“How to Connect with the Heart”

Tuesday Teaching Tips: Episode 94

It is vital we connect with the heart when we are speaking. How can we do this? What do we see in Jesus?

Cliff Ravenscraft: “The Cliff Ravenscraft Show” episode 535. Interview with Ray Edwards.
“Stay in your head and you’re dead; speak to my heart, now we can start.”
“Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things?”” Mk 2.8
  1. Observe:
    1. Luke 14:7 “When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honour at the table, he told them this parable:….”
    2. What are you seeing? Hearing?
  2. Question:
    1. Luke 9:18..20 “Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?”….“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “God’s Messiah.”
    2. What are you learning?
    3. What obstacles to your faith are you facing right now?
Conclusion
  • What do your audience need?
  • What are they hoping for?
  • What are they worried about?
Please leave a comment.
And please pass this on.
God bless, Malcolm

“How to be heard by God”

Quiet Time Coaching, Episode 23

It’s very frustrating to be ignored. When it’s a stranger it’s an inconvenience. When it’s your children it’s an annoyance. When it’s your spouse, it’s an emergency!
 
But what about when it’s God?
 
 
I took my usual prayer walk this morning in the park. I saw many dogs and their owners. I didn’t see many owners ignoring their dogs. But I saw lots of dogs ignoring their owners! One person in particular was trying to get their dog’s attention by shouting loudly and blowing on a whistle. I could see the two dogs halfway across the park having a great time, with clearly no intention of returning to their owner anytime soon. On one level it was quite funny. It certainly entertained me! But it wasn’t healthy.
 
What do we do when it doesn’t look like God is listening? We can’t answer every angle on this question today, but we will take a look at one verse in Hebrews which can help us.
 
“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” Hebrews 5.7 (NIV11)
 
What does this passage teach us about how to be heard in prayer? I suggest two things to ponder:
 

1. Peace Plant

The word translated ‘petitions’ is ‘hiketeria’. It is an olive branch held in the hands of someone who wants peace. They are not coming with a demand, but with a request. They are not being passive, but taking initiative.
 
If you want your prayers to be heard by God, come to him on his terms of peace. Approach him, with confidence (Hebrews 4.16), but with humility, understanding that peace is in his hands to give, not in yours to demand.
 

2. Wholehearted Heart

Jesus prayed with fervent cries and tears. A rabbinic saying goes like this:
 
“There are three kinds of prayers, each loftier than the preceding: prayer, crying, and tears. Prayer is made in silence: crying with raised voice; but tears overcome all things (‘there is no door through which tears do not pass’).”
 
It is not necessary to weep every time we pray, of course. But, ask yourself if you are praying like you mean it.

Conclusion

Jesus was not delivered from death. Does this mean he was not heard? Not at all. We know he would have preferred to live (Matt 26.36ff), but his greater preference was for God’s will to be done in his life. The evidence he was heard is that, “An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.” Luke 22:43 (NIV11)
 

Question

What helps you to come to God with the confidence that you will be heard?
 
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 fulfilling quiet times.
 
God bless, Malcolm

 

 

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“HOW TO START YOUR SPEECH STRONG”

Tuesday Teaching Tips: Episode 93

I was sent a QUORA question to answer. It was about how to start a speech strong. Here are a few ideas:

Start with something than gives your audience a reason to listen to you. While most audiences are willing to listen, it is unwise to take them or their attention for granted.
Some commonly practiced “do-nots”:
  1. Tell them all about yourself. Your audience are the point, not you.
  2. Say bland things like “hello…nice to be here…” Boring!
  3. Talk about irrelevant things like the weather, the price of fish etc. Keep the focus on the topic.
Some suggestions for good openers:
  1. A short anecdote which connects with the theme of your talk and a need in your audience
    • “I stayed up all night typing on a portable typewriter …. degree almost lost…..”
    • Acts 17.22ff
  2. A question – if you want interaction and can expect participation
    • “Do you like having a clear conscience?
    • “What are the signs you have a guilty conscience?”
    • Lk 13.2
    • Act 3.12 – “Why does this surprise you?”
  3. A statement which gets attention. Not too controversial (that will get some listeners on the wrong side of you), but thought-provoking and, again, connected to a need amongst your hearers.
    • There are more active phone connections in the world than there are people – 7.7 billion
    • Kim Kardashian has been significantly influential in helping Americans understand statistics
      • 69 lawnmower deaths
      • 2 Islamic Jihadi Immigrants
      • 21 deaths by armed toddlers
      • 11, 737 killed by another American
    • Acts 23.6ff
    • Luke 14.26
See my Tuesday Teaching Tips: “When does a speech begin?” – 14 Oct 2016
Enjoy your opportunity to speak – it’s always a privilege.
Leave a comment ….      Pass it on ……
Have a terrific Tuesday & wonderful week.
God bless, Malcolm

“Why tasting durian made me grateful for Jesus”

Quiet Time Coaching: Episode 21

What is the most disgusting thing you’ve ever tasted? Durian is the one for me.

A few years ago I visited my daughter when she was working in Indonesia. Friends – at least I thought they were my friends up to this point – had what they thought was a good idea. Harliem and Vania said we must try durian. It’s a fruit common in that part of the world. I’m always up for new experiences. When I heard durian was one of Harliem’s favourite foods, as well as that of another mutual friend, John, I felt safe. Harliem stopped the car. We entered a shop. He bought some durian. I popped it into my mouth.

It immediately became clear that this slice must be ‘off’. But no, it was not. How I managed not to spit it out, I will never know. Swallowing was an herculean effort. It’s impossible to adequately describe the taste. Something like rancid socks soaked in fermenting foot-sweat. I thanked Harliem for the ‘experience’, and vowed, “never again”!

But what has all this do with Jesus?

A taste experience

I tasted something horrid, but Jesus tasted something far worse. Death.

“But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” (Hebrews 2.9 NIV11)

To taste something is to come to know it. Jesus found death, tasted it, experienced it and embraced it. We will all taste death, but not in the same way.

A diabolical experience

Death is feared by many, but for Jesus it was far more fearful than for the rest of humanity. In death, the full horrors of the penalties for sin were laid on him. His separation from the Father was beyond his comprehension, and so frightful that he prayed for ‘plan B’ (Matthew 26:39).

Only by going through this experience could he defeat the devil,

“so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—” (Hebrews 2:14–15 NIV11)

…and set us free from the fear of death (Hebrews 2.15)

An avoidable experience

Jesus did not need to die. He was sinless.

“we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” (Hebrews 4:15 NIV11)

His death was avoidable, but he chose it. For our sake. So that we could share in his glory (Hebrews 2.10; Rom 6.8ff; 2 Tim 2.11-12).

A glorious experience

The glory and suffering of Jesus are linked. It’s a theme in Hebrews (2:18, 5:8, 10:32, 11:26, 11:36, 13:12). We have the same sequence here as in Philippians:

“And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,” (Philippians 2:8–9 NIV11)

Conclusion

Dying gave Jesus the taste of death. It was diabolical and avoidable, but glorious. I will never taste durian again as long as I live. And Jesus will never taste death again. He lives for ever.

Jesus found death, tasted it, experienced it and embraced it. Click To Tweet

Question

What does the fact that Jesus tasted death mean to you? What difference does it make to your relationship with God?

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 fulfilling quiet times.

God bless, Malcolm

PS – Meet some westerners who actually like Durian!

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“How to avoid the danger of drifting”

Quiet Time Coaching: Episode 20

Drifting is dangerous. Ask anyone caught in a riptide. But what about spiritual drifting? How dangerous is it? What are the signs?

Drifting and Driving

Not long before Christmas my father drove home from church. He is a priest and, having finished the service, set off home for lunch. Rounding a bend on the narrow Kent country lane, he was startled to see a car coming towards him on his side of the road.
 
He took evasive action, pulling to the left as far as he could. But his Skoda was struck by the Land Rover Discovery. It was not a contest between equals. Fortunately, my father was not injured, but the car was seriously damaged. The drifting driver turned out to be a member of the church and took full responsibility. They could hardly lie to the priest!
December’s drifting driver damaged only a car. But what of spiritual drifting? What damage does it do?
 

Warning from Hebrews

The writer to the Hebrews has drifting on his mind. He wrote:
 
“We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” (Hebrews 2:1 NIV11)
What kind of ‘drifting’ did he have in mind? The word is, ‘παραρρέω’ (pararreo). In this context, it means to gradually give up one’s belief in the truth. In other contexts, it describes a boat drifting away, or a ring slipping off a finger, or water leaking out of a damaged jar.
 

Drifting Diagnosis

One key to dealing with drifting is to be self-aware of your symptoms. When I taught on this passage recently I asked the group if they knew what their signs were? They said,
  • “When I try to control everything”
  • “When I get frustrated.”
  • “When I stop reading my Bible.”
  • “When I avoid people.”

Are any of those familiar? Some of my own signs are:

  • Not answering the phone when it rings
  • Getting inappropriately angry over trivial things
  • Reading the Bible but not feeling it’s message in my heart
Rudie summed it up best when he said, “When I find myself reverting to type.” By which he meant his unregenerate nature. Do you know your symptoms?
 

Drifting Defences

What are our best defences to the drifting disease? The ones which help the most will depend on you as an individual. However, these will make a difference to all of us at one time or another.
  1. Listen to GodHebrews 3.7, 15Read the Bible, but don’t stop there. Pause before leaving. Ask yourself the question, “What was relevant to me from this passage today?” The better question might be to ask God directly, “What are you teaching me today, Father?”
  2. Listen to FriendsHebrews 3.12-13 (Prov. 27.6; Gal 4.16; Eph 4.15). We need friends who care. They have insight we do not. They see us from a different angle. Listen to your friends, and pray for the strength to accept the truth they offer.
  3. Listen to YouJames 3.14; 4.8. We are responsible for what is in our hearts. A lot of it is good, but not everything. It’s true that just because we have a clear conscience does not mean we are pure of heart (1 Cor 4.4), which is why we need 1 and 2 above. But you have a conscience for a reason. Listen to it. What is it saying? Guard your own heart by being honest with God and other people.

Conclusion

Drifting is inevitable. But its duration is controlled by you. The drift distance is decided by you. With God’s help and the love of friends, we can course-correct before we’ve drifted too far.
 

Question

What do you do to deal with drifting? What suggestions do you have to help me and others? What questions come to your mind about the how and why of drifting?
 
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 quality quiet times.
 
God bless, Malcolm
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“How To Hear When God Speaks To You Today”

Quiet Time Coaching Episode 17

I’m deep into the Epistle to the Hebrews at the moment. My preparation for the New Year teaching series is complete. But I want to make sure the book is feeding my soul. Not just my mind. Here’s a thought that came to me this week.

Opening paragraphs of Hebrews in the Chester Beatty museum, Dublin. p46 ca200AD

 

 

God’s Word exists to feed all of who we are. The mind, the heart, the emotions – all of us. He speaks to us. But how?

In the days before Jesus, it was “through the prophets at many times and in various ways,” Heb 1:1.

Past Words

Check out some of the ways God spoke in the past:

And that’s not to mention a donkey, a false prophet, a flood, thunder and storms.

Present Words

Now, “he has spoken to us by his Son” Heb 1:2. Why His Son? Because a son is better than a messenger.

God speaks to us today in the entirety of the New Testament. But what I’d like to focus on is how God speaks to us in the person of His Son as revealed in the Gospels. And how this helps our Bible Study and our Prayer. To do this, we’ll take the example of Jesus in Luke 7.36-50. Here is the passage in full:

“When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. 39  When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.” 40  Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.” “Tell me, teacher,” he said. 41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.” “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said. 44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” 48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”  50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Penetrating Words

Here’s how to make sure a passage about Jesus speaks to you. Really speaks to you. Not just enter your consciousness, but has the potential to change you. To do this we’re going to ask three questions about Jesus and the people around him.

  1. What do I understand about who Jesus is?
    • A question about his identity
    • What is revealed about his deity?
    • What is revealed about his humanity?
    • In this passage the words, ‘prophet’, ‘teacher’ and phrases like, “your sins are forgiven” point to something important
  2. What do I feel about what Jesus said and did?
    • Put yourself in the shoes of the other characters in the story
    • In this passage, what did Simon feel? How about the ‘sinful’ woman? The other guests?
  3. What do I see that’s relevant for me today?
    • Is there an attitude to avoid, or adopt?
    • Is there an action to copy or cut out?
    • In this passage: avoid self-righteousness; adopt unconditional love; speak kindly to those burdened with guilt; be grateful for what Jesus has done for us; etc.

Putting it Together

Now you’ve done your study, summarise it and make it into a prayer.

It could look something like this, “Father, ……I understand better than before that Jesus was/is…..(prophet, teacher, able to forgive sin etc.); Like others, I feel….. (grateful, sometimes confused, loved etc.); Please help me to be less like Simon in……(self-righteousness etc.), and more like the woman who was……(grateful, loving etc.); Today, I can see ways to think and act more like Jesus by………; Please give me the strength I need………..Amen”

God speaks to us more fully through His Son. Jesus improves our understanding, our hearts, our emotions and our actions. He is the full package. Are you making the most of him? Why not try these tips and see if they help your prayer life?

Question

How do you hear God speaking to you today? What have I missed in this short article?

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 quality quiet times.

God bless, Malcolm

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“How to Make your Relationship With Jesus Personal”

Quiet Time Coaching Episode 15: "The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend." Exodus 33.11

Our friendships are personal. No two are alike. Jesus offered his followers friendship,
 
“I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends..” John 15.15 (NIV11)
 
What about your relationship with Jesus? Is it personal? Is it unique? Or is it a cookie-cutter friendship? One where you are trying to fit your experience of walking with Jesus into a mould someone else invented?
 
What does it mean to make our relationship with God personal? We’re going to look at this today because of something that happened last Sunday.
 

Jesus meets us where we are

The most recent sermon in the Watford church of Christ focussed on the Bible’s teaching about grief. We were looking for material to help grieving friends.
 
Among other passages, we looked at John 11. Lazarus dies. Jesus goes to comfort the grieving sisters, Mary and Martha. I’ve preached on this passage many times and written about it in my book. But I have missed something. Jesus treats Mary & Martha differently. They both come out to see him. They both accuse him with these words,
 
“If you had been here, my brother would not have died”, John 11.21 (Martha) & v32 (Mary).
 
However, they approach Jesus differently. Martha comes out straight away. Mary stays at home. Martha discusses the situation with Jesus. Mary does nothing more than state her accusation. With Martha, Jesus discusses the next life, his identity and belief. With Mary, he weeps.
 
The women are different with Jesus. Jesus is different with them. It’s personal.
 

Careful with the comparisons

Do you see your relationship with Jesus as personal? Do you see him treating you as you are? Not what you are ‘meant’ to be? Are you measuring yourself against others?
 
Taking inspiration from other people is fine. The example of others is helpful:
 
“Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” Hebrews 13.7
But comparisons are odious. I spent a good part of my years as a Christian feeling that my relationship with God was inadequate. I did not pray long enough, loud enough, intensely enough, and so on.
 
The guilt piled up until I realised Jesus did not want to have a relationship with me defined by how others connected with him. Instead, I was invited by God into a relationship with him that was personal, and would develop over time.
 
How can we develop the personal side of our walk with Jesus? There are many ways, but here are three that I have found most helpful so far.
 

Power up the personal

  1. Try new things: Follow rabbit trails that interest you. Bible verses, characters, themes, book ideas. Try lighting a candle, going for a walk, experimenting with set prayers.
  2. Learn from others: Pray with people (see Luke 11.1), listen to podcasts (including this one!)
  3. Bring your whole self to God in your prayers: Read David’s Psalms (Psalm 18.1; 22.1). He was one never shy of being himself with the LORD. God seemed to appreciate it (1 Samual 13.14).

Conclusion

There is no ‘standard’ for a QT. There is no checklist. But there are ways to learn, to grow.
 
No quiet time has to be perfect – nor can it be. It needs to be authentic. The three practices above will deepen your personal walk with God. Persevere in them and you will experience a more and more personal and therefore satisfying relationship with God.
 

Question

What helps you to make your relationship with God personal? Do you have any tips for me? Are there any examples, verses, in the Bible?
 
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 quality quiet times.
 
God bless, Malcolm

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What is the Point of Praying?

Quiet Time Coaching Episode 12: The Mystery and the Majesty of Prayer

Someone asked me recently what the purpose was in praying. Why do we pray? What is it for? It’s a good question. Not only is prayer inherently confusing, but it’s also uniquely mysterious.
 
We pray and are not answered. We pray and find an answer. We pray and don’t like the answer. We pray and like the answer.
 
Abram, Moses, David, Job, Daniel, Nehemiah, Jesus and Paul all prayed. Their prayers overlap in intent but vary wildly in content and focus. What are we to make of all this?
 

Common Question

“What’s the point?” questions are common. What’s the point of voting if governments break their promises once elected? What’s the point of taking the time to cook a delicious meal for your family when all they do is wolf it down in 10 seconds flat? What’s the point of supporting your team when they never win anything? And, what’s the point of having a sat-nav if it keeps taking you the wrong way? I include this because of two such incidents on my journey to Manchester and back last weekend which led to me paying a toll twice instead of once, and adding an hour to our journey. More on that another time.
 
I’d suggest our purpose in prayer is one of the more relevant, “What’s the point?” questions.
 

Prayer is Personal

There’s no one definition of prayer that can satisfy all it means. That’s because it is, fundamentally, an expression of our relationship with God. Relationships defy simplistic definition. At least, they do if they are meaningful.
 
I like the title of chapter 1 in the BST “The Message of Prayer”. It is, “The Conversation of Friends.”
 

Meaningful Relationships

My ‘relationship’ with my dentist is narrow. The ‘relationship’ I have with my accountant less so. That’s because he is also my brother in Christ and friend. Thanks, Dennis, for being a super accountant and a valued friend! Then, my ‘relationship’ with my wife is on another level entirely. I’d find it hard to sum up my relationship with Penny in a few words.
 
How much more so with God. Because our relationship is different, so also is our conversation.
 

Honest Talk

If there is one thing we know about good relationships, it is that honesty is foundational. Among many examples, the Psalmist cries out,
 
“Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide in times of trouble?” (Psalms 10:1 NIV11)
 
Jesus asks the question,
 
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46 NIV11)
 
I’d suggest this is the place to begin. Honest expression of facts, feelings, hopes, failings, sins, needs and desires will build a meaningful relationship with God. Are you being ‘real’ with God? If not, start there. Rather than ponder the purpose of prayer, trust that God wants to know you. That means him hearing what’s on your mind and in your heart. It’s a place to start, anyway.
 

Conclusion

As Tim Chester says in the BST book mentioned above, “Prayer is not ultimate but penultimate, a pointer to the days when we shall see God face to face. It directs our attention forward to our participation in the trinitarian community. Prayer is an anticipation of the day when we shall truly know even as we are truly known (1 Cor 13:12).”
 
Well said. When prayer confuses, continue to pray knowing it is preparation for the face-to-face communication we will enjoy in the coming life.
 
I’ve said we cannot sum up prayer in a few words, but I can’t resist having a go. Here is the best I could do this Thursday morning.
 
“My purpose in prayer is to begin the relationship with God I will enjoy in its perfection in the next life.”

Question

What do you think of my definition of the purpose of prayer? Do you have your own? Have you heard or read one that makes sense to you? Could you share your best ideas?
 
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 quality quiet times.
 
God bless, Malcolm
 

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Tuesday Teaching Tips, Episode 80: “How to lead effective group discussions”

Tips for making the most of interactive sermon sessions

How do we lead effective discussions as part of our lessons? Tips for making the most of interactive sermon sessions.

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