What to do when you don’t know how to love God

Connection Crisis

It’s awkward when you don’t know how to connect with someone. Even more so with God. How can we connect with the awesome, pure creator of all we see and cannot see? Let’s talk about that today.
 

Mexican Standoff

I’ve just returned from a few days in Mexico where I was attending a conference on worship. I speak no Spanish and most of the people there spoke no English. In my home church culture, we hug one another as a greeting. But I noticed a lot of cheek-to-cheek kissing going on in Mexico. The women did this with one another and with the men. The men held out their hand to other men in a clasp-like manner and then hugged. I clumsily imitated them. Once I kissed a woman’s ear instead of her cheek. Another time I trod on a man’s foot as I attempted the hand-grip and hug. Coordination was never my strong suit!
 

Shunned No Longer

I was embarrassed about my mistakes and my clumsiness. However, no one shunned me. I was not avoided in case I trod on someone’s foot. Everyone embraced me eagerly. I relaxed, kissed and hugged, and gradually got better at it. I was reminded that God will never shun my attempts to communicate, not matter how hapless.
How are we going to connect with God? By embracing the ways he has taught us to connect with him. And doing so consistently. Practice makes perfect in many things, and our relationship with God is no exception. Here are three ways to connect. If practised regularly they will help you to develop a deeper connection with God over time.

Three Tips

1. Open your heart to God. “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalms 34:18 NIV11). Give him your deepest fears and dearest hopes.
2. Praise God. “The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.” (Psalms 145:18 NIV11). The word, ‘call’ is ‘qara’ in Hebrew meaning to praise the qualities of YHWH.
3. Pray with others. “Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together.” (Psalms 34:3 NIV11) Find a friend to pray with and glorify God together.
 

Conclusion

Connection with God is possible. He made us for this very purpose. But we’re limited in our understanding of how to do so. Never fear. God has left us with a huge book with helpful examples, instructions and principles. Put the three above into practice this week and see your connection with God grow and grow.
 

Question

What helps you to connect with God? What have I missed that could help other people?
 
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

Tuesday Teaching Tips Episode 76: “How to preach for the first time” – Part 2

What’s the best way to approach preparing your first sermon? I offer seven more 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

Three Ways To Protect Your Healthy Spiritual Eyesight

What we look at affects us. Visual images influence us emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. If that were not so, we’d not have photographs framed. Nor would companies spend what they do on advertising. We cannot always control what we see, but we do have a choice about what we look at. 

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I’m writing this blog in Guadalajara where I’m attending a conference for leaders of corporate worship. I flew here wearing spectacles instead of my normal contact lenses. That way I didn’t have to bother with taking the lenses out so that I could sleep on the plane.
 
This morning I put in my new contact lenses. Instead of the expected clarity, the world went blurry. I was confused. Looking at the box I realised I had ordered the wrong lens prescription. Instead of -2.50 in one eye and -2.25 in the other I had bought +2.50 in one eye and +2.25 in the other. The exact opposite. Instead of making my eyesight better they made it worse.
 
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I removed the lenses, muttered darkly about my folly, and ordered the correct lenses online. In the meantime, I will make do with my spectacles. Not the worst situation in the world. But a waste of £45.
 

Out of Focus?

By ordering the wrong lenses I made a decision that impaired my sight. As soon as it became obvious I corrected it. But do we have the same urgency when it comes to spiritual sight? Do we even notice when our spiritual vision is out of focus?

We Have a Choice

We choose where we ‘look’ spiritually. It is our responsibility. Job acknowledged his ability to make such a choice when he said, “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a young woman.” (Job 31:1 NIV11) Easier said than done, of course! What can we do to make sure we are protecting our spiritual eyesight?
 

Three Tips

1. Surround yourself with spiritually healthy people. “My eyes will be on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me; the one whose walk is blameless will minister to me.” (Psalms 101:6 NIV11) When we surround ourselves with people who ‘see’ right, we’ll ‘see’ better too. The healthy example of others inspires and instructs (1 Cor 4.16). Jim Rohn said something similar when he said that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. Who are you spending time with? Are they lifting your vision or depressing it?
2. Ask God for insight into his word. “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.” (Psalms 119:18 NIV11). Reading the Bible is never enough. We need spiritual insight. When you open the Bible, take a moment at the start, or when you hit a tricky section to pray and ask for God to help you understand what he is communicating. God will help us ‘see’ his word more accurately and clearly if we ask him.
3. Deal decisively with sin. “And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.” (Matthew 18:9 NIV11). We should not kid ourselves. Sin blinds us to God, his promises and his love. If you’ve been finding it hard to ‘see’ God clearly, take a moment to reflect if there’s been some sin in your life. If so, be decisive and ruthless about removing it.
 

Conclusion

A friend of mine recently described what it was like to be temporarily blind. He felt confused, insecure and afraid. God never intends for us to feel this way. His dream is that we feel confident, secure and loved. What we look at, where our focus is, on what we set our attention has an enormous impact on the clarity and health of our spiritual sight.
 
My contact lens order mistake cost me £45. The costs of spiritual un-sightedness are much higher.
 

Question

What do you think of the three suggestions above? Are there other practical actions we can take that I’ve missed? What helps you to maintain clear spiritual vision?
 
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

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

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”

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

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 invisible qualities Rom1.20 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

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.

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

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

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

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