The Heart of Christ

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been reading a great little book called Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers by Dane Ortlund  It’s had a profound impact on me (I started a daily reading of each chapter of this book – you can access them from our Church YouTube channel here).  I began thinking, how many of God’s people know how Christ feels toward them, when they are doing poorly? 

It’s one thing to know he died and rose for you.  It’s another to know his heart toward you, in your weakness and sorrows and sufferings.  Charles Spurgeon, the great London preacher said that nothing attracts the heart of men than Jesus himself.  “Preach the loving heart of Jesus,” he said.  “Go to the centre of the subject, and set forth his very soul, his inmost self, and then it may be that the heart of Jesus will draw the hearts of men.” 

That’s exactly what I decided to do.  The result was a series of messages on plumbing the depths of Christ’s love and tenderness toward his own.  This is a summary of the first of those messages. 

We begin with what I call the flagship passage on the subject: Matthew 11:28-30:

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28–30)

Jesus is addressing people who were in a religious system of works.  The religious leaders of the day – the Pharisees and Scribes, had placed people under a burden of regulations and duties which were impossible to fulfil.  This locked them in an endless cycle of guilt and shame of performance-based religion. It left them tired, anxious, burdened and weighed down. It was a yoke[1] they could not bear. 

Jesus is offering a better, easier yoke than the religious system they were under.  He is saying in effect, “My yoke is not like their yoke.  My yoke is easy.  It does not rub your neck and shoulders.  It does not weigh you down.”  And then, by way of an incentive, he says, “for I am gentle and lowly in heart.”  The Greek word translated “gentle” can also be translated as humble, considerate, meek, and kind. 

Those are the words that describe the heart of Jesus toward sinners and sufferers.  Not a heart that is harsh, demeaning and easily provoked.  Not a heart that is belittling, patronising, or condescending.  We all know people like that.  You might have to work for a person like that.  They are not the type we are likely to open up to or be vulnerable with.  We are not likely to share our concerns or burdens with them.  We tend to stay very guarded with such people.

 Jesus is not like that.  He is gentle and lowly in heart. 










And this isn’t the way he occasionally acts towards us when he feels like it or when he’s in the right mood.  These terms describe who he is.  It is his heart. 

Let’s have a look at that heart in action.  In Matthew chapter 8 Jesus has just finished with the Sermon on the Mount; he’s walking down the mountain and there’s a huge crowd following him and a man with leprosy approached him. Leprosy is a horrid disease of which there was no cure.  It sentenced people to a living death; your skin literally rots away.  It was highly contagious (a little like the covid delta variant today) and ostracised you from society, rendering you ritually unclean. What’s more, anyone who touches a leper becomes unclean also.  Michael Green, in his commentary on Matthew, writes,

Never has there been a condition that so illustrated the spiritual condition of humankind. For sin is a terrible disease that separates us from our fellows and from God; it spreads, and it is fatal.[2]

This poor leper comes and kneels before Jesus and says, “Lord if you are willing, you can make me clean.”  Note there is no question in the man’s mind as to the ability of Jesus to heal, only his willingness.  So it is with us.  We are certain Jesus is able to help us in our sin and weakness.  But we often doubt his willingness.  We read in verse 3:

“Reaching out his hand, Jesus touched him, saying, “I am willing; be made clean.” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed.” (Matthew 8:3)

Now – there are two things going on here.  First, Jesus makes clear he is willing.  Second, he demonstrates that willingness with human touch.  Jesus didn’t have to touch him to heal him.  We see in many places elsewhere that Jesus heals simply with a word.  In fact, the law prohibited him to touch him (Leviticus 5:3).  Why?  One would contract leprosy and likewise become unclean.   

But here’s the difference between Jesus and any other man: the moment Jesus touches someone, instead of Jesus becoming unclean the person becomes clean.  Instantly.  Immediately.  Do you see what this means? Jesus has no problem drawing near to you in your sinfulness and your sickness.  You may feel dirty.  You may feel unclean.  You might think, “There’s no way Jesus would want to come near me – he might become contaminated.”  That’s not possible.  You can’t make Jesus unclean.  He makes you clean.  And so he has no hesitation in drawing near you to help and heal you.  He is willing. 

The truth is my friends: Jesus is more willing to draw to us than we are willing to draw near to him.  Dane Ortlund writes in his book, Gentle and Lowly,

“The cumulative testimony of the four Gospels is that when Jesus Christ sees the fallenness of the world all about him, his deepest impulse, his most natural instinct, is to move toward that sin and suffering, not away from it.”

Jesus was drawn to sinners.  His compassion for them is what motivated and drove him. Further in Matthew’s gospel, we read:

When he saw the crowds, he felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36)

And so what does he do?  He teaches them and heals their diseases.  This is not some momentary emotional twinge in his heart, the likes of what we get when we see an emancipated child in Sudan or Somalia on our TV screens before we sip our cup of tea and chew on another biscuit.  His compassion was deep and real and it moved him to act. 

The word “compassion” we see here in this verse is the Greek word splanchnon which is the medical term for our intestines or guts.  You know when you feel very deeply about something, there is a physical sensation deep in your body?  That’s how Jesus feels toward humanity.  And this compassion comes in waves over and over again in Christ’s ministry on earth. 

There are many people here in our own context in New Zealand, who have been struggling with our last lockdown.  Perhaps you’re one of them.

  • You might be waiting on important medical treatment.  You are anxious about that being put off.  You fear the unknown.  Jesus feels that with youAnd he has compassion on you.
  • Perhaps you have mental health issues.  It’s hard enough coping with normal life – lockdown makes it even worse.  You can’t work, you can’t get out, you’re trapped in the four walls of your home, and it does your head in.  Jesus understands.  He feels with you and for you. 
  • Some of you have family members and relatives who just aren’t coping well with this, and you are concerned and worried about them.  Jesus feels that concern.  He is with you. 
  • There are others whose loved ones have gone to be with Jesus, and they been living alone.  That loneliness is intensified during lockdown.  Jesus feels that loneliness.  His heart is moved toward them.

Do you see how powerfully the truth of knowing the heart of Christ can minister to us? 

How is it, when it seems so obvious from the Scriptures that Jesus has a heart of compassion for sinners, that we don’t personally experience that ourselves? 

Here’s our problem: we have the exalted Jesus – all-powerful, all-wise, all-knowing Jesus who sits at the Father’s right hand.  He is the one whose name is above every name and before whom everyone will bow the knee and declare as Lord.  He is the one as described in the book of Revelation, whose eyes are a flame of fire and whose voice is like the roar of many waters and whose face is like the sun shining in full strength.  That is the Jesus we hold in fear and awe. 

Then we have the human Jesus, who we read in the gospels was a friend of sinners, who healed the sick and encouraged the weak.  But we don’t know how to merge the two.  We think to ourselves, “Well, the human Jesus obviously isn’t here anymore; he’s gone.  So we are left with the divine Jesus – the almighty King and Judge whose eyes are like a flame of fire.”  And we figure that Jesus doesn’t have a lot of patience with weak and weary Christians – especially the repeat offenders.

That’s where we are wrong.  Hebrews 13:8 says that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.”  The same Christ who reached out to touch the leper reaches out to touch us today.  The same Christ who wept at the tomb of Lazarus weeps with us in our lonely despair today.  The Jesus who reached out and cleansed messy sinners reaches into our souls and helps us in our confusion today.


As we go into this next week, I would encourage you to do this: let the heart of Jesus draw you to him.  Delve into the Scriptures and see his love for sinners and sufferers.  Say to yourself, “he has the same heart toward me.”  Allow yourself to be allured, entranced, and enthralled by this reality.  And you will find it will have the effect of not only consoling you but transforming you.

If you would like to view the message I gave on this post you can view it here (message begins 6 mins in)

[1] A yoke was a wooden collar that ran across the shoulders of a pair of oxen and enabled them jointly to pull enormous weights. 

[2] Green, M. (2001). The message of Matthew: the kingdom of heaven (p. 114). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Gentle and Lowly

“If you don’t know Jesus primarily and supremely as gentle and lowly, then you don’t really know him at all.”  Those were the words of Dane Ortlund in a message he gave at the TGC’s 2021 National Conference.  He addressed a common insufficiency many believers—and church leaders specifically—possess when it comes to really knowing Christ.  It’s a pretty strong statement to make.  But after reading his book, I believe he’s right. 

Dane Ortlund’s Gentle and Lowly – The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers is one of the most powerful, gospel-soaked books I have ever read.  I received a tip-off about this some time ago from a colleague in ministry and I put it on my wish list.  Then my daughter Emma started reading it along with a group of young adults in her church.  She couldn’t stop talking about it.  My wife beat me to its purchase, so I snuck it from the bookstand beside her bed (that happens often in our household). 

I wasn’t disappointed.  The book is largely (but not entirely) based on those delightful verses in Matthew 11:28-30 where Jesus says,

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28–30)

Ortlund writes,

“In the one place in the Bible where the Son of God pulls back the veil and lets us peer way down into the core of who he is, we are not told that he is “austere and demanding in heart.” We are not told that he is “exalted and dignified in heart.” We are not even told that he is “joyful and generous in heart.” Letting Jesus set the terms, his surprising claim is that he is “gentle and lowly in heart.”

That’s just the tip of the iceberg.  Throughout the rest of the book, those truths get unpacked, chapter by chapter in depth.  I loved the chapters on Hebrews 4:15 (how Jesus is able to sympathize with our weaknesses) and Hebrews 5:2 (he is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward).  There’s a wonderful chapter on “The Beauty of the Heart of Christ” (Ch. 10) and “Jesus the Tender Friend” (Ch. 12).  And lest one gets the impression that the Jesus of the New Testament is a much more likeable character than the remote and asture God of the Old Testament, he puts that to rest as well in “The Father of Mercies” in chapter 14 and “the Lord, the Lord” in chapter 16. 

Here are a few gems from his book:

“Jesus Christ is closer to you today than he was to the sinners and sufferers he spoke with and touched in his earthly ministry.”

“As long as you fix your attention on your sin, you will fail to see how you can be safe. But as long as you look to this high priest, you will fail to see how you can be in danger.”

“It is not only that Jesus can relieve us from our troubles, like a doctor prescribing medicine; it is also that, before any relief comes, he is with us in our troubles, like a doctor who has endured the same disease.”

“Christ does not intercede because the Father’s heart is tepid toward us but because the Son’s heart is so full toward us. But the Father’s own deepest delight is to say yes to the Son’s pleading on our behalf.”

“That God is rich in mercy means that your regions of deepest shame and regret are not hotels through which divine mercy passes but homes in which divine mercy abides.”

Having been so deeply affected by this book and knowing how many in our church (and the world) are presently being affected by Covid and lockdowns, I decided to do a daily reading of the book each morning.  Here’s the promo:

A number of people at Grace are starting to watch these and are benefitting from them. If you are interested, you’ll find the playlist here.


Ukraine Trip Day 3
Mission: visit church planters and gospel workers supported by SGA NZ
Place: Lutsk

Here’s another wonderful worker in Ukraine I want you to meet. Lyuba lives in the city of Lutsk in the Volyn region of Ukraine. For the past 20 years, she has invested her life in children’s ministry. Because of her influence, 80 out of 126 churches in the Volyn region have Sunday Schools, ministering to over 3000 children every week. Pastor Slavic, who overseas ministry in the region, says Lyuba is one of their treasured workers. “She has been very faithful,” Slavic said to me, “even when there is no [financial] support.” I understood, as a pastor, what he was saying. People like Lyuba are gold.

Reuniting with Lyuba and Ira after 6 years, and hearing all the great work that is being done in the Volyn region

Lyuba spear-headed the “Future of Ukraine” club – an outreach to non-Christian kids aged 6-12 years which has been very successful. Every year they hold a camp, and many kids come to faith in Christ. But then she realized something: churches were filled with children, but no teens. So 12 years ago, Lyuba, along with her husband Yura, started a work with teenagers which has also proved to be very successful. This month will be there 11th camp where around 500 teens attend. 70% of these come from unbelieving homes. Many of them find new life in Christ. Her ministry is making an impact.

One of the teams singing at a Saturday bible club initiated by Lyuba

Recently Lyuba began a new ministry to disadvantaged children in schools. These are kids that are neglected at home or who find school difficult or are disadvantaged in some way. She finds educated people in her church who are willing to help children like this and then teams them up together. This ministry also provides clothing, food and all kinds of needs. The children, in turn, learn about God and the good news of Jesus.

I was struck by the sheer output of this one woman. She is a machine. And so is her husband Yura. They both love the Lord and have a passion to see young people come to know God. They live in a very basic two-bedroom apartment with their two children and survive on very little. Yura (a veterinarian who gave up a good salary to do ministry) works late shifts at a sausage factory nearby. These are the kind of stories I hear over and over in countries of the former Soviet Union. A highly-skilled worker like Lyuba would be on a full-time salary of a large church or denomination in the West. But not here. Churches here struggle to even pay their pastors.

If you are interested in knowing how you can help support people like Lyuba, I would love to hear from you. You can contact our office at SGA NZ website here or email me directly at  I can assure you personally that you will invest in a thoroughly biblical, gospel-centered ministry that is faithful as well as fruitful.

Here’s a clip of an interview I had with Luba on my last day with her. It runs for around 6 minutes and is translated by Ira who is also based in Lutsk and is one of the workers on Lyuba’s team.

Nikolai and Olga

Ukraine Trip Day 2
Mission: visit church planters and gospel workers supported by SGA NZ
Place: Ozhiv, Rivne region

Meet Nikolai and Olga Mironchuk. They live in the city of Rivne in Ukraine. 18 years ago they started a work in a small village outside Rivne to reach people who have never heard the gospel. They rented a small building and started a church. The work was slow and there wasn’t much progress. One day people from a nearby town started attending. They heard the good news of Jesus and 12 of them repented (the Russian and Ukrainian term for becoming a Christian).

The building where they first starting meeting as a church

This was a huge encouragement to Nikolai. The people in the town seemed more receptive to the village people, so he moved the church there. God blessed his ministry and more people came and more repented. But there was one thing unique about this work: it was made up mostly of young people – children, teens and young married couples. Like tends to attract like, and so more children, teens and young couples came, started attending and have stayed.

17 years later, in their own new building.

Now they have their own building, a children’s club, youth ministry, and small groups that meet throughout the week. They hold a summer camp for kids which is very popular in their town and around 200 children attend. In the entrance of their church is a large display board with photographs taken over the years of their work. Each photo holds a special memory of people in his church – baptisms, weddings, baby showers, as well as leading worship, eating together, singing together and rejoicing in God together. “These are not just faces,” Nikolai said, as he pointed to the various pictures, “They are people God has given us and we have invested in. These people are our life.” I thought of the Apostle Paul’s words to the Thessalonians:

“We cared so much for you that we were pleased to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us.” (1 Thess 2:8)

Driving back to their house, my heart was deeply touched. Here was a true servant of Christ, with a pastor’s heart, who along with his wife is seeing the fruit of faithful labour in one place over the long haul.

What a joy to see the work of the gospel advancing in Ukraine! And it is all made possible because of the support of a few faithful folks in places like New Zealand, Australia, Canada and other parts of the Western world.

If you have any interest in finding out more about the work that SGA supports you can visit their website at (New Zealand) or  (USA). Continue reading

God’s Faithful Servant

It is estimated he preached the gospel to over 80 million people over his lifetime.  He spoke at over 400 crusades in 185 cities.  He served as spiritual adviser to over 10 American presidents.

He was admired and loved by both Christians and non-Christians; by those who love Jesus and those who have rejected Him.  His impact on the global church today is unparalleled.  Between 1950 and 1990 Graham won a spot on the Gallup Organization’s “Most Admired” list more often than any other American.  That’s an amazing legacy.

He was also a model of integrity. During his six decades of ministry, while many other Christian pastors and leaders fell to some scandal or sin, not one serious accusation of misconduct was ever levelled against him.

But his greatest impact was an eternal one.  Through his preaching ministry, that electrified audiences all over the world, countless people came to know and love Jesus Christ.

John Piper, in his tribute of Billy Graham said, “[His] greatest impact is the eternal difference he made in leading countless persons, from all over the world, out of destruction into everlasting joy and love.  This was his primary mission.”

Well done Billy Graham, God’s faithful servant.  You are now home.

Living with Margin

margin-heroOne of my favourite things to do while on summer holiday (aside from lying on the beach and eating ice-cream) is reading.  I typically take an assortment of books with me and believe it or not, manage to get through most of them.  I went to pick up the pile I had gathered from my office when a book on my shelf caught my eye.  Remembering Spurgeon’s words about the merits of re-reading good books, I grabbed it, added it to my pile and walked out.

And I’m glad I did.

The full title is “Margin – Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives.”  It’s author, Richard Swenson is a medical doctor as well as a committed Christian.  You don’t have to be a Christian to get something out of this book.  In fact, you could be anti-Christian and get a lot out of this book.  Much of it is about common sense – sense that our Grandparents and Great-grandparents survived on and we, for the most part, have forgotten.

Swenson wrote this book because day after day he sees patients whose lives are literally falling to pieces.  He writes, “Some people come in for broken legs; others, broken hearts. Some have irritable colons; others, irritable spouses.  Some have bleeding ulcers; others, bleeding emotions.  And compounding these wounds, many patients show signs of a new disease: marginless living.”

So, what is “marginless living”?

“Marginless,” writes Swenson, “is being thirty minutes late to the doctor’s office because you were twenty minutes late getting out the hairdresser’s because you were ten minutes late dropping the children off at school because the car ran out of gas two blocks from the gas station – and you forgot your purse.” (p.13)

Sound familiar?

My grandparents didn’t go around complaining about how “stressed” they were (nor for that matter, did my parents).  As Swenson points out, no one talked about stress until the 1950’s.  Now almost EVERYONE is stressed.  But why?

The problem, Dr. Swenson argues, is PROGRESS.  Progress is moving ahead at a speed that we are no longer able to keep up with.  If we don’t create sufficient margin in our lives, this progress creates more and more problems.  The problems then create more stress in our lives and in trying to deal with this added stress, we add more and more activities which results in overloading.

Overloading occurs when the expectation placed upon us (or the ones we place upon ourselves) exceeds that which we are able to bear.  This can occur physically, mentally, emotionally, financially or spiritually.  Camels can bear great loads.  But if another straw is placed on an already overloaded camel, it’s back is broken.  Its back is not broken by the straw, but by the overload (hence the common phrase “the straw that broke the camel’s back”).

We all have our limits – physical limits, emotional limits, mental limits, financial limits.  When these limits are pushed beyond what we can bear, the result is overload.

WP_20180125_003The perscription says Swenson, is margin.  Margin is the amount allowed beyond what is needed.  Margin gives freedom and allows for rest.  Margin is the breath we have at the top of the stairs, the money we have at the end of the month, and the sanity we have at the end of a working week.  When we are overloaded, we have no margin (or we have negative margin).  If, however we are careful to avoid overloading, margin reappears.

Re-reading this was refreshing as well as enlightening.  Because this is exactly what I need in the coming year.

All well and good, you say, but is this notion of his biblical?  Is it prescribed for us in Scripture?  Yes.  It just comes under a different name: availability.  Swenson points out that the modern assumption for the Christian life is “all that is good and all that God wants us to accomplish is possible only in a booked-up, highly efficient, often exhausted way of life.”  But is this true?  Swenson argues no.  Instead God calls us to walk the second mile, carry other’s burdens, and witness to the truth of God at any opportunity.  And in order to do that we need margin in our lives, so we can be available.

“God expects us to be available for the needs of others.  And without margin, each of us would have great difficulty guaranteeing availability.  Instead, when God calls, He gets the busy signal.” (p.99)


What it all comes down to is a call to reorient ourselves to what really matters in life.  And what really matters are relationships.  When we look at the great progress western civilization has made in the past five decades, it is all in the area of the physical – better technology, communication, transportation etc.  But there has been little or no progress in emotional, spiritual and social wellness.  And it’s in these areas that we are all feel the most pain.

“God has shown us the road to health, the path to blessing – it is the way of relationships,” Swenson writes.  “Somehow we just keep taking our expensive automobiles to our posh offices to make another hundred thousand dollars, while all the time our relationships vaporize before our eye and our loneliness deepens.” (p.239)

How very true.

But we do not need to despair.  There is hope.  Relationships can be restored – we just need to create margin for them.  We just need a little more space, a little more breath at the top of the stairs and sanity left at the end of the week.

“If stress crushed your spirit by poisoning you with despair, then either conquer stress or walk away – but don’t stop relating.  If that malignant, universal enemy of relationship health, marginless living, leaves you panting for air and desperate for space, then go and take margin back.  Hack it out of your cultural landscape.  And guard it for the sake of your God, yourself, your family and your friends.  Health cannot be too far behind.”

Wise words.  I recommend you get the book.

Warning Lights for Highly Vulnerable Leaders (part 2)

We all know about warning lights – we come across them every day, whether it’s a flashing light telling us not to cross the road or an engine light warning us something isn’t right under the bonnet of our car.

There are also warning lights in our spiritual lives.  If we don’t take heed to them there will be consequences not only for ourselves, but also those we lead.  These warning lights were brought to my attention at a recent retreat with fellow-pastors led by Rowland Forman.  I covered three of them in my last post: Pride, Prayerlessness and Oversensitivity.  Today I will cover three more.


Rowland writes:

“The recurring refrain in the book of Ecclesiastes argues that enjoyment of life is a gift from God.  Charles Swindoll picks up that them in the opening line of his book Laugh Again.  He says, “I know of no greater need today than the need for joy.  Unexplainable, contagious joy.  Outrageous joy (p.19)”  Do you hate the very things in ministry (like preaching the Word) that you cone loved?  Were you once full of vitality but are now dull and drab?”

Two questions were posed to us:

  • To what extent has ministry robbed you of joy?  Why?
  • What steps do you need to take to experience “unexplainable, contagious, outrageous joy?

This might be a timing word for you.  Perhaps you are missing that thrill, that inner delight you once experienced when you first knew you were a child of God.  Now all you feel is weariness and heaviness of heart.  That’s a warning light for you.  The yoke of Jesus is not heavy, but light.  Ministry done in his strength is not a burden, but a delight.  Something needs correcting.

This is the prayer I wrote after contemplating these things:

“Lord Jesus, fill my heart with your joy, so that I might be an example of a truly joyful Christian – loving life, laughing with others (as well as myself!)  Help me see the lighter side of life.  Keep me from being overwhelmed with sorrow and grief in living in a fallen, broken and sad world.”


Rowland writes:

“I once read about an amazing plant called, “Iverillea Sonorae.”  Apparently, it can exist for indefinite periods without attention.  Once was placed in a display case in the New York Botanical Garden for seven years without water and soil.  Even the plant had its limits.  In the eighth year it died.  Too many of us are like that plant.”

He then shares an experience in his own life:

“I’ve experienced two near flameouts in ministry – one just before God threw me a lifeline and the two and a half years He gave me at Dallas Seminary.  In both cases, I became worn-out to the point I could no longer care.  The thing that frightens me is that to my Christian friends, I appeared successful, productive and sanctimoniously busy.”

Here were the questions for us:

  • How often do you use the word, “tired” in the last few months to describe how you feel?
  • To what extent are you currently on overload?

Well this one really hit home for me.  I feel tired most days.  The low-fuel light blinks on my spiritual and emotional dashboard fairly regularly.  My wife continues to alert me to this matter and I continue to ignore her!  So, what is it that causes me to push so hard?

Here was my prayer:

“Lord, you know I have a propensity to over-work.  I am like a machine, going a t full throttle, sometimes over-heating or running out of fuel.  Every machine needs maintenance and rest.  Otherwise it blows up or seizes and must be thrown away and replaced.  Help me to slow down Lord Jesus, to regularly rest and be replenished.” 


Do you hear yourself say things like, “I love the church; it’s the people I can’t stand”?  I’ve heard pastors say that.  I myself have even been guilty.  It might sound humorous, but it reveals a darker cynicism in our hearts.  That statement, when you think about it, is tragic.

Rowland shared with us the story in 1 Kings 19 about Elijah’s disillusionment with his situation. He was fed up with life, his ministry and even with God.  At one point he sits under a tree and prays that he might die (1 Kings 19:4).

I think that must have been a warning light on Elijah’s spiritual dashboard.  What about you?  To what extent is this warning light appearing on your dash?

Here’s my prayer in response:

“Lord Jesus, I know that whenever I am feeling disillusioned, that is a warning sign that ministry has become all about me. I have taken my eyes off you.  It also means I am trying to do ministry in my own strength and not in the strength that you supply.  Help me to see I that on my own I am utterly inadequate, and that all efforts to further the gospel and the kingdom devoid of your Spirit and power are in vain.  Help me also to go at a pace that I can truly handle, and not one that is impossible and will end up in exhaustion and defeat.  Amen.”

In my next (and final) post we will look at three more warning lights:  insensitivity, immorality and impatience.

(You can read Part 1 of this series here)



Sola Scriptura

2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany.  His actions set in motion a movement that changed the entire course of history.  The Reformation was, at its heart, a recovery of the Gospel.  Out of the Reformation came 5 essential truths that became the foundation for what the church stands for today.  They are known as the “5 Solas” – 5 Latin phrases that summarize what the church stands for:

  1. Sola Scripture (Scripture alone)
  2. Sola Gratia (Grace alone)
  3. Sola Fide (Faith alone)
  4. Solus Christus (Christ alone)
  5. Sola Deo Gloria (God’s glory alone)

To mark this great historical occasion, we are going to examine each of these and see how they apply to us today.

Sola Scriptura (our only foundation)

“The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold of me.” – Martin Luther

Sola Scriptura means just that – Scripture alone.  This does not mean that the instructions, counsel, advice or experiences of other people are not helpful.  This does not mean that the truth in the Scriptures is equally clear to all people.  Nor does it mean we don’t need the guiding, teaching and empowering ministry of the Holy Spirit (I’ll be getting to that soon).   What it does mean is that the Scriptures are our only ultimate, reliable and infallible authority for all Christian faith and practice.

Psalm 119:89 says, “Lord, your word is forever; it is firmed fixed in heaven.”

Firmly fixed – sure, settled, immovable, unchangeable, reliable, dependable, trustworthy and true.

So why was this so important to the early Reformers?  Because in their day the ultimate authority was not the Bible.  It was the church.  Picture in your mind a 3-legged stool.  Label one of the legs “Scripture,” label the second leg “Tradition,” and label the third leg “Magisterium” (I’ll explain that one in a minute).  You now have a picture of the authority structure of the Roman Catholic Church.  Now think of marble column or staying with the analogy, a one-legged stool.  Label that one pillar or leg “Scripture.”  You now have a mental picture of the authority structure of Protestant Churches.

In the Roman Catholic Church, Scripture is only one authority.  Tradition has equal authority.  And so does the offices of the Pope and the Bishops (the Magisterium).  And the Pope, along with the Bishops have the authority to interpret the meaning of both the Scripture and Church Tradition (which come in really handy when it comes to making a change).  The Reformers protested against this saying, “No, we have only one authority: Scripture.”

Perhaps the most convincing text on this would be 2 Timothy 3:16-17

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

The word “inspired” is the Greek term theopnustos.  It means “to breath out.”  All Scripture is literally “breathed out by God.”  And that becomes even more significant when you understand the word for breath and Spirit are the same – the Greek word pneuma.  The Word of God comes from the Spirit of God.  That’s why we should never divorce the Spirit from the Word.  We should never pursue an experience of the Spirit apart from the Word.  Nor should we try to understand and apply the Word without any interaction with or dependence on, the Spirit.  The two work hand-in-hand.

Now everything we need for the Christian life is found in the Word so Paul is able to say, “that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (v.17).  It doesn’t spell out how to be a Christian astrophysicist or a Christian accountant.  But it points us to Jesus, shows us all the riches that are in Christ, it brings faith in Him which unites us to Jesus and equips us to bear fruit in all sorts of ways.

  • It teaches us the truth (by showing us what is right)
  • It rebukes us of sin and error (by showing when we are wrong)
  • It corrects our behavior (by showing us how to get right)
  • It trains us for righteousness (by showing us how to stay right)

No one else can do that for you.  I can’t do that for you.  Your spouse can’t do that for you.  The church can’t do that for you.  But the Word of God can do that for you.  It is able.  It has authority.  Because it is given by God Himself.

The Word of God is our authority.  We don’t have any other authority.  We listen and pay heed to what God in his Word tells us –

  • Not what tradition tells us
  • Not what human opinion tells us
  • Now what human wisdom and human reasoning tells us
  • Not what the culture we live in tells us
  • Not what our experience tells us

That is why this doctrine – Sola Scriptura is so important for us today.  Because we will always be tempted to move away from Scripture or to go beyond Scripture.  There will always be something out there that is more attractive, more alluring, more rewarding, more tantalizing, or more exciting.  Who wants to sit and do bible study when there are so many other things on offer?  But will those other things reveal to you the mind and will of God like his Word will?

Will they expose sin and error in your life?

Will they draw you closer to Christ?

Do they have the power to transform you?

Can they feed you spiritually so that you leave with your soul full?

Can they give you personal advice and counsel on just about any subject?

Can they comfort you in times of distress?

Can they help lift your eyes to God?

Can they give you wisdom that is needed for counseling others?

During the Reformation, the main contestant for authority in the church was tradition.  Tradition, along with the sacraments and rituals and relics trumped Scripture.  Today I believe it is experience.  If a Christian experiences it, then it is valid.  It is of God.  And the Bible is interpreted in light of the experience, not the experience in light of what the Bible says.  Don’t get me wrong here: it is a good thing to seek personal encounters with God.  It is a good thing to sense God’s presence and to have such a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit that you sense his leading and prompting in any given situation.  But just remember: experiences can be faulty.  Emotions are not always trustworthy.  Subjective impressions and so-called “leadings” must always be tested.  And the only sure test we have is the Word of God.

Because it never changes.  It always remains true.  It is always trustworthy.  It will never put you wrong.  And that is why it is our only authority.

Sola Scriptura.  Never forget it.  Lay hold of it each and every day.


God time

Now that I have come to know God and enjoy walking with him daily, I don’t know how I or anyone else could live without him.  No one knows me like he does.  No one cares for me the way he does.  And certainly no one is able to fix up the mess I often make of my life (and the lives of others) the way he can.  And that is why, before I meet or talk with anyone else in the day, I first meet and talk to him.

Some Christians call it a “Quiet Time” which sounds a bit odd if you’re not conversant with ‘Christianese’ lingo.  It also doesn’t sit that well for us masculine types.  Another term is “Time Alone with God” (TAWG) which is better, but still doesn’t do really do it for me.  Bill Hybels calls it “chair time”.  Find a spot in your house where you can be alone, sit yourself down and connect with God.  When you’re in that chair, other people know to leave you alone because that’s your personal time with God.  I kind of like that – much better for us blokes.

Whatever you want to call it you need to make time for God.  You need to make time for God because it’s the foundation for your entire life.  Your relationship with God affects your marriage, your career, your finances, and your relationship with your kids, co-workers and neighbours.  It affects your thought life, your emotional health as well as your daily decisions and actions.  In fact, there is hardly anything I know that my relationship with God does not affect.  That’s why you need to develop a strategy to make time with God a priority in your life.

And just to make things clear, this isn’t about finding ways to earn favour with God; to get into his “good books” if you like.  There’s only one way to get into God’s good books and that is by believing and trusting in Jesus. “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:29).  Salvation is by grace, through faith.  We please God when we take him at his Word and trust in his way of making us right with him, not our own way.  No, this is about responding to God’s invitation to get to know him more intimately and allowing him to speak into our hearts.  This in turn will lead into a more enriching, satisfying and fulfilling life.

“My heart says this about you: “Seek his face.” Lord, I will seek your face” (Psalm 27:8)

God speaks to our heart and our heart speaks to us, and then we in turn speak back to God.  That’s how it works.

So how do I go about my Quiet Time or Chair Time or whatever you want to call it?  Well, it for the most part it consists of Bible Reading, Meditation and Prayer.  Those are the three main ingredients that help me connect with God.  It’s a tried and true method.  Godly men and women have walked this trail throughout the centuries and I’m happy to follow in their footsteps.

  • I read Scripture.  God speaks to me through His Word.
  • I meditate on Scripture, reading it slowly and thinking carefully about those words and what they might be saying to me.
  • Then I respond by speaking back to God

Now let me provide you with an example.  During one morning meeting with God this week, I opened my Bible to Psalm 119.  My focus was verses 33-40.  I asked God to speak to me through his Word, and reveal to me more about Himself and what he wants for me.  As I gazed over the text something caught my attention:

33 Teach me, Lord, the meaning of your statutes, and I will always keep them.,
34 Help me understand your instruction, and I will obey it and follow it with all my heart.
35 Help me stay on the path of your commands, for I take pleasure in it.

Notice he asks for help twice – help in understanding God’s Word (v.34) and help for obeying it (v.35).  We need double assistance from God – light to know the way and strength to walk in it.  Not only does my mind need to be enlightened, my will also needs to be moved.  And I’m completely dependent on God to do both.

So I began to turn this into prayer – “Lord help me to understand your Word.  My mind is dull.  It sometimes cannot grasp even the simple things.  And then when I understand what to do, please help me to do it. You know me well Lord, I am full of good intentions.  I don’t carry through on my promises.  And then, when I do obey you, don’t let me forget it was all of you.” 

Now that I’m starting to do real business with God, I sense a reviving of my spirit; the spiritual pump is primed so-to-speak, and I begin thinking of other needs – my wife and family, people who need Jesus, people in my church, missionaries etc. I begin to pray for all those people.  And I’m away.

You have to remember there is no special technique in all this.  It works differently for different people.  Some people start by listening to worship music or singing; others use devotional material of various sorts.  Some use a combination of all those things.  A staff member at our church shared how she journals her time with God.  When the Lord impresses some truth on her heart she writes it down and then makes a note of that on the inside cover.  I thought that was a great idea.

I have learned over the years that it is good to vary your time with God.  Mix it up.  Try new things.  Don’t get stuck in a rut.  Avoid at all possible letting it become tedious, dry or dull.  Because God is not dull.  He is the liveliest, most spirited, and most interesting person in the universe.

You just need to spend the time, each day, to get to know him.



The tattoo man

This past Wednesday I flew up to Auckland with our church staff team to be part of a Ministry Leaders Forum.  It was great to get away together and thrash out ideas about how we can do ministry better.  On the morning we were due to leave, I came before God and made a request.  It comes from a prayer someone sent to me a few weeks back:

“God today I would like to present your message of love to anyone’s path I will cross.  If you have any ideas on this –  I am a willing participant:  Holy Spirit help me to hear your voice and help me to have the courage to obey.  I am available to be used by you today.”

After checking in at the airport I looked at our seat numbers and noticed that I wasn’t sitting next to any of the staff members – I was alone.  Well that’s interesting, I thought.  The Bible teaches us that nothing in life happens by accident.  All is governed by the hand of an all-knowing and all-wise God.  So I sent up a quick prayer: “Lord Jesus, you already know who I’m sitting next to, I’m available for you.”

The flight was delayed and then 20 minutes later, it was delayed again.  Finally, we were able to board.  I made my way down the back of the plane curious as to who the mystery passenger that would be sitting next to me was.  Then I spotted him, a guy in his mid 20’s, with tattoos running from his fingers all the way up to his neck.  A nervous thought passed through my mind: “Lord, I sure hope you know what you’re doing.” 

It turned out he was quite friendly (footnote: don’t let tattoos scare you).  He’s a tattoo artist from the Coromandel, and a very talented one at that.  He has people from all over the world coming to see him.  Just recently he did a big job on the back of a high-flying businessman from Germany.  He showed me some of his products on his phone.  I was really impressed.

Then he turned to me and said, “So what do you do?”  Now as soon as that question comes up, I’m committed. There’s no going back.  People hear, “I’m a pastor” and the conversation can die right there. I have to move fast.  So as soon as the word “pastor” came out of my mouth, I turned to him and said, “So what about you?  Do you have any kind of faith or belief?”
“Yeah,” he replies, “I believe in the spirit world. I know it’s real.”

We’re away.  That’s an open door.

Then I ask him how he knows there’s a spirit world.  He says, “I’ve seen them – you know, those who have gone to the other side.”
“Really?” I reply, a little nervous as to where this might be going.
“Yeah, they appear to me from time to time, sometime at the end of my bed.  But they rush at me really fast, it kind of freaks me out.”

Now while all this is going on the plane is experiencing some turbulence.  It’s getting a little bumpy.  Right at the time he talks about these spirit beings rushing at him, we hit a massive downdraft and my seat disappears from under me.  Everyone stops talking and a few cry out. And this guy is just looking at me cool as a cucumber, and keeps on talking.  “That does sound kind of freaky,” I replied, turning a shade of white and working hard to retain composure.

But I knew that the Holy Spirit was absolutely in this and so I said to him, “You know Jesus dealt a lot with the spirit world.  He was working with that stuff all the time.”
“Really?” he says, interested.
“Yeah, you ought to read about it.  It’s in the Gospels of the New Testament in the Bible.”
“I’ve always told myself I’ll read that, but never got around to it.”
“By the way,” I continued, “Has anyone ever told you the Jesus story?  It’s called the gospel.”
“Nope – no one has”
“Would you like to hear it?  It doesn’t take long.  I can do it in a few minutes”
“Sure, go ahead”

So then, while the plane is rocking all over the place I tell him the simple story of who Jesus was, why he was a special human being, his miraculous birth and some of the miracles he performed.  I focus in on his authority over evil spirits – how he can command them to do whatever he wants.  Then I talk about his death on the cross and the resurrection and how what that means for all of us today – that we can be fully forgiven of our sin and have eternal life.  And at the end I said, “So what do you think about that?”
“That’s pretty cool,” he says.

Now he wasn’t ready to make any kind of response just there.  But he was really interested.  I gave him a little gospel tract that tells you how you can find eternal life (I try to carry one with me when I travel), and then I wrote my email address on the back. “If you have any questions, write to me. I’d love to help.”

I was reminded that day what can happen when you make yourself available to God to be used.  All it takes is a little intentionality in a conversation and you can find a way in to talk about spiritual matters.  In this case it was an easy in, because the spiritual realm is real to him.  For others it’s not, so you have to go in another way.

But I’m learning an important lesson in all this: don’t think people don’t want to know. Don’t assume anything.  Here’s a fully tattooed young guy who wanted to know about Jesus.  I wouldn’t have picked that looking at him.  How many people like this man do you brush past each day, thinking they would never be interested in spiritual things but actually are?  I think sometimes we are blinded by our own scepticism and unbelief.

If you put your hand up to be used by God, don’t be surprised when he sends the most unsuspecting people your way.