Mexico “International Congress of Praise 2017”

As you can understand, there has been uncertainty about the “RVRNT” conference going ahead. However, it’s on, and Heathrow is my temporary stop on the way to Mexico tonight. I’m looking forward to making new Mexican friends at the conference in Guadalajara. And I hope to bring them some of God’s comfort.

It’s impossible for me to relate to what they are going through, but I know God is familiar with suffering and tragedy. Please pray for me to have the right words and the right attitude to comfort the mourning.

I’ll be posting daily if possible – depending on wifi and power availability. Look out for the video blog. I’ll update it with lessons I’m learning about corporate worship.

Also, please pray for the two speaking opportunities I have:

1. “The God who Transcends” on Friday

2. “Worship as Sacrifice” on Sunday

Thanks & God bless,

Malcolm

Tuesday Teaching Tips Episode 75: “How to preach for the first time”

Seven tips for preparing your first lesson

What’s the best way to approach preparing your first sermon? I offer seven tips to help first-time speakers.

Please add your comments on this week’s topic. We learn best when we learn in community.

Do you have a question about teaching the Bible? Is it theological, technical, practical? Send me your questions or suggestions. Here’s the email: malcolm@malcolmcox.org.

Thanks again for watching. Have a terrific Tuesday, and a wonderful week.

God bless,

Malcolm

Tuesday Teaching Tips, Episode 74: “How to Find the Answer to a Question”

What's the best way to dig into a question to find an answer?

Once we have identified the questions in a text, how do we go about finding the answers? I give you a peek into my method using MindNode. It’s a tiny tip this week because I’m on holiday and this was pre-recorded.

Please add your comments on this week’s topic. We learn best when we learn in community.

Do you have a question about teaching the Bible? Is it theological, technical, practical? Send me your questions or suggestions. Here’s the email: malcolm@malcolmcox.org.

Thanks again for watching and listening. Have a terrific Tuesday, and a wonderful week.

God bless,

Malcolm

How to Love a God Who Transcends

My Mexico challenge

Is it possible to love a God who transcends? Can we connect with the creator of all we see and all we cannot see? What kind of relationship makes sense when we are mortal and God is not?  I’m not the first to wrestle with this question, but I have a particular reason for asking it now.

Going to Guadalajara

On 20th September I fly to Guadalajara for a conference. The “Reverent” conference for leaders of corporate worship. It’s my first time going to this event. My first time to this country. My first time to this city. I’m excited and a little nervous. Not about the setting, but about my responsibilities. You see, I’ve been asked to speak. The title of my 20-minute slot is, “The God Who Transcends”. Wow! What an opportunity, and what a mystery!

Taking on Transcendence

The goal is to speak on the holiness, other-ness and transcendence of God in a way that inspires and instructs worship leaders to be better at what they have been called to do. No small matter. No small topic. Relevant Bible verses are not in short supply, but what approach would be best? And how do I encapsulate such a gargantuan topic in 20 minutes? Is it possible?

Starting the Search

Well, I had to start somewhere. I sat down recently to contemplate my theme. The verse that came to mind was this one: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7 NIV11)  It appears to leave me with no hope. God’s peace is beyond my understanding. What’s the point of trying to grasp his transcendence if even his peace is incomprehensible? However, there is a hint of an answer. The effects of his peace are real. His peace guards my heart and mind. Perhaps this is a clue to the right direction.

Wrestling with the Word

Let’s go back to the word in question. The word translated ‘transcends’ in Philippians is ‘huperechoœ’. It means to excel, exceed, be better than, to hold above, to stand out above, to overtop, to surpass, excellence, preeminence, to be higher, superior. It’s used elsewhere in the New Testament. Here are the other references and the NIV11 translations (the relevant word in bold):

– “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” (Romans 13:1 NIV11)

– “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,” (Philippians 2:3 NIV11)

– “What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8 NIV11)

– “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority,” (1 Peter 2:13 NIV11)

Of course, I will be searching the Old Testament for insight in due course, but I wanted to start with the New Testament. The verses above paint a picture of something beyond me, not owned by me, not contained by me, not controlled by me. Here’s where I am so far. God’s qualities which make him God are not understandable by humans like me. When I think of ‘transcendence’, words like omnipotent, omniscience and omnipresence come to mind. I cannot relate. However, the effects of his transcendence are visible, material and tangible. This is the direction I’m following at the moment.

A fruitful enquiry as to God’s transcendence might be to consider the effects on his creation of his invisible qualities (Romans 1.20). Those who trust his nature will benefit from his nature.

Conclusion

As of today, there are 15 days between now and the day I am due to deliver the talk. Ideas are swirling around my head. Your input would be most welcome. I am writing today’s blog to clarify my own thinking and to request your thoughts.

A fruitful enquiry as to God's transcendence might be to consider the effects on his creation of his… Click To Tweet

Question

When you think of the transcendence of God, what comes to mind? Do you have a way of picturing it which helps you? Do you think I’m on target so far? Would you suggest I add anything? Are there any scriptures relevant to the topic? Please let me know by leaving a comment below.

I know I will be very grateful and so will other readers of the blog and listeners to the podcast. We learn best when we learn in community.

Many thanks, and God bless,

Malcolm

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Tuesday Teaching Tip, Episode 73: “How to Find the Right Questions to Answer”

What questions are hidden in a passage?

Before we preach from a passage in the Bible, we need to know what the questions are. Those questions need answering before we decide what to bring to the congregation. I share here one of my techniques to discover the questions using Accordance Bible software.

 

Thank you for watching this video or listening to the audio

Please add your comments on this week’s topic. We learn best when we learn in community.

Do you have a question about teaching the Bible? Is it theological, technical, practical? Send me your questions or suggestions. Here’s the email: malcolm@malcolmcox.org.

Thanks again for watching and listening. Have a terrific Tuesday, and a wonderful week.

God bless,

Malcolm

The Sunday Sample 3rd September 2017

Reflections on Corporate Worship

Date:  Sunday 3rd September 2017

Location: Bracknell

Special Occasion: none

The service in Bracknell this Sunday was a delight. Most summer wanderers had returned. It was good to see familiar faces again. Many of which had been significantly tanned. 

Speakers

Tim Dannatt preached. I shared the communion talk. Elliot and Emily talked about HOPE worldwide and the Patel family welcomed us. A few notes on what I observed.
Elliot and Emily teased us about a presentation they will be doing about the Zambia HOPE Youth Corp at the beginning of October. They used the technique of repeatedly saying they were going to tell us things then, but not now. This created strong engagement with the congregation through the humour of the repetition. It also meant that there was no way we were going to forget what they were promoting!
I liked the way that Harry and Saroj involved their children by having them read Scripture. We could tell that neither of the children felt pressurised, although, of course, they looked a bit embarrassed. And I especially liked the fact that Saroj clearly had thought carefully about what she was going to pray about and how she was going to pray. In the devotional before we began the service, she asked if there were any prayer needs. Then when she actually prayed, she did so with a good blend of formal and extemporary tone.
  
Videos of Tim’s sermon is here.

Audio available at the Thames Valley churches of Christ iTunes podcast.

Music Worship

I mentioned last week that we were going to try something different. Here’s how it went. We did a three song opening set all in the key of G. Beginning with the first two verses of “Amazing Grace”, then moving straight into “Anchor for the soul”, straight into “How great is our God”, and finishing with the final verse of “Amazing grace”. The congregation loved it!  I can’t claim that I originated the idea – heard it somewhere else. Something about the flow helped the congregation get into the spirit of why we were praising God, and connecting with the God whom we were praising.

Other Thoughts

Here’s a pre-service devotional idea I tried this Sunday. Before starting the devotional I handed a small picture to every person involved in the service. It was a photograph I had taken of a cyclist silhouetted against bright sunlight. I used it to symbolise what God has done for us in bringing us out of darkness into light, 1 Peter 2.9. Then I remarked that we are people praising the one and leading the worship in praise of the one who brought us out of darkness into his wonderful night.

Nothing I said was remarkable, but having a photograph in the hand helped people to connect more strongly with the point. Several of those present mentioned how helpful this was. We must never underestimate the value of physical props helping us to communicate our message.

Last week I said I would:

  1. Experiment with an opening set three-song medley sandwich in Bracknell. Done
  2. Lead a devotional for all involved in the service in Bracknell. Done

The focus for next Sunday: I’m on holiday!

Please comment on what you’re doing locally with your services. What are you trying that’s working? What is God teaching you?

Share reflections with us so we can grow and please God.

You can leave a comment below.

God bless,

Malcolm

 

The Sunday Sample – 27 August 2017

Reflections on Corporate Worship

Date:  Sunday 27th August 2017

Location: Watford & Lower Earley

Special Occasion: none

Both Watford and Lower Earley were empty! Seriously think we should consider having house-church on the August bank-holiday weekend. Not only are many away on holiday, but a bunch of Thames Valley folk are off at youth camp. We had a good time anyway, but a more intimate home-based service would be better.
 
The Watford service benefitted by us taking off from the school as soon as the service ended and popping across the road to the park. A new playground opened recently. The children had fun on the equipment while the parents picnicked in the sunshine. We must do that again. It rather looked as if some of the adults had fun too!

Speakers

I spoke in both locations. Not a common practice, but not a problem.
 
My lessons were OK. Not great, but not bad. Let me know what you think. The heat and small numbers made for a less energetic atmosphere than usual. But the engagement was reasonable. I know that my own assessment of my lessons is not always objective. I’ve often found that the lessons I think went well had little impact. The lessons I don’t like sometimes get the best feedback.
 
I aimed for 25 minutes in both locations and went longer. 29 minutes in both. Oh well, not far off. If you have any tips on shortening lessons, please leave a comment. See also this video on my YouTube channel.
 
Videos are here and here. Audio available at the Watford and Thames Valley churches of Christ iTunes podcasts.
 
Johan shared a deceptively simple, but profound communion talk. Here are his main points explaining the purpose of the Lord’s Supper using 1 Cor 10 & 11 as his source texts:
  1. Discernment – make sure we have a correct focus going into the Lord’s Supper
  2. Separation – from idols
  3. Communion – 1 Cor 10.16 – as in sharing together in something
  4. Remembrance – his name, works, life, exaltation
  5. Bond of Christian fellowship – 1 Cor 10.17
  6. Powerful proclamation – vital facts of the gospel
Note to self: keep working on succinctness.

Music Worship

Leon was awesome in Watford! Danny & Charl lead most of our songs, but they were away. Leon stepped in a led with passion and professionalism. He even got a round of applause for his leadership of one song. It’s endearing to see the way congregations warm to people stepping up to serve in faith.

Our song service in Lower Earley was super. Obi was majestic in his role as lead song-leader.

Other Thoughts

Last week I said I would:

  1. Lower Earley: confirm which person is leading which song well in advance – by Friday. Done
  2. Watford: keep my combined sermon and communion to no more than 25 minutes. Working on it….

The focus for next Sunday:

  1. Experiment with an opening set three-song medley sandwich in Bracknell. I’ll explain next week.
  2. Lead a devotional for all involved in the service in Bracknell.

Please comment on what you’re doing locally with your services. What are you trying that’s working? What is God teaching you?

Share reflections with us so we can grow and please God.

You can leave a comment below.

God bless,

Malcolm

 

Two Ways to Quickly Find Support From God When You Need It

How a Text Message Refreshed My Soul

Have you ever felt low? Lacking in energy and motivation? What picked you up? Let me tell you about something that strengthened my soul this week.
 

A Gratitude Text

A text message pinged into my phone last night. It was from an old friend. Someone I don’t see so often these days, but for whom I feel lasting affection and considerable respect. He messaged me out of the blue. It wasn’t a request, but an unsolicited message of encouragement. He thanked me for my impact on his life, and my support. Seeing the message caused a small lump to form in my throat. The word that stood out to me was ‘support’. He used it three times. In one text message. I don’t remember the details of the events he mentioned. Some of them were over 15 years ago. But, it is clear he felt supported.
 

A Source of Support

Do you feel supported by God? If you were sending him a gratitude text, would support be the main topic? God helps us in so many material, emotional and spiritual ways. But even if you couldn’t remember them all, would you still recall his support? I hope I do. I know I can, and so can you. God wants to be our support. But how does this work?
 

Two Words

Two Hebrew words are commonly translated ‘support’ in an English Bible. Let’s look at them.
 

1. ‘mishan’

“They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support.” (Psalms 18:18 NIV11)
 
Here the emphasis is on supply. God supplies what his people need. Have a look at the rest of the Psalm. The writer was in ‘deep waters’, facing an overwhelming enemy, in need of rescue. Feels like my life. What about yours? What did God do? He supplied rescue to a safe place. The panic of sensing a need unmet makes us forgetful of the many times we’ve received what was needed.
 
The next time you’re in need of support reflect on what you already have. Part of my prayer time this morning was a ‘basics’ segment. I thanked God for supplying the air I breathe and all the senses with which I enjoy this world. I listed everything from the earth beneath my boots to the leaves on the trees. I have been repeatedly over-supplied. When I remember God’s generosity, it gives me faith for his future supply.
 

2. ‘saad’

“When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your unfailing love, Lord, supported me.” (Psalms 94:18 NIV11)
 
This time the emphasis is on sustaining. God sustains his people. The idea is that God sustains to the point of refreshment. The Psalmist’s “anxiety was great” (v19), but, and I love this phrase, God’s “consolation brought me joy”.
 
We can get so caught up in the whirlwind of a crisis we lose sight of its temporary nature. This too will pass. God is with you in the storm, and he will sustain you until you get to the right refreshment stop.
 
Many times the sustaining is only obvious in hindsight. I’ve known life, ministry, church and family crises that seemed unending. Later, a few weeks, months or years later, I can see God kept me going, and gave me refreshment. Reflect on the challenges of the past years. Can you recall the refreshment that came at the end of the tough time?

Conclusion

From Psalm 18 we know God supplies what we need. Friends can help, but God is the support. The direct support. Go to him first when you are struggling.
 
Psalm 94 reminds us that God’s love is our support. His personal presence supplies us with faith and strength long after ours has run out. Read Psalms and other scriptures about the love of God if you want to stand strong.
 
I’m so grateful to my friend, Mr ‘T’, for his text message. And glad he felt supported by me. I will send him a reply after finishing this blog and recording the podcast. How much more does God deserve a gratitude-text from me – otherwise known as a prayer!
 
The next time you need God’s support, do two things:
  1. Thank him for what he has already supplied. Ask him for what you need to get through the current crisis
  2. Thank him for his sustaining love up to know. Offer him your commitment to continued trust in his love. Ask him to provide you with consoling comfort.
 

Question

What helps you to feel God’s support? What does it mean to you to experience his supply and sustaining strength?
 
Please leave a comment here so that we can all learn from one another. We learn best when we learn in community.
 
I hope you have a wonderful week of quiet times.
 
God bless, Malcolm
By the way, if you’d like some personal coaching on developing spiritual disciplines in your life, click on the badge below and find out more.

Get coached on Coach.me

Tuesday Teaching Tips, Episode 72 – “How to cut out the half you don’t need”

How to edit a talk

What’s the best way to edit a lesson? How do we know what to cut out? I’ve been using OmniOutliner to help with structuring my lessons, but I’m struggling to reduce my average sermon length to 25 minutes. It’s not that 25 minutes is the right goal for everyone, but I’m focussed on learning how to better edit my lessons. What do you do to edit your talks?

Audio:

 

Thank you for watching this video or listening to this audio.

Please add your comments on this week’s topic. We learn best when we learn in community.

Do you have a question about teaching the Bible? Is it theological, technical, practical? Send me your questions or suggestions. Here’s the email: malcolm@malcolmcox.org.

Thanks again for watching or listening. Have a terrific Tuesday and a wonderful week.

God bless,

Malcolm

This Sunday I’ll be speaking twice on the topic: “The Most Important Meal in the History of the World”

10.30 AM Watford church of Christ, Laurance Haines School, Vicarage Road, Watford. Pot-luck lunch follows the event.

3 PM Thames Valley churches of Christ, Earley CresCent Resource Centre, Warbler Drive, Reading RG6 4HB

Both lessons will expound on Luke 22.1-23. If you have any questions about the passage, please leave a comment and I will do my best to address them.

Both services are open to all who wish to attend regardless of faith or background.

God bless, Malcolm

“When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”” (Luke 22:14–16 NIV11)

Date: 27th August 2017
Event: Speaking Engagements Sunday 27th August 2017
Topic: “The Most Important Meal in the History of the World”, Luke 22.1-23
Public: Public