strong enough to repel them, if only we remain in Him.

–          As Christians, we have to meet people where they are at. A slightly different reflection this one, but it’s so important to remember that as we present the gospel to those around us in our daily lives, we need to love people well enough that we care about how we present them with this treasure that we have. Jesus was the master at this (as with pretty much everything else), and His stories, His parables and His use of imagery connected with the people of His day because they took everyday situations, scenarios and examples and demonstrated how they reflected and pointed to the One who made them all. If I had realised what now seems quite obvious, that actually doing some gardening would have helped my understanding of John 15, I would have done it much sooner! As followers of Jesus, we have a commission to share His good news with those around us, but that does not mean that we need present it as dull, boring or irrelevant. After all, the gospel is none of those things! It’s life! Neither are we alone; God sends the Holy Spirit to live within us, helping, teaching, guiding and prompting us in His mission, if we let Him. If we love God and love those around us with everything we have, if we let Him speak through us to reach people where they are at, you can be sure that God will be using us to fulfil that mission of letting the whole world know the good news of Jesus Christ.

I heard it said once that you’re never closer to God than when you’re in a garden. Whilst I’m not sure that’s entirely true, what I have found is a little gardening goes a long way, both on the outside, and on the inside.

Regards,

Richard

Reflections on Catalyst

Good evening!

It’s been a couple of weeks now since I was fortunate enough to attend the Catalyst festival at Stoneleigh, with my church, Oasis Church Birmingham. Now, a couple of weeks on, it’s had a little time to sink in and I can really take a step back and reflect on what was a wonderful few days.

I can think back to meeting so many new people for the first time, and properly getting to know some I’ve only met in passing at Church. It’s easy to find yourself in a student bubble sometimes, particularly at University and even at Church, and it’s easy to simply hang out with the same people and never branch out. But that’s not what we were designed for! When Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 12 about being part of a body of Christians, he makes it clear that in that body is a huge amount of diversity – differences as stark as a foot is different from an eye! Something that really struck me over the few days away is that the body of Christ really is beautiful because of its diversity, and not simply in spite of it. We are all part of a bigger whole, bigger than the student bubble at Oasis, bigger than Birmingham, bigger even than the newfrontiers family of Churches, a wonderfully varied assortment of unspectacular people running after a spectacular God.

I can think back to the thrill of worship with thousands of others lifting their voices to God; that same sense of being part of something bigger condensed into one moment as voices rise, singing new songs, old songs, non-songs and praises of all kinds. I never feel closer to heaven than when I look around at people as far as I can see lifting their hearts and eyes to Him and pouring out love. The realisation too, that the God who is so present in the room of 4000 is just as present in your prayer meeting of ten the week after, and hears every silent prayer spoken alone in your room at home. How astonishing it is that He would be interested in us!

I can think back to challenging talks and seminars, spending time considering bodily resurrection and predestination and ‘big theological stuff’ and also mulling over devastatingly simple, core-gospel talks which force you to re-evaluate what you are putting at the centre of your life. If it’s not Jesus, it’s not worth it! Reflecting back, it is much easier to see the lessons learned, to see a great time for stretching and building my faith.

I am looking forward to next year already, but also to building on what has begun at Catalyst, deeper friendships with those at Church, my brothers and sisters, a faith challenged and grown, and a renewed joy in the beauty of a broken people rescued by Grace and seen fit by the King of Kings to be welcomed into His courts, now and forever.

Regards,

Richard

Introduction

Perhaps a little late to this ‘scene’, I grant you, but I have decided to start blogging. Undoubtedly, there is something incredibly liberating about organising your thoughts in such a way as to condense them down into words and lay them out on a page before you. The seemingly random patterns of thoughts which are in one way constrained by being limited to words in another gain a freedom from the security of development and structure. 

A little about myself, my name is Richard, originally from Waterlooville, near Portsmouth, but currently living in Birmingham as I study Political Science and International Relations at the University of Birmingham. From when I first learnt about a man called Jesus, I have found myself ever more deeply desiring to run after Him, to know Him more closely, and to live in the light of the freedom, security and abundant life that He offers, and to reveal that to others through everything I do. This is something I frequently fail at, but seek more and more every day. Blessed to be loved by a wonderful God, an amazing girlfriend, a wonderful church community called Oasis and to have the privilege of serving the University of Birmingham Christian Union as President with some of my dearest friends. Also lead worship, preach from time to time, and enjoy Fifa, Football Manager and (somewhat guiltily)  Taylor Swift.

As of yet, I have no idea what I’m likely to blog about, but I’m sure something will pop up, and I’d love to know what you think of anything I do write.

Regards,

Richard