The Sunday Sample, 25th June 2017

Reflections on corporate worship

Date: Sunday 25th June

Location: Watford (Dunstable Downs) and Lower Earley

Special Occasion: outdoor service for the Watford church

We’re continuing our run of experimental services in the Watford church. This week saw us make an expedition to the Dunstable Downs. It’s a beautiful spot (highest in Bedfordshire) and gives views of the three counties of Bucks, Herts and Beds. A wonderful location to remind us of God’s vision for all peoples. After singing and praying we reflected on Matt 28.16-20.  Jesus took his disciples up a mountain at least in part to give them a vision –

“Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”” (Matthew 28:16–20 NIV11)

The location has added poignancy for me because my parents brought me to the Downs when I was a baby. At the time we lived in nearby Luton.

Note to self: research the Watford church members to find out if they have places of spiritual significance locally that we could go to for the purpose of inspiration. 

 

Speakers

Fabian was our speaker in Lower Earley. His youthfulness, combined with an exceptionally able mind, meant we were treated to a fresh and well thought-through exposition on the story of Zacchaeus. Hearing him preach filled me with hope for the next generation. It’s vital we give these young people opportunities to teach.

Note to self: don’t forget to ask members of the congregation for feedback on young speakers so that I can give the young people well-balanced feedback, and not just my own opinions.

 

Music Worship

The singing at Dunstable was good – if a little affected by the fresh wind! We’d have benefitted from one song that was children-friendly. The Lower Earley singing was good – especially in the second half of the service  – for some reason I cannot fathom. Rudie assigned leaders to the songs in advance which made for a more settled sense of leadership. Rynhardt led, “Ancient of Days”, and helped us to utilise it the best so far – largely because he interspersed the sections with guiding us as to where the song was going (repeat chorus etc.). This style of leadership is very effective when there are many ways to get through a song.

The Lower Earley singing was good – especially in the second half of the service (for some reason I cannot fathom). Rudie assigned leaders to the songs in advance which made for a more settled sense of leadership. Rynhardt led, “Ancient of Days”, and helped us to utilise it the best so far – largely because he interspersed the sections with guiding us as to where the song was going (repeat chorus etc.). This style of leadership is very effective when there are many ways to get through a song.

Note to self: encourage more song leaders to do as Rynhardt did when appropriate.

 

Other Thoughts

Last week I said we would:

  1. Focus on agreeing who is leading which song in advance (Lower Earley) – done, and made a positive difference
  2. Prioritise ventilation – not needed this week

Focus for next Sunday:

  1. Thames Valley has the annual outdoor service at Wellington Country Park.  I will emphasise to all speakers the significance of being ready to move up front to do their part. When outdoors it is especially important to avoid delays at transition points.
  2. I will not be at the Watford service this week, but I will ask the speakers and song leader (Danny) if there is any way I can support them in my absence.

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

PRAYERS THAT MOVE GOD TO ACT – Part 2

More of, "How to Pray So God Hears and Acts"

We’re having a second bite at this topic: developing a healthy prayer life by praying in such a way as to be confident God will act. Part one is here.


Filip Mroz

It can be hard to change your mind. My wife and I were raised with different perspectives on many things. One that threatened to cause a divorce in the earlier years of our marriage was the right way to peel vegetables. With a peeler that peeled away from you, or a peeler that peeled towards you? We settled on a compromise. We have our own peelers. Mine peels away from the body (the correct way, of course), and hers peels towards the body (false doctrine if ever I saw it). Joking apart, some attitudes do not need changing. But some do. It’s going to be hard to have a healthy prayer life if we go into our times of prayer without a willingness to change our hearts and our minds.

In last week’s article, we focussed on the idea, summed up in the quote from Spurgeon, that, “Prayer is the slender nerve that moveth the muscles of omnipotence.”[1]. How should we pray? Our first insight was to see that, 1. Prayer is satisfying when God is who we are seeking. What of our second insight? It is this.

Prayer is satisfying when we are willing to be changed

I’m not sure if prayer always changes God’s mind (he is sovereign after all), but I am sure it changes mine. Consider the example of Jesus. He prayed in Gethsemane for his will to be in line with God’s – “Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Mk 14.36. He was changed and strengthened (enabled to go through with the crucifixion) “because of his reverent submission.” (Heb 5:7)

How do we do this? I suggest three steps:

  1. Ask for the right heart. “Grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” (Psalms 51:12 NIV11)
  2. Consciously commit the issues to God. “Commit your way to the Lord;” (Psalms 37:5 NIV11)
  3. Trust God that the outcome will be best for the kingdom, and for you. “In you, Lord my God, I put my trust.” (Psalms 25:1 NIV11)

Charles Finney wrote, “prayer produces a change in us that makes it fitting for God to do what would not have been fitting otherwise.”[2] In other words, we’re kidding ourselves if we think that God will act when we’re not prepared to be involved. We cannot be detached from what we’re praying about. In praying for something, I’m effectively saying, “I’m ready to be involved in seeing that prayer answered with whatever I can do.” Let’s be sure that we’re willing to be changed and used by God.

We’ll look at a final point in one more article next week.

Questions: What stands in the way of you being willing to do God’s will? Is there anything you know He is asking of you that you are resisting? What is at the root of the problem? Do you have some tactics for dealing with these challenges that have worked for you? What will you do differently in your next prayer time? Leave a comment in the comment section below.

Your brother,

Malcolm

 

[1] Twelve Sermons on prayer, Baker Books, p 31

[2] Lectures on Revival, Bethany House, p 38

The Sunday Sample, June 18 2017

Reflections on corporate worship

Dr Ben Dannatt sharing about the Lord’s Supper

Date: Sunday 18th June

Location: Watford and Bracknell

Special occasion: Fathers’ Day

“There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.”” (Deuteronomy 1:31 NIV11)

It was a special joy celebrating fathers’ day with all the dads in the Watford and Thames Valley churches. We’re lucky if we have a good relationship with our earthly fathers, for not all do, but we are especially fortunate to have a loving heavenly father who gives us the perfect parenting no human father can provide.

Note to self: we could have made more of this theme in the Watford service. The handing out of chocolate byt the chidlren to their fathers in Bracknell delighted both dads and their kids!

Speakers

Mike Desouza was our visiting speaker in Bracknell. It’s always good to see and hear from an old friend. He did not disappoint. One of Mike’s signature speaking strengths is his use of illustrations and media. Video clips and powerful images gave his message extra punch.

Note to self: add video into my lessons more often

Music Worship

The heat in both locations meant the physical enthusiasm was a little lacking – especially in Watford where we had an oven of a hall in which to meet! The weather was stiffling.

Note to self: bring fans when it’s hot. Open all windows etc as soon as arriving at the venue.

Other Thoughts

Last week

  1. Agree who is leading which song in advance – done
  2. Use scripture to help us focus – not applied

Focus for next Sunday

  1. Continue to focus on agreeing who is leading which song in advance (Lower Earley)
  2. Prioritise ventilation

Please comment on what you’re doing locally with your services. Share ideas with us so we can grow and please God.

Let me know your ideas. You can leave a comment below.

God bless,

Malcolm

PRAYERS THAT MOVE GOD TO ACT – Part 1

How to Pray So God Hears and Acts

One way you can develop a healthy prayer life is to pray in such a way as to be confident God will act.


Filip Mroz

Charles Spurgeon said, “Prayer is the slender nerve that moveth the muscles of omnipotence.”[1]. Nerves are so tiny, aren’t they? I’ve got some damaged nerves from knee surgery. Hit me on my left knee in just the right place and I won’t feel a thing. I don’t think I’ve ever physically seen a nerve, but the movement of my muscles depends on them. Spurgeon saw prayers as the nerves that move God’s mighty muscles. I like that picture. It reminds me of Psalm 89.9-13,

“You rule over the surging sea; when its waves mount up, you still them. You crushed Rahab like one of the slain; with your strong arm you scattered your enemies. The heavens are yours, and yours also the earth; you founded the world and all that is in it. You created the north and the south; Tabor and Hermon sing for joy at your name. Your arm is endued with power; your hand is strong, your right hand exalted.”

My prayers often feel more like invisible, fragile nerves than mighty muscles or a strong arm. But I guess that’s the point. I’m the nerve – God is the muscle. I don’t need to worry about how ‘powerful’ my prayer is. My faith should be in God’s ‘muscles’, not my own.

So, how are our ‘nerves’ and God’s ‘muscles’ working? How should we pray? What should we expect? Let me offer the first of three thoughts …

Prayer is satisfying when God is who we are seeking

Did your mother or father ever accuse you of loving them only for their money? God wants a relationship with us, and we need a relationship with him more than any ‘gift’ he has for us. John Piper is quoted as saying, “God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in Him.”[2]. Why not spend the first part of your prayer time communing with God – before asking him for anything.

Discipline your mind and heart to speak only to Him of who He is and what it is about Him that impresses you the most. Pray through this passage:

“One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.” (Psalms 27:4 NIV11)

Follow up by meditating on these verses:

“You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water. I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands.” (Psalms 63:1–4 NIV11)

We’ll look at two further points in upcoming articles.

Questions: Have you been more focused on your requests and problems than God Himself? What will help you get your priorities straight? What will you do differently in your next prayer time? Leave a comment in the comment section.

Your brother,

Malcolm

 

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[1] Twelve Sermons on prayer, Baker Books, p 31

[2] Quoted in The Joy of Fearing God, J Bridges, Monarch, p 254

 

 

The Sunday Sample, 11 June 2017

Reflections on Corporate Worship


Date: Sunday 11th June

Location: Watford and Lower Earley

Special occasion: n/a

I just love the look on this young lad’s face! The astonished joy etched on the face of Enitoni was a sight to behold. He is looking at his candle-strewn birthday cake (just out of shot). We had a good time in Watford in the morning, and likewise in Lower Earley in the afternoon. Here follow a few reflections on both services.

Speakers

Both services featured inexperienced speakers. It added to the atmosphere of the occasions in a very positive way since the congregations were willing the speakers to do well, and the speakers themselves brought fresh perspectives. Leon preached his first sermon (highly recommended viewing/listening – check the Watford church of Christ podcast and YouTube channels). It will not be his last. Michael shared his first communion talk since being restored two years ago. Wale preached his second ever sermon in the UK.

Note to self: don’t be afraid to ask people to speak even if they are inexperienced.

Music Worship

The song services went well in both places. The opening song was preceded by the scripture which inspired the song – which helped connect the spiritual point with our hearts and minds. I would say it helped the focus of the worship. The communion song in Lower Earley was led without a leader in a central position. I sense this helped people reflect on the words more than usual.

Note to self: agree who is leading which song in advance. 

Other Thoughts

Focus for next Sunday

  1. Agree who is leading which song in advance (Bracknell)
  2. Use scripture to help us focus

Please comment on what you’re doing locally with your services. Share ideas with us so we can grow and please God.

Let me know your ideas. You can leave a message here, or send me an email: mccx@mac.com.

God bless,

Malcolm

The Sunday Sample: 4 June 2017

Reflections on corporate worship

Date: Sunday 4th June

Location: Bracknell

Special occasion: themed service – “Elected”

Although the picture on the left is from the morning service in Watford (the kids were magnificent – singing and performing the actions to the song, “Great big God” – “thank you”, Danny), I’m going to focus this review on the Bracknell event because it was a special themed service.

The title was “Elected” as a pun on the forthcoming general election and the scriptures about our spiritual election.

Outline

The service outline is below:

Item Details Who Other
Song Thank you Lord – Voices & Guitar Tidu/Roger Band
Song I Will Rise – Band Tidu Band
Song Hallelujah (Lord we sing ….) – Band Tidu/Roger Band
Welcome & Prayer Watkins
Slideshow Children go to classes
Song Transcend – Voices & Guitar Alex Band
HOPE talk It’s not about governments, but us here in this room Tony
Song Take my Life – Voices & Guitar. While HOPE collection taken up Tidu Voices & Guitar
Introduction Malcolm Explain group work
Group work Together with the person sitting next to you, discuss a time you felt chosen and how it felt (not about God). 2’s or 3’s
Sharing Get a few responses.  Introduce testimonies. Malcolm
Testimony 1 Shevvy
Sharing What did we notice about Shevvy’s testimony? Malcolm
Testimony 2 CJ
Sharing What did we notice about CJ’s testimony?
Communion Describe how God chose/elected us because of Jesus. Take the bread to choose Jesus. Malcolm Holding loaf. Break at end & distribute.
Song Amazing Grace – Voices. Bread and wine passed Obi Voices
Song Here Am I Send Me (Brian Craig version) – Band Tidu Band

Handout

We gave a handout to everyone who attended so they could reflect on what they were hearing, and take something away for further quiet time and discussion material. You can see a copy here: Election Service handout.

Reflections

Several people remarked on the helpfulness of having a theme for the entire service. It helped them to concentrate, focus and dial down deep into the topic. The testimonies were terrific. Very different characters and circumstances clearly illustrating that God chooses all kinds of people. The speakers remembered to include points for the teenagers in the room, which I would hope will have made the messages more relevant for them.

Have you run a specially ‘themed’ service recently? If so, what worked, and what did not? Do you have any recommendations for events such as these?

Let me know your ideas. You can leave a message here, or send me an email: mccx@mac.com.

God bless,

Malcolm

How to pray when you’ve got exams

Five strategies for prayer which could make all the difference

Exam season is here. GCSE’s, ‘A’-levels, degree finals and more are part of the landscape. A few years ago I almost had a panic attack in an exam and passed by the skin of my teeth. We need all the help we can get. But can prayer make a difference? And if so, how?

We’ll take a look at five strategies that will help you be your best when exam time arrives.

  1. Stop. Put down the textbook, close the laptop and turn off the phone. Pick up the Bible, open the Psalms and turn on your heart. You may not have long to pray, but even 5 minutes can make a huge difference to your state of mind. Deliberate action is needed to enjoy a time of prayer – no matter how short or long. The first step is to stop what you are doing and decide to pray.
  2. Trust. Jesus knows how you are feeling. He said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28 NIV11) But he didn’t have exams! Or did he? “One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:” (Matthew 22:35 NIV11) He knows how it feels to be scrutinised under pressure. Make a decision to trust that, as you pray, he understands.
  3. Focus. Do what David did, “I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” (Psalms 16:8 NIV11) Make a decision to begin your prayer with a focus on God, not on yourself or your challenges. Then you will find, as David did, “.. my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead…” (Psalms 16:9–10 NIV11)
  4. Ask. Go ahead and ask God for whatever you need. Is it energy, alertness, concentration, peace? Whatever it is, know that he is interested and listening. Is it allowed to ask him to help you pass your exam? I don’t see why not. Will he write the paper for you? Probably not. You won’t learn anything that way. But, he is with you. Ask him for what you need.
  5. Thank. In faith, thank God in advance for providing what you need (not always what you want). You can have, “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding,” (Philippians 4:7 NIV11) He has an unlimited supply, and it’s always available.

Take one minute for each of these stages, and you will have a five-minute prayer leading to a more peaceful state of mind. You might pray for longer, but even if not, you will be more conscious of God’s presence, power and love.

“Good luck”, to you as you take your exams. I hope these five strategies will help you do your best – and feel your best.

What have you tried that has made a difference now or in the past? If you’ve tried my suggestions, how did it go? What other ideas can you share with us? Please leave a comment below.

God bless,

Malcolm

P.S. If you’d like some prayer coaching, please click the button below and let me know how I can assist you.

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“Why do we take medicine and not just pray for healing?”

A Quora question

I saw this question on Quora….

If religious people pray to God to cure their loved ones of a disease, why do they take medicine? For further clarification, if they really solely believed in God and his powers, and dispute scientists, why take medicine, why not rely on god alone? (I am an atheist looking for an answer from a religious person, not an atheist himself because I know what you will say, thank you!)

Here’s my answer…

It’s a good question. My wife is a medical doctor, and a believer in God. As other have written here, science and faith are not mutually exclusive. Think about this – the writer of Luke’s gospel and the book of Acts was a doctor.

“Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings.” (Colossians 4:14 NIV11)

Luke recorded the miracles of Jesus, Peter, Paul and others, and, as far as we can tell, saw no contradiction between his faith and his medicine. Paul tells Timothy to,

“Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.” (1 Timothy 5:23 NIV11)

In this context wine is to be used as a ‘medicine’. It’s interesting that Paul does not tell Timothy to pray (though he does not rule that out, either). And we know Paul believed in the power of prayer, and healed people himself (Acts 28.8). What are we to make of this?

Why would Christians take advantage of medical science rather than only pray for healing? I can see at least three reasons.

  1. God provides gifts – we are to take advantage of them. His gifts include both the substances of medicine (chemicals etc.) and the skills of medically trained people (nurses, doctors, radiologist, ophthalmologists etc.). It would hardly be an act of faith to disregard the gifts that God has given.
  2. God receives glory when his gifts are used and enjoyed. Much as a parent shares in the glory of the achievements of their children, God is honoured when we enjoy healing through prescribed plant enzymes or the skills of a surgeon.
  3. The healing professional receives joy. The provider of healing can rejoice that their skills are used to the benefit of other people. This is not something exclusive to the medical profession, of course, but there is great satisfaction in using one’s skills to help someone in dire need. Providing relief for pain, hope for a better future or a prolonged life is a wonderfully gratifying experience. Why would we deny people that joy?

There are times to pray for healing, and there are times to take a pill. Indeed, it would seem wise to do both, since God has provided the medicine.

In no way have I addressed all the issues here. I’m interested in other perspectives too. What do you think is the right balance between prayer and medical intervention?

Please leave a comment here and continue the discussion.

Malcolm

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How to pray with confidence

Two suggestions for maintaining confidence with humility

Is there any point in praying if we’re not sure we’ll be heard? We’d all love to have the kind of confidence outlined in the first Epistle of John:

“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.” (1 John 5:13–15 NIV11)

What do we do when we don’t feel we have this confidence? And how do we prevent the opposite problem – that of pride? It’s a big subject, so we’ll not try to answer all the subtleties here, but we’ll take a look at one specific prayer of Jesus and see what we can learn.

1. Glorify your Son

In John 17, Jesus prays, “Glorify your Son”. (v1)

Not only does this summarise the whole prayer in John 17, but the whole of Jesus’ purpose on earth! In this longest recorded prayer of Jesus, we find the key to his confidence right here, in the first phrase. He has no difficulty in asking God to glorify him. No false modestly, no pretence that his life does not matter, no hiding from his destiny. Instead he dives right in and confidently asks his Father to glorify him. Sounds arrogant? “No”, you might say, “it’s appropriate for him because he was the Son of God. But we are not perfect, so we cannot pray like that.” Accepted – to a degree – but Jesus is also as human as we are:

“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity…For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Hebrews 2:14–18 NIV11)

The confidence of his request is not (only) that he is divine, but that he is correctly motivated. The key to his confidence is the second phrase, “that your Son may glorify you”. (v1)

2. Glorify You

Jesus’s greatest desire was to complete the work the Father had given him: “I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.” (John 17:4 NIV11; see also John 5.36). It was the Father’s work, so the Father gets the glory. Jesus did not want the glory for himself so that it would point to himself, but so that the Father received the glory. We, like him, are a light and a town on a hill (Matthew 5.15), living differently so that others, “may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16 NIV11)

A Christian lives in such a way as bring glory to God.  “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31 NIV11) If Jesus had wanted the glory to himself, it would have been an arrogant prayer. But, since he gloried in his Father receiving the glory, his request for glory was actually a humble one. Why? Because the method by which the Father was to receive the glory was for Jesus to die on the cross:

“Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (John 12:23–24 NIV11)

With these thoughts in mind, I suggest two actions the next time you lack confidence when praying:

  1. Remind yourself that God has many good works for you to do to bring him glory (Ephesians 2.10). Confidently ask him to give you the strength you need. Put aside your fears of arrogance, and trust that he will refine your heart as needed.
  2. Submit yourself. Consciously submit yourself to God’s will, and ask him to show you what he has prepared for you. Pray to act with faith on whatever he ask of you, confident of his support and that he will receive the glory.

What do you think about how we balance confidence and humility? Do you know other ways to blend the two? What are your tips? Leave a comment or send me a message.

God bless,

Malcolm

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The Sunday Sample: 21 May 2017

Reflections on corporate worship

Date: Sunday 21st May

Location: Bracknell

Special occasion: none

Speakers

Jack Legon preached, TJ & Sonia shared communion and Fabian & Gene welcomed us and prayed.

All the speakers were under 30. Their youthfulness was refreshing, and very encouraging for some of us older folks. Jack’s highlight was sharing about meeting his father for the first time. His vulnerability was endearing and helpful in illustrating God’s love for us as our eternal father.

Today’s lessons: remember the value of relevant personal sharing. Continue to put younger people up to speak.

Music

The singing was super today. Of special note was the song Alex Mankoo wrote. There’s nothing like singing a song written by a member of the congregation. We started the service with a prayer based on Psalm 8 which led into the first song – based as it was on that Psalm. An effective way to bring us together to worship as a body.

Today’s lesson: suggest more members write songs.

Connection

The connection was helped by the fact that Jack & TJ were ‘old boys’ returning to their mother church. There’s a special vibe when old friends come back to visit. It made me wonder if we should invite former members back more often. It also helped that they were accompanied by their fiancee and wife respectively. Sonia’s sharing was helpful. We must have Amy share the next time she comes.

Today’s lesson: look through a list of former members to see if we can get them back to speak.

Other Matters

  • The prayer time with the worship team was a delight, and helpful in setting our hearts in the right place.

Today’s lesson: remind people to arrive in time for a prayer together.

Last week I said we would prioritise:

  1. Put a children’s song in the first part of the service – was not appropriate on this occasion, but we should do it next week in Lower Earley
  2. Teach a cappella harmony songs to the singers – we did that for two songs.

This week I’ll prioritise:

  1. Put a children’s song in the first part of the service
  2. Remind all speakers to share personally.

Let me know your ideas. You can leave a message here, or send me an email: mccx@mac.com.

God bless,

Malcolm