Rhubarb Relish and Public Speaking

Rhubarb caterpillarMy sister and I have something in common with this caterpillar. No, as beautiful as we both are, we’re not destined for life as a butterfly. Rather, we love rhubarb. Unlike my mother. Her attitude towards rhubarb is rather like a vampire to garlic (perhaps likening my mother to a vampire is not the most sensitive analogy, but it did get your attention).

One of the challenges of public speaking is audience variety. If you have more than one person in your audience, then you must think about varying your style of communication. While we cannot please everyone all the time, we do well to serve our listeners the best we can. Part of that responsibility is to adjust our presentation to take into account preferred learning styles. Let’s examine three:

  1. Auditory. Some love nothing more than to sit and listen for half an hour. These are the people who might close their eyes to cut out extraneous inputs that would distract them from listening. No, they’re not asleep, they’re concentrating. This is my father’s preferred style. Auditory learners tend to think that kinetics are impatient and superficial.
  2. Kinetics. They want to get up, walk around, participate in an activity or draw a picture. They need handouts, a ‘prop’ and shorter lessons (or lessons broken into chunks with movement between sections). I gave everyone a nail in a sermon once. It helps the kinetics to link what is being said with concrete ideas. Kinetics may see auditory learners as dull and cerebral, not interested in real life.
  3. Visual. Others need pictures. Pictures on handouts, PowerPoint and the like make quite a difference to these people. If you have a quote, put it on screen as well as reading it out. If you cannot do this, paint a picture with your movement, or ask them to close their eyes as you create an imaginary picture. Visual learners have a challenge with the kinetics, seeing their movement as intrusive while the visual learner is trying to interpret a visual input.

In reality we are a blend of these and more, but most people I know have a preference for one or other style. I’m off now to look through my sermon for tomorrow and see what I can do to provide for all the learning styles. Just so long as there are no rhubarb-lovers there. I want all that luscious dessert for myself! Sister’s not getting any.



What we’re reading: “Zeal Without Burnout”: “A warning: beware celebrity!”

John 5.41 – Jesus did not accept glory from human beings. We have chosen a work the world despises, or at best considers marginal and odd. We are unlikely to get affirmation from the world, therefore it is all the more tempting to seek it from the congregation, or other church leaders. Psalm 146v3 – do not put your trust in princes. Suggestion: pray that Jesus will grow greater and we will grow less, John 3.30. We follow a master who “did not please himself” – Romans 15.3.


Life is Risk


eg 150w, https://www.malcolmcox.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Prison.001-250x250.jpeg 250w, https://www.malcolmcox.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Prison.001-174x174.jpeg 174w" sizes="(max-width: 150px) 100vw, 150px" /> Peter is released by the angel – James was not so lucky

Two weeks ago I went to a half-day seminar. Joel Holm was the speaker. I left refreshed. Partly a result of some excellent teaching and stimulating group work, but also because of a few words we exchanged at the end of the session. In fact, just two words. Those words were, “Take risks.”

The context to those words was a reply to my question which went something like this, “I heard you say you planted a church with five other people. What did you learn from that experience and what advice would you give me as someone who helped plant a small church earlier this year?”

His response was, “Take risks.” Be flexible, change what doesn’t work, spend money, teach faith, don’t try to be what others expect you to be but what you think God wants you to be, and so on. Reflecting on this I realised that starting the church was a risk, but that’s not the last risk we’re being called to take. Jesus took risks, but so did his Apostles. A disciple is not risk-averse, but risk-embracing. A Christian is safe with God, but his or her circumstances on earth are often not safe at all (Acts 12.2)!

I don’t know the origin of this poem, but I rather like it,

There was a very cautious man
Who never laughed or played
He never risked, he never tried
He never sang or prayed
And when he one day passed away
His insurance was denied
For since he never really lived
They claimed he never died.

This church needs to be a place of safety in the sense we love one another and God is among us, but it must not be a place where we get stuck in a rut. There is a precious path that avoids the folly of hastiness, and the danger of mediocrity. Where is that path? I hope we can find it. Pray for us to discover it’s whereabouts. In the meantime I’m making plans for risky church!


Blind Spots and the M1

blind-spotsYesterday I was driving south on the M1. A lorry passed me (not an unusual occurrence in my old car). The rear panel displayed a sign, “Blind Spot. Be aware.” How nice to be forewarned, I thought. The lorry knows its blind spot and is letting me in on the secret. Helpful information for the careless pedestrian, distracted cyclist or over-hasty motorist.

Sadly, I am not always so clear as to the location of my ‘blind spots’. I suppose that’s why they’re called ‘blind’! The people of Jesus’s day were no different. The leaders thought they could see clearly to lead others when they could not, “…they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”” (Matthew 15:14 NIV11).

And ‘ordinary’ people needed warning too, ““Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?…You hypocrite…” (Luke 6:41 NIV11)

So how do we avoid blind spot blindness? Perhaps these two considerations are worth thinking over:

  1. Look at Yourself. That seems to be the nub of what Jesus wants his hearers to grasp in the passage from Luke 6 above. We are told, “first take the plank out of your eye.” Self-awareness is something Jesus expects us to cultivate, and he is willing to help. He is constantly in training-mode with his disciples asking them questions, helping them sift their motives and encouraging them in self-enquiry. Let us not say we do not have that help today. Jesus is with us, and in us (Jn 14.23). Blind spots are banished by pausing to pray and ask God to reveal them to us.
  2. Listen to Your Friends. I hope you are lucky enough to have truth-telling friends. We need them and we need to be them for others. It is in “speaking the truth in love,” (Ephesians 4:15 NIV11) to one another that we grow in maturity – as does the church body. Hearing words of truth is one thing – really listening is another entirely. How do we discipline ourselves to listen? We focus our minds and hearts on the benefits and blessings of discipline, “Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise.” (Proverbs 19:20 NIV11) Blind spots lose their destructive power when we see them in the mirror of advice.

Of course our self-awareness may be off, and our friends’ advice may be inaccurate. What do we do then?  We entrust ourselves “to him who judges justly.” (1 Peter 2:23 NIV11). If our hearts are right, all big blind spots will be revealed in time.

Drive safe, watch out for those blind spots, but don’t get paranoid about what you can’t see. God sees all, and loves you as you are. He will let you know what you need to look at when the time is right.


Challenging All Chemists

chemistry-001eg 150w, https://www.malcolmcox.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Chemistry.001-250x250.jpeg 250w, https://www.malcolmcox.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Chemistry.001-174x174.jpeg 174w" sizes="(max-width: 150px) 100vw, 150px" />Can you help a non-chemist? I did pass Chemistry ‘O’-level with a ‘B’. A miracle of Biblical proportions in itself, and credit to awesome teacher Mr Tolputt. I fooled whoever marked my paper, but not myself. Chemistry does my head in. I am however, in awe of the topic, and I could use some help for a ‘thing’ I want to do this Sunday. Allow me to explain.

I’m preaching on Luke 13.18-21 which contains both the parable of the mustard seed and this parable:  “Again he asked, “What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”” (Luke 13:20–21 NIV11) I’m of the opinion that Jesus is not giving us a first-century version of TGBBO.*

Rather, he is:

  1. Revealing the nature of the kingdom – that it grows
  2. Reassuring his followers that growth may not be rapid, but it will arrive
  3. Reminding his listeners that from while someone as insignificant-looking as an unorthodox semi-rabbi from unfashionable Nazareth of questionable parentage may not look impressive, give it time and his message will spread wider and have more impact than anyone could imagine.

Hence my chemistry quest. I’d like to conclude my sermon with a practical physical demonstration of something small having a disproportionate effect on another substance. I’ve asked a Chemistry teacher of mine for ideas and she’s on the case. But I thought I’d widen the pool. Can you think of something that we could do safely in a school hall on a Sunday morning?  If we use your suggestions I’ll give you credit on the day and on YouTube!

Many thanks for your help in advance. Yours in Chemical ignorance,


*(The Great British Bake Off, about which there has been much recent controversy – but that shall remain a story for another day).

The Three Trees

pathThere are many trees in the Bible. I once contemplated writing a book about the spiritual lessons to be learned from trees and the use of wood. It might still happen (the ark, sticks on Isaac’s back, the tabernacle, etc.). The thought came back to mind this week because we had an outdoor ‘forest/nature’ church service. The entire Watford church decamped to the woods at Ashridge. Joe Cronje illustrated the need for trees as a supplier of oxygen by the use of his scuba diving equipment. We searched for seed pods, built a mini-shelter and took time to listen to silence. A refreshing experience and one I expect we’ll repeat.

We took communion standing in a circle. Bread and wine were passed round after I’d shared about the tree of life from Revelation 22. But there was more I had planned to share about three key trees. Time did not permit on the day, but here are the remaining thoughts.

1. The Wrong Tree 

A young lad was at our house recently. He spotted a juicy apple. My wife counselled him not to eat it. Why? Because it was a cooker, not an eater. Adam & Eve got a mouthful of sourness of a different sort when they ate from the wrong tree. “The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” (Genesis 2:9) There was plenty of good fruit around on a variety of trees. They ate from a forbidden tree and we’ve been suffering ever since.

2. The Healing Tree

Trees have medicinal properties. But our earth-bound trees have nothing on this particular tree: “On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse.” Revelation 22.2-3 A tree that can heal the nations? That’s quite some tree. People differ on the exact nature and location of this tree and the kind of healing mentioned. However, what is clear is that the healing is powerful and permanent. As the rest of Revelation indicates, the tree exists to do its work because of the sacrifice of the lamb – Jesus.

3. The Cursed Tree

Standing between the tree in Eden and the tree in Revelation, between the wrong tree and the healing tree, forming a tree-bridge between them, is another tree. This ‘tree’ is the one Jesus was hung on. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.”” (Galatians 3:13) His willingness to be ‘cursed’ on a tree removed the Genesis curse (Gen 3.17) and the sin-curse on me.

We took bread and wine to remember the one who hung on a tree so that we can enjoy the fruit of the tree of life and experience it’s healing power. I’m looking forward to seeing the tree of life on the banks of the river of the water of life, and I’ll be forever grateful that I’m healed by what Jesus did for me on another tree 2,000 years ago.

Malcolm Cox


PS: if you’d like to see a short video on trees and how they communicate, click here to see something my wife sent me from the BBC web site.

“Zeal Without Burnout”: “We need inward renewal” – VIDEO

Just as we need food and water to keep our bodies physically alive, so we need the inward renewal of the holy spirit in our hearts and lives. Romans 8.10–11. We have the spirit who raised Jesus from the dead. 2 Corinthians 4.16 – inward renewal day by day is ours. Our physical nature, our mental life, our emotional, intellectual and affectional facets of life are inseparable from the “spiritual” part of us.


“Zeal Without Burnout”: “We need inward renewal” – AUDIO

Just as we need food and water to keep our bodies physically alive, so we need the inward renewal of the holy spirit in our hearts and lives. Romans 8.10–11. We have the spirit who raised Jesus from the dead. 2 Corinthians 4.16 – inward renewal day by day is ours. Our physical nature, our mental life, our emotional, intellectual and affectional facets of life are inseparable from the “spiritual” part of us.