Tag Archives: New Zealand

A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture
Doing Great Works

Doing the Greater Works (Without Us)

My Living Waters small group co-leader debriefed with me about the session he had led the night before in my absence: ‘It went great: the guys opened up and Jim received deeply from the Lord as we prayed for him. The Holy Spirit was very present…’ Our group is not uncomplicated and I felt just a trace of unbelief—‘Really, that good without me?’

My arrogance aside, I recalled Jesus’ astounding promise to the disciples on the eve of His leaving them and sending His Spirit: ‘I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in Me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father’ (JN 14: 12).

Jesus had to leave the disciples in order for them to take the next step in their journey of faith. He knew what they needed to grow: to step out in faith on the leading of the unseen ‘Spirit of truth’ (JN 14:17) whom Jesus promised would ‘teach them everything and remind them of everything He had said’ (JN 14:26). ‘Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you’ (JN 16:7)…

Jesus had to decrease in order for the saints to increase in faithful allegiance to Him. Perhaps we need the challenge. It is hard to sort out who He is and how to represent Him when He’s not around. Yes, the Scripture guides us, yes the apostles and church tradition guide us too, and yes, it is still really hard to figure out ‘what would Jesus do.’ So He gives us His Spirit. Becoming a person of the Spirit–called by Jesus to do greater works than He did in the power of that Spirit–requires His absence. No other way to grow: to step out into the void knowing deeper still that He goes before us and makes a way for miracles, miracles that we accomplish in His Spirit’s power.

If the entire Church is built on such a premise, how much more does it apply to our equipping and releasing the saints to do the work of the ministry (Eph. 4: 12)? How often do we as ministers limit what another can do without us? Of course wisdom and training and timing come to play in releasing people to certain tasks, especially tasks involving the delicate care of souls. Nevertheless, I am convinced that the Church often fails to ‘do the greater works’ because elders (like me) find a comfortable niche which does not include making a way for others to do what the Spirit can only do through them, without us!

If Jesus must decrease in order for the Spirit to increase in the people of God, how much more must we decrease and make room for younger ones to take their places in the Church? God showed me this clearly about 15 years ago in New Zealand. I was with my teen son Nick who joined me in my daily runs throughout Auckland. At first I easily beat him yet by the trip’s end he trounced me. Tempted by the same trace of unbelief I felt toward my small group co-leader’s successful solo ‘run’, I straightened up and the Spirit reminded me: ‘Prepare to pass many batons to younger ones who will outrun you in the power of my Spirit…’ Amen

The Lord is Merciful

Day 1 of our 40 Days of Mercy Fast

‘Bring your ear close to My heart, forget everything else, and meditate upon My wondrous mercy.’ (229)

God’s greatest attribute is Mercy. It is the foundation of who He is; it is the way He wants to deal with us. In truth, Mercy is the only way we can know God. Through Mercy, God realigns His troubled, off-track and much loved child with Himself. The Creator unites Himself to the creature through Mercy.

Throughout this fast, our central meditation will be upon Jesus, God’s only Son, who together with His Father gave everything to gain us. The Cross conveys Mercy more clearly than anything else.

Yet the Cross flows from the Mercy God demonstrated to us from the start.

My friend Bob Sorge writes: ‘When God appeared to Moses on Sinai and spoke His name to Moses, the first thing out of His mouth was not ‘I am holy.’ Rather He revealed Himself as ‘the Lord, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.’ (Ex. 34:6)

God is Merciful at the very foundation of His being. ‘Oh how great is the mercy of God; it surpasses all His other qualities!’ (611)

That I or anyone lives in ongoing, ever-deepening communion with the Creator and Redeemer of humanity is due to Mercy. I marvel at that fact daily. He found me! The Father, Son, and Spirit made a way for me to respond to Him. Mercy alone frees us to live out of that divine love.

Marveling on that mystery, I was confronted by a gruff (and buff) Maori man who managed a gym I was visiting in New Zealand. He challenged me with all the ‘house’ rules. Alive to Mercy, and prompted by the Spirit, I happily complied then blessed him with an invitation to God’s mercy in Christ.

He immediately confessed how far He had wandered after a youthful conversion. Divorce and sensual addictions had derailed him. I joyfully extended the promise of the Merciful One who awaits him. Hail God’s Mercy—our only hope for Love.

‘Open our hearts, O God, to the depth of Your Merciful heart toward us. May it overflow to all we meet. May it alter how we see You and all of life.’

‘Welcome sweetest Mercy, who pour Yourself out for souls. Welcome, Infinite Goodness, who pour out everywhere torrents of Your graces. Welcome, O veiled Brightness, the Light of souls. Welcome, O Fount of inexhaustible mercy, O purest Spring from which life and holiness gush forth for us. Welcome, Delight of pure souls. Welcome, only Hope of sinful souls.’ (1733)

Merciful Children

Through our four children, mercy breaks like waves upon Annette and me. They delight us. All in their twenties now, each possess unique gifts and strengths—Greg’s kindness, Nick’s astute analysis, Kate’s perseverance and lack of pretense, Sam’s integrity. All four remind us daily of the gift God gave us in each one, each the fruit of our marital love.

For us, the family is all ‘gift’, each child a sign and a wonder. In each, we marvel at the mercy of God towards us.

Our children are a direct result of God’s saving love to Annette and I. Were it not for His restoring love, they would not exist!

In this season, we are not without regrets. We have wondered: Have we made decisions in service to God that demanded too much? I have travelled extensively throughout most of our married life. As I globe-trotted, Annette had to compensate for my absence. Amazingly. Yet her single parenting skills, and my phone calls and homecoming gifts, did not close the gaps.

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Dying to Release Mercy

‘Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.’ (John 12:23)

Among the most bittersweet realities of ‘Living Waters’ around the world is the surrender of one’s leadership when his/her part has been played. That surrender may be for many reasons—a moral failure, a call to another type of ministry, or handing over the task to one better suited to take it the next step.

Regardless of the reason, the leader in transition usually experiences a kind of death: (s)he loses position and a certain place among the wounded healers that comprise global ‘Living Waters.’

In this grief, I also witness a sovereign aspect of God’s hand. Under His care, the ex-leader is actually allowing the ‘husk’ of one’s ministry to be broken, thus releasing more ‘seed’ for God’s mercy to be released.

It takes courage to do this. To surrender one’s leadership is actually among the most selfless acts of all—it means denying one’s need for significance and security in order that more ‘living water’ might be released in a nation under another’s lead. I have seen this happen over and over—one dies to position in order to release more souls unto life.

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A Cup of Cold Water

International travel takes a toll; normally good attitudes threaten to become foul under the strain of disorienting circumstances.

The cry for mercy matters here: ‘O God, show Your infinite patience to this sinner, this grumbler, that I may in turn show some measure of patience and mercy toward the needy in this land.’

He always answers our cry for mercy. It is a prayer that guarantees His gracious response.

I remember an unusually long trip to New Zealand in which we did conferences on both islands, poured ourselves out in a weeklong training then faced a crisis in national leadership toward the end of our time there. I sat with my colleagues in a cold damp motel room and whined.

My good friend comically mocked my grumbling. We laughed, we prayed for mercy; He gave us His power, and helped us to help the New Zealanders sort out the crisis at hand. He gave us mercy

During our first couple of trips to a new nation, our hosts would arrange media events—TV or radio interviews, mostly Christian, mostly annoying. (Keep in mind at this point I am inclined to whine…) These were usually scheduled before our training times—early in the morning or during meals. The scrappy, rather make-shift state of their operations made it worse.

I remember a South African TV interview in which everything went wrong, technically-speaking. It took twice as long, and I thought to myself: ‘What’s the point? We are preaching to the choir here, and a not very vital choir at that—Christian ‘shut-ins’ who are reduced to watching this drivel in the wee hours of the morning. This is a complete waste of time.’

Media darling that I am not, I finished up and forgot about it.

About a year later, I was ministering to a friend back in the USA, a well-known Christian leader who was dying of AIDS. Few knew that was his condition: he had a brief history of bisexual behavior a decade earlier, contacted the virus then, and when it threatened his life, decided to not make public the reason why.

Obviously, he combated significant shame as he fought for his life. He was a fine and virtuous man who so valued the few who knew the truth and who gave him mercy in it.

What he told me that day changed my view of Christian media. It seems that about 6 months earlier he was passing though South Africa on a ministry trip; he began to get ill for the first time, and stayed a couple of nights in an airport hotel to rest before the long flight home.

Apparently, the Christian TV station played my interview over those two days. Each time he saw it, he received a washing of the Lord’s mercy. My televised words gave him grace and courage to cast off shame and prepare for the battle at hand. He thanked me profusely for extending mercy to him in those crucial days.

A grumbling minister hands a fellow struggler a cup of cold water. In spite of the interior attitude of the messenger, the message of mercy goes forth. Our God is gracious, so intent on releasing mercy to His thirsty that He will use anyone to extend it. That’s the mercy of God.

‘As You have shown us mercy, O God, in the desert places of our lives, would You show mercy to the beleaguered state of marriage in the USA? As the Perry vs. Schw. case wends its way to the National Supreme Court, prepare for Yourself a victory. We shall render to Caesar what is Caesar’s but we shall prayerfully fight for what is Yours, O God. Prepare the hearts of each justice, especially Justice Anthony Kennedy, to uphold marriage according to Your merciful design. Remember mercy, O God.’


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