Safety Cover

image1-001eg 150w, 250w, 174w" sizes="(max-width: 150px) 100vw, 150px" />It’s the third class of three on the “Atonement” tonight in the Thames Valley churches of Christ. We’re looking at how we communicate the cross to people who do not believe in it, understand it – or have never heard of it. There’s also a point on preparing and delivering engaging communion talks. But more on that another time.

We’ve looked at several models of the atonement (see the classes here – YouTube). One thing is clear. No single model does justice to all the nuances and riches of this amazing reality. And illustrations are just as tricky. In emphasising one aspect of Christ’s work, an image, simile, metaphor or story misses another important perspective.

However, for the purposes of stimulating discussion, I’d like to offer this story and find out from you, dear reader, what you think of its strengths and weaknesses. I do not remember from whence I garnered this illustration, but here you go:

“On August 16, 1987, Northwest Airlines flight 225 crashed just after taking off from the Detroit airport, killing 155 people. One survived: a four-year-old named Cecelia. News accounts say when rescuers found Cecelia they did not believe she had been on the plane. Investigators first assumed Cecelia had been a passenger in one of the cars on the highway onto which the airliner crashed. But when the passenger register for the flight was checked, there was Cecelia’s name. Cecelia survived because, even as the plane was falling, Cecelia’s mother, Paula Chican, unbuckled her own seat belt, got down on her knees in front of her daughter, wrapped her arms and body around Cecelia, and then would not let her go. Nothing could separate that child from her mother’s love—neither tragedy nor disaster, neither the fall nor the flames that followed, neither height nor depth, neither life nor death. Like that child caught in the middle of the disaster, so we have been trapped by our own sin, spiralling down to an inevitable doom. But our God loved us so much that he left heaven, came down to our level, and covered us with the sacrifice of his own body so that we might be saved from the Fall.”

The ‘covering’ aspect of the atonement comes across well. The ‘hilasterion’ (Rom 3.25) was the cover of the ark of the covenant, the mercy-seat, the place of propitiation, “Above the ark were the cherubim of the Glory, overshadowing the atonement cover…” (Hebrews 9:5 NIV11). The high priest sprinkled blood on the ark’s lid to make atonement for ‘the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been’ (Lev 16:16 NIV11). We have a ‘better’ cover. A permanent one. No need for annual rituals. And not a covering by the blood of animals, but the perfect Son of God.

What does this illustration say to you? Does it do justice to the topic? What are its strengths and weaknesses? Do you have a favourite illustration you like to use when explaining the atonement to people? Please let me know.


How to Beat Bitterness

bitterness-001eg 150w, 250w, 174w" sizes="(max-width: 150px) 100vw, 150px" />I saw a newspaper article that went something like this:

“A bitter Paul Donovan repeatedly vandalised the grave of a childhood friend. The reason? He claimed the friend stole £230 from him 56 years ago. The 69 year-old received a sentence of two years’ probation.”

An old proverb says, “Bitterness is the poison you drink while hoping someone else will die.”  Makes no sense and kills you. People suffer from this delusion, as do groups, communities and even nations. Perhaps it is never a greater temptation than in roles of service. In those situations we are vulnerable to misunderstanding, questioned motives and the judgments of others based on partial evidence. What can we do to ride the unfair storms of accusation with dignity, and avoid heart-corroding bitterness?

Paul told Timothy: “…the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.” (2 Timothy 2:24 NIV11) Let’s take three of the Apostle’s instructions to Timothy and apply them to ourselves as necessary:

  1. bitterness-002eg 150w, 250w, 174w" sizes="(max-width: 83px) 100vw, 83px" />Distance(vv22-23). Tim is told to “flee” evil and have “nothing to do” with wasteful topics of conversation. So, no answering poisoned email until 24 hours have passed (if then). Create distance between you and the source of the deadly disturbance (whether physical or virtual). Jesus did not answer every accusation or accuser. Neither should we.
  2. Gentleness (v25). Instruction must always be gentle, even as it may be firm, direct and challenging where appropriate. What is gentleness? This is an attitude that carries, “freedom from malice and desire for revenge” (New linguistic and exegetical key to the Greek New Testament). When faced with the temptation to answer bile with bile, take a breath, ask Jesus to give you bitterness-003eg 150w, 250w, 174w" sizes="(max-width: 85px) 100vw, 85px" />his heart, and reply with a different
    attitude. He will help you, because he himself is “gentle and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29 NIV11). And he knows what it means to struggle since he, “has been tempted in every way, just as we are” (Hebrews 4:15 NIV11).
  3. Hope (vv25-26). There is hope for the person who may be mistreating you and to whom you feel tempted to be bitter. Jesus kept hope alive for Peter even though he denied him – and both Peter and we are grateful. Distance and gentleness give space for God to do His work. Thus, there is always hope “..the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:25–26 NIV11bitterness-004eg 150w, 250w, 174w" sizes="(max-width: 76px) 100vw, 76px" />

Remember, our real enemy is never the person standing in front of  us, or the sender of the email, but the devil. And we follow the one who has overcome him.

We don’t beat bitterness with bitterness squared. We beat it with distance, gentleness and hope.

Malcolm – taming the email monster

unknownWould you like an extra few minutes a day? An hour? Me too! Whatever makes email easier must be a good thing. Here you go ….

Allow me to point you in the direction of something that’s given me time and reduced headaches. I don’t often endorse products (and I’m not being paid for this), but has been a blessing these last few weeks. I’ll not dwell here on the details (their web site will explain much better than I) but the key operational idea is to roll up many emails into one that’s scheduled to arrive in your inbox at the time and frequency you prefer.

Some emails I’ve exempted from this system, but the rest are rolled up into one email a day. Clicking on a thumbnail takes me to that particular email online if I so wish. The unsubscribe feature means I also receive far less junk than previously.

Oh, and it’s free. Nice.

Do you have any email strategies that work well for you? Let’s share them and tame the email monster. Roll up the email and go and do something more interesting (an important) instead! Let’s take a tip from Joshua 10.18, “Roll large rocks up to the mouth of the inbox, and post there to guard it.” Not sure if my Hebrew is completely accurate there.


Starting Songs Together as a Worship Team: “Oneness”

musicnotes-001eg 150w, 250w, 174w" sizes="(max-width: 150px) 100vw, 150px" />Should we start songs together as a team? Why might this matter?  Three reasons.

  1. Modelling. Our job as a team is to lead a group of people in corporate worship. We need to model this corporate worship. Starting together makes a difference. If we are a team it is important to function in that way, demonstrating “oneness” (Jn 17.20-21; see also Jn 13.15). We will feel more like a team of brothers and sisters when we begin together. When one starts and the others are not ready it creates insecurity in the team which is never good for unity.
  2. Distraction. One person starting a song when the rest are not prepared is distracting for the congregation who may then be thinking about why we are not unified rather than focussed on God. Needless to say, this is likely to be even more distracting for visitors (it might be a stretch to apply 1 Cor 14.33, but you know what I mean).
  3. Worship. When we start songs together it means we are ready to not only sing, and not only to lead worship, but we are best placed to worship God ourselves!  This matters to God and makes a difference to our own spiritual well-being (a healthy attitude is vital, Heb 12.28).

How do we get there?  Three steps.

  1. Look down. Check the first note/chord – make sure you’ve got it. Get the first few words of the song in your head.
  2. Look sideways. Check the rest of the team are ready (should only take a moment).
  3. Look out. Smile at the congregation, and start the song with a noticeable movement (of the arm or instrument).


It is the leaders’ job to create conditions helpful to starting songs together. It is the job of the rest of the team to make the leader’s job easy by being alert (echoes of Heb 13.17). Starting together is not about volume or energy, but focus. It is about teamwork!

These are not ‘rules’ and breaking them is not ‘sin’, but let’s reflect and see if starting together might help our services. I believe that the congregation will respond well and move more quickly from, “Oh, the song has started”, to actually participating in corporate worship.  We, they, and our friends will be spiritually enriched, and God will be honoured. Everyone ‘wins’.


What we’re reading: “Zeal Without Burnout”: Endure! – AUDIO

Jesus said, in John 4.31–34, “My food is to do the will of him who sent to me and to finish his work.” He finished that work, John 19.30. Jesus work ended – so it seemed – in failure, but we know different – 1 Corinthians 15.58.

A prayer:

Lord, make my life of service worth something; make it sure. May it be that, at the end of time, this collection of dust, this temporary mortal frail feeble sinful Christian may have achieved something by your grace that will last to eternity.
Ministry is ministry in a messed up world. And there is Grace in the disruption, for it humbles me; it shows me afresh my total dependence upon God.


What we’re reading: “Zeal Without Burnout”: Endure! – VIDEO

Jesus said, in John 4.31–34, “My food is to do the will of him who sent to me and to finish his work.” He finished that work, John 19.30. Jesus work ended – so it seemed – in failure, but we know different – 1 Corinthians 15.58.

A prayer:

Lord, make my life of service worth something; make it sure. May it be that, at the end of time, this collection of dust, this temporary mortal frail feeble sinful Christian may have achieved something by your grace that will last to eternity.
Ministry is ministry in a messed up world. And there is Grace in the disruption, for it humbles me; it shows me afresh my total dependence upon God.

Bumping into friends in service

img_4348Unexpected encounters with friends are always a delight. Saturday provided two such pleasures. Penny & I popped along to the New Hope open day – a charity for which I volunteer. I’m impressed with their work and recommend them to anyone in the Watford area looking for an opportunity to make a difference.

After a welcome flapjack & cup of tea (thanks, Annette – your home-made fairy cakes looked delightful!), we heard children singing and wended our way towards the sound. There was Jess coordinating the choir from Watford Central Primary school. She’s a friend of a friend (via Becky Makinson), and was doing a sterling job marshalling the vocal talents of the youngsters who’d been good enough to take time out of their spare Saturday time this weekend. Click here for a short clip of their singing.

A little later a harp seeped into our soundscape. Not something you hear every day. Moving into the workshop revealed a harp/flute duet. Lo and behold, if it wasn’t Lynn, the mother of a church friend, Leon. She and the flautist were providing beautiful music for all who would stop and listen.

While we already know Jess and Lynn, we’re not best friends. But seeing them serving people with whom I have a connection gave me a stronger bond with them. I was reminded that friendship is not built on just talking or spending time together (as helpful as that can be), but also on serving together. Jesus understood this – he did not serve alone, but, after setting the example, involved his followers to join him in service. He was the servant par excellence – “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve,” (Matthew 20:28 NIV11), and gave his disciples opportunities to serve, “he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people.” (Matthew 15:36 NIV11). He still does today.

All of us have opportunities to serve, but I wonder if, should we find ways to serve together with other believers, we might find our church communities stronger and more bonded in love. The strength of our fellowship does not depend on believing the same things, or sitting in the same building. It depends far more on what we do together that would please God and serve the world around us.