“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 does the New Testament teach us about preaching?” Part 2 – Parakaleo

Tuesday Teaching Tips: Episode 85

This is part 2 of a four-part series looking at some of the Greek words used to describe teaching and preaching. We continue with Parakaleo.

Here are the references to its use in the NT: Matt 2:18; 5:4; 8:5, 31, 34; 14:36; 18:29, 32; 26:53; Mark 1:40; 5:10, 12, 17–18, 23; 6:56; 7:32; 8:22; Luke 3:18; 7:4; 8:31–32, 41; 15:28; 16:25; Acts 2:40; 8:31; 9:38; 11:23; 13:42; 14:22; 15:32; 16:9, 15, 39–40; 19:31; 20:1–2, 12; 21:12; 24:4; 25:3; 27:33–34; 28:14, 20; Rom 12:1, 8; 15:30; 16:17; 1 Cor 1:10; 4:13, 16; 14:31; 16:12, 15; 2 Cor 1:4, 6; 2:7–8; 5:20; 6:1; 7:6–7, 13; 8:6; 9:5; 10:1; 12:8, 18; 13:11; Eph 4:1; 6:22; Phil 4:2; Col 2:2; 4:8; 1 Th 2:12; 3:2, 7; 4:1, 10, 18; 5:11, 14; 2 Th 2:17; 3:12; 1 Tim 1:3; 2:1; 5:1; 6:2; 2 Tim 4:2; Titus 1:9; 2:6, 15; Philem 1:9–10; Heb 3:13; 10:25; 13:19, 22; 1 Pet 2:11; 5:1, 12; Jude 1:3

I have three tips for us to consider from its use in Luke 3.18:

  1. Warnings
  2. Practicals
  3. Hope

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

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Episode 12, Sunday Sample, 19 November 2017

Reflections on Corporate Worship

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Locations: Watford and Bracknell

Special Occasion: none

I was involved in services in Watford and Bracknell this last Sunday. Our entry to the building in Watford was delayed due to a misunderstanding about parking, but we got in eventually. Everyone rushed around setting up before taking a deep breath for a pre-service devotional. We needed it. We were all frazzled.

We reflected on Hezekiah’s prayer, then God’s promise of healing, followed by the King’s poem of praise, culminating in this phrase:

“The Lord will save me, and we will sing with stringed instruments all the days of our lives in the temple of the Lord.” (Isaiah 38:20 NIV11)

He knew why he was singing. His fellow-congregants knew why they were singing. See the “we” word in verse 20?  We also know why we sing. The point is not “what” we are about to do, but “why”. Focussing on the “why” helped us to worship and to lead worship with a clearer mind and heart. It’s an important reminder to me that we need those few moments to pray and remember what it’s all about.

Speakers

Charl gave us a communion talk with a difference in Watford. You may see the table, tablecloth, vase and flower between Barry and Kate in the photo above. He asked for volunteers for a demonstration and then set up Barry and Kate as if on a date in a restaurant. Romantic music played through the PA system. Charl spoke about what makes meals special before going on to describe the extra-special nature of the communion. His points were sound and well-made. But what I especially appreciated was the creative thinking that went into preparing and presenting his talk.

Osagie is in action below preaching in Watford. He is another one never short of a handy way to illustrate his points. His use of children’s play tiles was masterful. You’ll have to click here to see him in action on the YouTube channel.

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Music Worship

We tried a new song-sandwich in Watford. The first three verses of “Soon and very soon” were followed by “Shine, Jesus, Shine” and concluded with the final two verses of “Soon and very”. All in G.It didn’t really work. The problem was that we started too fast and had to slow down for “Shine” and then speed up again for the final part of “Soon”. It wasn’t a disaster, but the effect I was looking for didn’t happen. I’m going to try it again this coming Sunday in Lower Earley. We’ll sing the first half of “Soon” slowly, segue into “Shine” and then speed up for the second half of “Soon”. I’ll let you know how that goes next week.

In Bracknell, the stand-out musical item was a new song by Geraldine Latty, “Lord, you hear the cry“. I thoroughly recommend it. How many songs do we sing about the marginalised and needy? Not many. It goes well with the point in our services when we take a collection for HOPE Worldwide UK. Have a look at the lyrics and chord charts here.

Other Thoughts

Last week I said we’d do the following:

  1. Have song sheets for everyone in Watford. Done.
  2. Start the service in Bracknell with a 5-minute countdown video. Done.

Next Sunday we’ll do the following:

  1. Have a devotional for all the service participants that includes one minute of silence – “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation.” Psalm 62.1, (NRSV)
  2. Have a second bash a the S&S song-sandwich in Lower Earley.

Please comment on what you’re doing 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

“How to succour your soul with silence”, Psalms 62.1 & 65.1

Quiet Time Coaching Episode 14

Do you enjoy silence? Is it scary? Is it enticing? Do you run towards it, or away from it? What part does it play in a healthy prayer life?

When alone I walk around the house with a podcast broadcasting from the phone in my pocket. Car journeys are opportunities to catch up with podcasts. The shower is one of my favourite places for listening to podcasts thanks to the shower-proof phone protector my wife gave me and the shower-proof Bluetooth speaker my daughter gave me.

Podcasts, podcasts, podcasts. A veritable sound-storm of podcasting surrounds my solitude. But is this healthy?

Sober Silence

Some of my podcasting obsession is reasonable. But I must admit that occasionally it’s a way of filling the silence when it wants to speak to my soul. This came home to me yesterday.

I’ve been visiting my parents to help with some errands. Here in rural Kent, I don’t have access to my usual broadband. A video upload was needed and I used my phone as a mobile hotspot. The file was big. Really big. The phone remained tethered to the laptop for an entire morning.

I walked around the house, I pruned a pear tree, deadheaded rose bushes, gathered leaves, picked up fallen branches and put them on the bonfire pile. In silence. Wonderful!

Silent Psalmist

I submitted myself to the silence more willingly than usual. The reason was the fact that the previous day I read an article in the November edition of Christianity Today magasine. Sandra McCraken wrote on, “Our Silence, Music to His Ears”. In her article, she focussed on Psalm 65.1.

She said, “Many translations and paraphrases of Psalm 65:1 reference praise with an emphasis on silence. Duke Bible scholar Ellen Davis once translated it as, “To you, O Lord, silence is praise.””

Eugene Peterson translated the verse thus: “Silence is praise to you, Zion-dwelling God, And also obedience. You hear the prayer in it all.” (MESSAGE)

Poised Posture

McCraken goes on to say,

“In silence, prayer comes up as word-less petitions and attentive expectation. In this, we affirm that prayer is a two-way conversation. Silence is the waiting posture that helps us to be poised to hear God’s voice.”

What is it about silence that open’s our ears to God’s voice? Silence creates the conditions for the decluttering of our minds. Robin Daniels in “The Virgin Eye” says, “Silence is not the absence of sound. Rather, sound is the absence of silence. Silence is primary.”

Perhaps he is right. We believe God wants a relationship with us. He waits for us to be silent so that we can connect. Until the noise of life is tamed we’re in no position to listen to the one who gave us life. In this sense silence is primary. It is necessary for us to be able to receive.

Silence and Speech

Daniels goes on to suggest that, “if we have learned to be silent before the Word, we shall also balance our silence and our speech during the day.” Silence is not the goal. Silence is a means to hearing God’s Word and carrying it with us throughout the day. Silence is not passive, nor an opening to nothingness. Silence is active and focussed.

Silence is a conduit to living a life of substance. Daniels again, “If we do not keep attuning to silence, we lose gravitas, we become lightweight.” How do we access the promised spiritually enriching sound of silence?

Beginning and End

I end with some simple suggestions for making the most of the spiritual discipline of silence:

  1. Quality, not quantity: One minute of silence regularly enjoyed is better than sporadic longer periods of silence.
  2. Focus on the Word: One verse, read, meditated on, prayed over in silence will nourish the soul.
  3. Begin each prayer time with a moment of silence. Don’t rush into your words.
  4. End each prayer time with a moment of silence. Don’t rush off into your next task.

Conclusion

Silence was the experience of many in Bible times. Elijah, Moses and David come to mind, as well as Jesus himself (Luke 5.16). They benefitted from the quiet. Silence is never expected to be the substance of our lives, but it must be a significant part.

Psalm 62 has a similar sentiment to Psalm 65: “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation.” (Psalms 62:1 NRSV)

What can you do to surface opportunities for silence to do its work?

Question

Let me know what your experience is with this. What difficulties did you encounter? What stood out to you? What helped you? If you were encouraging someone else to practice this prayer technique, what would you emphasise to them? have I missed anything important regarding the spiritual discipline of silence?

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 does the New Testament teach us about preaching?” Part 1 – Kerusso

Tuesday Teaching Tips, Episode 84

This is part 1 of a four-part series looking at some of the Greek words used to describe teaching and preaching.

We begin with Kerusso.

Here are the references to its use in the NT:

Matt 3:1; 4:17, 23; 9:35; 10:7, 27; 11:1; 24:14; 26:13; Mark 1:4, 7, 14, 38–39, 45; 3:14; 5:20; 6:12; 7:36; 13:10; 14:9; 16:15, 20; Luke 3:3; 4:18–19, 44; 8:1, 39; 9:2; 12:3; 24:47; Acts 8:5; 9:20; 10:37, 42; 15:21; 19:13; 20:25; 28:31; Rom 2:21; 10:8, 14–15; 1 Cor 1:23; 9:27; 15:11–12; 2 Cor 1:19; 4:5; 11:4; Gal 2:2; 5:11; Phil 1:15; Col 1:23; 1 Th 2:9; 1 Tim 3:16; 2 Tim 4:2; 1 Pet 3:19; Rev 5:2

I have seven habits of a herald for us to consider:

  1. Knows he is sent
  2. Knows to whom he is sent
  3. Knows his message
  4. Knows the authority is with the one who sent him
  5. Knows to be humble
  6. Knows to be bold
  7. Knows the response is not his responsibility

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 listening and watching. Have a terrific Tuesday, and a wonderful week.

God bless,

Malcolm

Corporate Worship Matters, Episode 5: “Teach on the Trends”

Trends Part 3

Previously

  1. Find the trends
  2. Test the Trends

Teach on the Trends

The final step is to teach the congregation. Why should we speak to the congregation about which ‘trends’ we consider to be acceptable?

  1. Because otherwise members may be inclined to practice whatever worship trend suits them without considering the filters above.
  2. They may also cast negative spiritual judgment on others who act differently.
  3. Not only that, but they could become resentful if their preferences are not included in worship. It may be that they are not included for good reason, but a lack of explanation can be harmful.

Confusion is not conducive to God-honouring worship (1 Cor 14.26-33 – more on that in a forthcoming article). Uncertainty is a form of confusion. A member who sits in a service wondering why we have instruments (or no instruments), or why we have someone centre-stage leading worship (or not) is a member who is finding it hard to set their heart and mind on Christ.

Let’s be worship leaders who are aware of trends, but not with the goal of being trendy!  Instead, our aim is to know the trends, apply appropriate filters and teach clearly so that members and visitors alike have their best chance to hear the Spirit’s voice.

What are your thoughts on the significance of teaching about trends to the congregation? Leave a comment below so that we can all learn from one another.

Malcolm Cox

Sunday Sample 12 November 2017

Reflections on Corporate Worship

Locations: Watford and Lower Earley

Special Occasion: none

I was involved in services in Watford and Lower Earley this last Sunday. Both had their own special and unique characteristics.

I preached in Watford – with a difference. In one of his letters Paul tells Timothy: “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.” (1 Timothy 4:13 NIV11)

There is more than one way to apply this, but what we did this Sunday in Watford is an interpretation of Paul’s instruction. I printed out the text of the crucifixion account from Luke’s Gospel. Then assigned different people or groups of people to read the parts of characters in the story. On Sunday I asked everybody to stand, and then we read the account for the crucifixion together. It was especially gratifying to see everybody take part wholeheartedly, including one of our teenagers.

After this, we broke into small discussion groups to consider the experience of the crucifixion from the perspectives of the different people involved.  10 minutes later we had sharing about what the groups discovered, and I wrapped up with Romans 5:7, and we took communion.

As usual, the groups came up with very interesting insights. Although it was not a typical sermon, I believe this format helped all of us find a personal connection with the crucifixion of Jesus.

Jonty preached in Lower Early, taking on the tricky subject of humility and pride. What a courageous man! You did a super job, Jonty, preaching with honesty and conviction, but without hubris. Thank you.

Music Worship

The singing in both services was encouraging. In Watford we overcame my mistake of forgetting to print enough song sheets and a ‘pink’ projector! Something wrong with the socket, I think.

In Lower Earley we sang a ‘new’ song for us, “Days of Elijah” – Rynhardt led it very effectively.

We sang “Above all” in both services and it was interesting that both congregations struggled with it to some extent. I love that song, but it’s tricky for the church to sing it well. There’s something about the rhythm of the melody that confuses us. I’m not sure what to do about it. Any ideas?

Other Thoughts

Next Sunday we’ll do the following:

  1. Have song sheets for everyone in Watford.
  2. Start the service in Bracknell with a 5-minute countdown video. Here is the draft version:

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

“How to make the most of praying through a Psalm”

Quiet Time Coaching Episode 13: Scripture's Songs

Why do we have 150 Psalms? Why is there such a big poetry book in the Bible? Why did God think we needed this resource? How can the Psalms help our prayers? We will delve into this topic today.
 

Massive Manuals

Recently I bought a new camera. I like my Canon EOS M6 very much. It does what I want it to do. But I know it does far more than I realise. The manual is huge. 221 pages long! And, yes, the picture above is taken by that very same camera.
 

At the moment, I’m satisfied with what I know of the camera’s functions. It takes basic pictures and video. Excellent. For now. The ‘quick start’ manual has ben adequate up to now. 11 pages have supplied all I need. But I know as time progresses I will want it to do a wider variety of activities. How do I wirelessly transfer pictures to my laptop? How do I adjust for low light? And much more.  I will want to know what all those buttons and menu options are for. At that point I will need the full manual. It would be foolish of me to ditch the camera because I have not read the manual.

When we struggle in prayer or get stale, the solution is not to ditch prayer. Instead we can go back to the manual for advice, input and perspective. That is what the Psalms are for.

 

Psalmodic Inspiration

Psalms have inspired many hymns and songs. For example, 
  • Old hymns: “Praise my soul the king of heaven” – written in the 1800s by John Goss, based on Psalm 103.
  • Modern hymns: written in 1993, “Among the Gods” by Carol Owen, based on Psalm 86.
  • Recent songs: from the 2000s, “Forever” by Chris Tomlin, based on  Psalm 89.1-2.

Psalmodic Templates

Psalms have been used as a template for songs. They can also be used as a template for personal prayer. For example, here is the text of Psalm 130 with suggested prayer themes.
  • Vv1-2: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD; O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.” Expressing how we feel about our problems and challenges. Asking God to hear these prayers tonight.
  • Vv3-4: “If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; so that we can, with reverence, serve you.Being open about our sins. Asking for forgiveness. Trusting God that He will forgive. Expressing gratitude for His forgiveness.
  • Vv5-6: “I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.” Wanting to be close to God. Expressing how much we love God. Telling God that His word gives us hope. Asking for greater eagerness to be with Him.
  • Vv7-8 “O Israel, put your hope in the LORD, for with the LORD is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.” Telling God how much we love Him. Asking God to fill us with greater appreciation for His grace to us. Confidence that God will forgive us and take us to be with Him.
Of course, the above suggestions are ideas that are not meant to restrict our prayers. Add other areas of prayer that matter to you, or that the Psalm suggests by its content. Learning to pray through a Psalm is a good discipline and an enriching experience, so stick to the Psalm’s internal themes where you can.
 

Preparation

1. A quiet place
2. Read through the Psalm or section of the Psalm
3. Take your time – no rush
 

Practice

1. Read one verse or phrase – slowly and thoughtfully
2. Pray through it and over it
3. Allow the theme of the verse or phrase to take you to other places in the Bible, in your heart and in your life
4. Move on to the next verse and repeat
 
What themes stand out to you? Godʼs holiness? His generosity? What else? What is your response to this Psalm? Feelings of gratitude? Feelings of love? What else? What do you learn about the character of God? Record your observations and also read through the words of the hymn based on this Psalm.
 
In the video and podcast versions of this article I offer a brief demonstration of these techniques. If you would like to hear those, click the links on this page.

Conclusion

 Why not try praying though a Psalm for your next prayer time? How about tomorrow? We have 150 Psalms. That’s more than enough material to keep us going for a long time.
 

Question

Try it and tell me what your experience is with this. What difficulties did you encounter? What stood out to you? What helped you? Imagine encouraging someone else to practice this prayer technique. What would you emphasise to them?
 
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
 
If you’d be interested in coaching in spiritual disciplines, please click the link below.

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Have you ever wondered what to say to someone as they grieve? I know I have.

On Sunday 26th November we’ll gather with friends to discuss this question. We’ll be helped by professionals who deal with these situations more often than most. We will also be looking into the scriptures for the wisdom of the ages.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.” (2 Corinthians 1:3–7 NIV11)

Grieving is tough. The wrong word can make it harder still.The right word can be a life-saver. We will spend this session learning where effective comfort can be found.

We’ll discuss some practicals and principles of what to say and what not to say – what to do and what not to do.

It will also serve as an introduction to a bereavement course starting in 2018.

Please join us for this special event. There is plenty of car parking space. Classes for children aged 2-9 years old.

If you’d like to know more leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.

Malcolm

Date: 26th November 2017
Time: 10:30-12:00 a.m.
Event: "How to Help a Grieving Friend"
Topic: Grief
Sponsor: Watford church of Christ
07973 491021
Venue: Laurance Haines School
Location: Vicarage Road
Watford WD18 0DD
UK
Public: Public

How to Overcome Preaching as a Problem

Tuesday Teaching Tips, Episode 83

Is the word ‘preaching’ the wrong word? We have some challenges with that word – or idea …

I have three tips for us to overcome the stigma associated with ‘preaching’ and ‘sermons’:

  1. Style
  2. Substance
  3. Spirituality

Notes:

Rom. 14:10 “You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.”

“When you speak of heaven, let your face light up… When you speak of hell well then, your everyday face will do.” Charles Haddon Spurgeon

“Preaching with Humanity”, Stevenson and Wright

“I Believe in Preaching”, John Stott