Quiet Time Coaching: Episode 97. “The difference between moaning and groaning”

Groaning in the Spirit

What is the spiritual difference between “moaning” and “groaning”? Is it important?  Biblically, moaning looks super-dangerous  (think Israel complaining in the desert), whilst groaning looks meaningful. But, is this accurate?  We need to get it right.

This is on my mind for two reasons. 

  • First of all because I’m teaching a class series on the Holy Spirit for the Thames Valley churches of Christ on Friday nights. In the first class (which can be found here), we looked at Romans chapter 8 and the fact that there’s a lot of groaning going on! Creation, ourselves and the Spirit:

“…the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.”

Romans 8:22–23, 26
  • Secondly because Monday of this week gave me cause to groan and temptation to moan. In the podcast I detail what happened regarding my mother’s hip operation. The emotional cost of disappointment and frustration meant that I found myself wrestling with moaning.

I’ve attempted to record this Quiet Time Coaching episode whilst still in the middle of wrestling with the moaning/groaning differences. I hope I’ve created something authentic. Certainly, at the time, I had not fully distinguished what was going on in my heart.

The questions of the hour

  • Do you agree with me that moaning is different from groaning?  
  • How can we tell when we’re moaning and when we’re groaning?
  • Do you have any tips you could share that might help us develop better thinking and decisions regarding moaning and groaning?
  • Are there some Scriptures that you find helpful on these topics?

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.

If you’d like a copy of my free eBook on spiritual disciplines, “How God grows His people”, sign up for my weekly newsletter at the website: http://www.malcolmcox.org.

Please pass the link on, subscribe, leave a review.

God bless, Malcolm

PS: You might also be interested in my book: “An elephant’s swimming pool”, a devotional look at the Gospel of John

The scene through which I walked during this week’s Quiet Time Coaching recording.
Click on the picture for the class….

Tuesday Teaching Tips, Episode 165: “Why You Need Keynote Stories”

I used a ‘keynote’ illustration in a recent sermon. It was about my encounter with an epileptic. The reaction I experienced prompted last week’s teaching tip.

Today I’d like to talk about the significance of having a body of ‘keynote’ stories which you have ready at hand for the right occasion.


What is a ‘keynote’ story?

  1. A story with an emotional connection for you
  2. A story you can tell without notes
  3. A story containing a punchline
  4. A story most often containing a laugh and a gasp
  5. A parable
  6. Not an anecdote. Anecdotes are fine, but they don’t contain a narrative arc. They make a point, but don’t take you on a journey. ‘Keynote’ stories have a shape.

What does a typical ‘keynote’ story look like? 

It answers three questions and leaves you with an opportunity….

  1. Where did you start?
  2. Where did the story take you? (Usually through a challenge or bad place.)
  3. Where did you end up?

Opportunity: What is the point you can now make that helps your talk?


Where do you keep your ‘keynote’ stories?

  • I keep mine in a folder within Evernote. It’s called “Keynote Illustrations” and contains tags.
  • You can keep yours anywhere, but separate them from other illustrations. 
  • You may not think you need to do this, but over time we forget we have even these captivating stories. Mine include a story about an epileptic, riding a motorbike in India, my university dissertation, praying in a car, the first time I told a girl I loved her, the death of my brother, and more. 

How do we best use ‘keynote’ stories?

  1. One at a time. They pack emotional punch. More than one in a talk will be overwhelming.
  2. Edit them. Each story likely has lots of details – not all are relevant to your particular audience. Leave in the parts that are relevant and remove any fluff.
  3. Tell them slowly. You know the story so well, you may rush the telling. Give your audience time to take in the story, and especially any emotionally involving moments.
  4. Get the ‘punchline’ right. Practice the high point of the story.

Why are they important?

  1. Authenticity. Keynote stories have great authenticity because they are stories that matter to you. They are often about incidents that had a significant impact on the way you view the world, yourself and God. 
  2. Memorable. You remember them, and so will your audience. Hopefully they will continue to attach them to the spiritual point which will provoke them to think and act in a way that reflects the spiritual point you were making in your lesson – long after leaving the event. 

I have recorded previously on anecdotes and stories. Here are the links:


Please add your comments on this week’s topic. We learn best when we learn in community. 

Thank you for listening to this recording. You can find more teaching tips here and on the YouTube teaching tips playlist

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.

If you’d like a copy of my free eBook on spiritual disciplines, “How God grows His people”, sign up at my website: http://www.malcolmcox.org

Thanks again for listening. Have a terrific Tuesday, and a wonderful week.

God bless,

Malcolm 

“BY THE SPIRIT”, Praying in the Spirit – Part 1

“BY THE SPIRIT”

Praying in the Spirit – Part 1

John 14:16–17; Ephesians 1:13–14; Ephesians 2:22; Romans 8:15–27

1. “We” – we cry 

Question: “How does the “we cry” help your life of prayer?”

2. “Cry”

  1. Creation groans – v22
  2. We groan  – v23
  3. Spirit groans – vv26-27

Question: “What life situations have caused you to “cry” to God in the Spirit?”

Question: “How does the “we cry” help your life of prayer?”

3. “Abba”

Question: “How does the “we cry, Abba” help your life of prayer?”

4. “Father”

  • Not starting with “Lord” 

Question: “How does the “we cry, “Abba,Father.”, help your life of prayer?”

Conclusion

What does each of these four points mean for you and your ‘group’?

  1. We – communal
  2. Cry – real
  3. Abba – relationship
  4. Father – safe
  • How will you adjust the way you pray as a result of what the Spirit has made possible?
  • Suggestion: Use Romans 8.15 as a prayer frame for a week – “We cry, “Abba, Father.””
  • Do you have questions about the Spirit? Send them to malcolm@malcolmcox.org.

* “Cry” (katzo): Matt. 8:29; 9:27; 14:26, 30; 15:22–23; 20:30–31; 21:9, 15; 27:23, 50; Mark 3:11; 5:5, 7; 9:24, 26; 10:47–48; 11:9; 15:13–14; Luke 4:41; 9:39; 18:39; 19:40; John 1:15; 7:28, 37; 12:44; Acts 7:57, 60; 14:14; 16:17; 19:28, 32, 34; 21:28, 36; 23:6; 24:21; Rom. 8:15; 9:27; Gal. 4:6; James 5:4; Rev. 6:10; 7:2, 10; 10:3; 12:2; 14:15; 18:2, 18–19; 19:17

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.

If you’d like a copy of my free eBook on spiritual disciplines, “How God grows His people”, sign up at my website: http://www.malcolmcox.org.

Please pass the link on, subscribe, leave a review.

“Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.” (Psalms 100:2 NIV11)

God bless, Malcolm

PS: You might also be interested in my book: “An elephant’s swimming pool”, a devotional look at the Gospel of John

Malcolm’s Major Moments, 13th July 2019

Of barking dogs and pneumatic drills – disturbing the comfortable and comforting the disturbed.

Information about this week’s posts, experiences and personal reflections on what God has been bringing to my attention.

God bless, Malcolm

The Sunday Sample: Episode 91. “Posture in Corporate Worship”, Part 9 – Kissing. Malcolm Cox

What is the usefulness and relevance of movement and posture in corporate worship? This is the ninth in a series on this topic inspired by a chapter in “Participating in Worship” by Craig Douglas Erickson.

Today we look at the issue of kissing. 

In many cultures kissing on the cheek once, twice or even three times is a culturally normative method of greeting.  It’s not how I grew up, but even in my circles close friends would exchange a kiss of greeting.

Peter encourages Christ-followers to: “Greet one another with a kiss of love.” (1 Peter 5:14 NIV11) Here the word “love” can also be translated “peace”. We see the same activity encouraged in: Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12; 1 Th. 5:26.

Are we missing something by not incorporating a “kiss of peace” either as part of our services, or in the fellowship?  When I first came to the fellowships in which I now serve, we simply shook hands. Later that developed to hugging. I love hugging-now. Not when it started. But the tangible physical experience of getting up close and personal with one another reinforces our sense of family. Might a kiss on the cheek of chief something similar and be even more biblical? Have we avoided kissing because of the potential lustful effects of such intimacy between men and women who are not married? Is a throwback to our largely student-based origins where energy and hormones tend to run amok?!

I’m not sure, but, it does seem clear that if we are claiming to be brothers and sisters in Christ, there must be some level of physical closeness with which we become comfortable. My question is, whether this should be incorporated into our services. Is there a place for, at the right moment in the service, asking people to exchange a kiss? We sometimes do this in a different way by asking people to stand up and greet the person next to them and often that means giving and receiving a hug. Why not a kiss also?

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.

If you’d like a copy of my free eBook on spiritual disciplines, “How God grows His people”, sign up at my website: http://www.malcolmcox.org.

Please pass the link on, subscribe, leave a review.

“Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.” (Psalms 100:2 NIV11)

God bless, Malcolm

PS: You might also be interested in my book: “An elephant’s swimming pool”, a devotional look at the Gospel of John

Quiet Time Coaching: Episode 96. “Exercise and Diet”

We continue our series today based on the book, “Unloading the Overload: Stress management for Christians” by Chris Powell and Graham Barker.

Today we explore the issue of exercise and diet. How do our nutrition and fitness effect our times of quiet with God – or not.

I should begin by stressing that none of the advice here is given by a medical professional. I’m simply speaking from my own experience and reading. That having been said, let’s explore this topic. Does what we consume and how we look after our bodies make a difference to the quality of our connection with God?

I’ll lay my cards on the table. I believe the answer is, “yes”. It is insofar as it is within our control to choose what we eat and drink and how often, and have any significant influence over the health of our bodies. I believe the care and nurturing of a physical state has an impact on the spiritual. It is not correct to see the spiritual and the physical as being of completely different domains and having no impact on one another. We are not simply souls which temporarily inhabit a broken and corrupted flesh. It should be borne in mind that we will have a body in the next life.  The apostle Paul puts it well:

“Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.”

(2 Corinthians 7:1 NIV11)

Our bodies were made for physical action. God intended us to look after what he had created (Gen 2.15). This involved and still involves hard work. Our bodies react positively to physical exercise helping us to produce chemicals which provide natural feelings of well-being.  God made us this way. When we denigrate our bodies, or minimise the significance of a reasonable level of physical fitness, we deny ourselves gifts that God is offering. To do such a thing must have a deleterious effect on our connection with the father.

Let me share some personal experiences. 


1. Exercise

I find prayer walks very significant in my relationship with God. On occasion I enjoy sitting still and meditating in prayer, but prayer walking is a staple for my quiet times. However, I have dodgy knees. So far I’ve had six operations on my two knees. They creak, and, if I don’t take care of them, cause significant pain. Not too long ago I was in severe pain and could not walk much at all. It had a very negative effect on my connection with God. I decided to take things more seriously. I did further research and discovered that it might be helpful to take glucosamine regularly and drink pomegranate juice. The frequency of walking also makes a big difference. Therefore, I take those glucosamine supplements three times a day, drink pomegranate juice daily and walk every day. No matter what. I’ve also taken up cycling. First on a stationary trainer in my garage until I was more confident (and the weather improved!), and now cycling the local lanes and canal tow paths.

There are multiple benefits to this, of course. But primary amongst them is that, at least at this point, my knees are in good enough shape to allow me to take as many prayer walks as I desire.

On another note, I have significant neck pain as a result of a disc problem. It interferes with my sleep, which make being alert and fresh for my morning time with God a challenge. I decided to attempt some action on this protracted problem. My wife suggested contacting a friend, Debbie Bishop, who is an expert personal trainer. She came over and designed a pilates-style strength-training plan which helps my entire body, but especially my knees and neck. After two sessions I was in less neck pain and sleeping better. Sleep is a key component in being prepared for a time of quiet in the morning. Of course, we cannot control everything to do with our sleep (I was woken this week by a dog barking at 4.41am), but what we can influence we surely should.

A couple of thoughts about exercise. There are many theories about what is most helpful, and your doctor is probably your best source of advice here, but, the key is to find a mode of exercise which you find:

  1. Reasonably enjoyable
  2. Which you can maintain regularly
  3. Helps you to be ready for God in the mornings

2. Nutrition 

I don’t believe in diets – at least not diets in the sense of the multi-billion industry encouraging us to part with huge amounts of cash for dubious weight loss goals. However, it is clear that what we put into our bodies has an enormous impact on our well-being physically and, it seems to me, spiritually.

In the last few years I’ve taken my nutritional more seriously. It all began with a trip to Ghana (which was a tremendously positive spiritual experience), and picking up a rather nasty stomach bug. Having lost a little over a stone I felt much better, and decided to maintain this new weight. Of course, being closer to my ideal weight also blessed my knees. Since then I’ve hovered around 13 stone (182 pounds for my American cousins, or, 82 Kilos) which is about right for me.  More recently I’ve taken to eating a more plant-based diet.

By far the most significant issue is becoming self aware of what helps and what hinders. Let me give you an example. 

I travel to the Thames Valley churches of Christ on Friday nights. By the time I get back it’s typically anywhere between 11 PM and 11:30 PM. Frequently, I’ve been leading worship or teaching, or in significant conversations and training opportunities. My mind is buzzing when I get home. As you can imagine it is a little difficult to switch off. What I did for quite some time was watch some television and drink a glass of red wine until I felt more ready to sleep. The upshot was rotten Saturday morning quiet times!  I was lethargic, and often had a headache. 

Is watching television an evil thing? Is drinking a glass of red wine sinful? Of course not. But these “solutions” were hindering not helping. I have since developed a new strategy which involves drinking more non-caffeinated fluids on the way home as well as a healthy snack (often dates or a banana). When I get home I tidy away the equipment I have brought back from the meeting, tick off the completed items from my list for the day, and write down the priorities for Saturday. Then I listen to a podcast which has nothing to do with church stuff. It’s usually a Goon show from the 1950s which I know almost word for word by heart. Occasionally I use an app called “Feeling Good” and a recording on that app called “Yes you can… Sleep soundly”. Listening to the Goons or the app I drift off to sleep earlier than I otherwise would do, and wake up more refreshed than in the past.

None of this guarantees a good quiet time on Saturday!  But I do know I’m in a better place with a better chance to enjoy that time of quiet with God.


A few caveats.  First of all, I understand that some of us may not be in a position to exercise in the traditional sense. It doesn’t mean, that if you are confined to your bed with illness that you cannot have a good time of quiet with God. God is able to help us to triumph through all circumstances. I’m only talking about what is within our control.

It’s also not the case that I’m suggesting a particular exercise regime or set of nutritional choices as being more godly than another. This is much more about being conscious of the choices we’re making and aware of whether they are helping or hindering our relationship with God.


Do you agree with me that the way we treat our bodies has a significant impact on our relationship with God? In what way do you feel your choices in these areas are having an impact on your times of quiet with God? 

Do you have any tips you could share that might help us develop better thinking and decisions regarding exercise and nutrition?

Scriptures referred to or you might find useful: 2 Cor 7.1; 1 Tim 6.17; Luke 12.23; Matt 4.4; 1 Tim 5.23.

Recent resources I have found helpful include: 

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.

If you’d like a copy of my free eBook on spiritual disciplines, “How God grows His people”, sign up at my website: http://www.malcolmcox.org.

Please pass the link on, subscribe, leave a review.

God bless, Malcolm

PS: You might also be interested in my book: “An elephant’s swimming pool”, a devotional look at the Gospel of John

Tuesday Teaching Tips, Episode 164: “What to do when illustrations aren’t received as expected”

Illustrations are an essential part of effective preaching and teaching. Jesus used them all the time. However, sometimes they aren’t received in the way we expect. What do we do in those circumstances?

This happened to me recently. I was preaching for the Thames Valley churches of Christ and using one of my “keynote” illustrations (more on the significance of “keynote” illustrations in next week’s teaching tips episode).  The story is about my encounter with an epileptic. Here are the links to the sermon (website, YouTube, podcast).  

Without spoiling the story, there is a twist which usually evokes great surprise and laughter. And I got those this time, but something extra I’d never experienced before. Which was an attitude of sympathy towards someone in the story who the congregation viewed in some sense as a victim, where I had always perceived him to be a perpetrator. This reaction temporarily threw me off balance. I’m experienced enough as a speaker to not let my surprise show, but I was distracted for a moment before pressing on with the conclusion of the story and the application.

The experience was a helpful reminder that I cannot expect to tell the same story to two different groups and expect an identical reaction. Each congregation has its own collective experience, culture and, sometimes, a different blend of values. I reflected afterwards that on most occasions I have used the illustration it’s been to groups of younger Christians and younger people than the group to which I spoke recently. This might have accounted for the difference in reaction. The Thames Valley congregation have recently been receiving many messages and training in caring for the poor and needy. This, I think, also affected their view of the perpetrator as victim.

It’s not to say that any one particular reaction is right or wrong, but speakers must be prepared for the possibility of an unexpected reaction.

Jesus certainly did not always get the reaction he hoped for (see Mark 6.1-7 – not strictly a response to an illustration, but certainly not the hoped-for response to his teaching).  He was flexible enough to respond in a godly manner whatever his audience response might be. When they asked questions as a result of his parables he used their confusion to clarify the point (Matt 13.10, 36). 

Here are three tips to help us with such an eventuality:

  1. Consider THIS audience. In other words, don’t just assume that this group will be the same as every other group, or every other time you have used this particular illustration. Consider the overall culture of the group, and any recent experiences which might colour their view of your illustration. Then decide if this is the right illustration for this group at this time.
  2. Pause.  When things go in a different direction to that which you expected, take a moment to pause and consider whether you need to address the reaction, adjust the next part of your presentation, or simply press on. Most congregations will not notice a short pause. They will assume it is part of your presentation.  Pray in that moment and then decide whether to enquire about the reaction (sometimes interaction can be creatively helpful to your point), or continue with the lesson as planned.
  3. Reflect. When the unexpected happens, take some time afterwards to think through why that might have been, and what the lessons are for your use of this illustration in the future.

In my case, the illustration still worked to make my point, but when I come to use it again I will think more carefully about whether it is the right illustration, and how to use it, than I did on this occasion.

Have you have had this experience of an illustration provoking a response you did not expect? What happened? And what did you do? What lessons did you take from the experience?

Please add your comments on this week’s topic. We learn best when we learn in community. 

Thank you for listening to this recording. You can find more teaching tips here and on the YouTube teaching tips playlist

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.

If you’d like a copy of my free eBook on spiritual disciplines, “How God grows His people”, sign up at my website: http://www.malcolmcox.org

Thanks again for listening. Have a terrific Tuesday, and a wonderful week.

God bless,

Malcolm 

“Jesus the Life-Whisperer”

Wellington Service 2019, Thames Valley churches of Christ

We are designed for an adventurous life.

Why settle for a rocking horse when a real one is available? We take a look at why going through life with Jesus is better than doing it alone.

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.

If you’d like a copy of my free eBook on spiritual disciplines, “How God grows His people”, sign up at my website: http://www.malcolmcox.org.

Please pass the link on, subscribe, leave a review.

“Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.” (Psalms 100:2 NIV11)

God bless, Malcolm

PS: You might also be interested in my book: “An elephant’s swimming pool”, a devotional look at the Gospel of John

Acts 14.20-28 – what’s it all about?

This coming Sunday’s text for the Watford church of Christ. What questions do you have about it?

“But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe.
They preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said. Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust. After going through Pisidia, they came into Pamphylia, and when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia.
From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed. On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. And they stayed there a long time with the disciples.” (Acts 14:20–28 NIV11)

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.

If you’d like a copy of my free eBook on spiritual disciplines, “How God grows His people”, sign up at my website: http://www.malcolmcox.org.

Please pass the link on, subscribe, leave a review.

“Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.” (Psalms 100:2 NIV11)

God bless, Malcolm

PS: You might also be interested in my book: “An elephant’s swimming pool”, a devotional look at the Gospel of John

The Sunday Sample: Episode 90. “Posture in Corporate Worship”, Part 8 – Sitting. Malcolm Cox

What is the usefulness and relevance of movement and posture in corporate worship? This is the Eighth in a series on this topic inspired by a chapter in “Participating in Worship” by Craig Douglas Erickson.

Today we look at the issue of sitting.

We take sitting for granted, of course. But should we consider that there may be some aspects of our Christian worship that benefit most specifically by the fact that we as a congregation and/or those leading worship, singing and preaching might be seated.?

Jesus sat among the teachers in the temple (Luke 2:46😉 and he taught while seated (Luke 4:16-20; John 8:2). Mary sat at Jesus feet (Luke 10:39). Sitting was permitted during the delivery of prophecy (1 Corinthians 14:30).

Sitting whilst praying is unknown in the Bible. Instead, the many postures recorded for prayer vary from prostration and kneeling to standing. For some reason, sitting seems to have been avoided. It is, however, our most common posture for prayer. Are we missing something here?

There is, clearly, nothing inherently unspiritual about sitting, but should we consider more carefully how much “sitting” there is in our services? Granted, we must pay attention to the people in our midst who have physical challenges and those who are not strong, but I wonder if we have too much sitting.

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.

If you’d like a copy of my free eBook on spiritual disciplines, “How God grows His people”, sign up at my website: http://www.malcolmcox.org.

Please pass the link on, subscribe, leave a review.

“Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.” (Psalms 100:2 NIV11)

God bless, Malcolm

PS: You might also be interested in my book: “An elephant’s swimming pool”, a devotional look at the Gospel of John