Green Pastures – or the Trash Heap?

Imagine the scene.

The sunshine is glorious as you lie in the grass, shaded by the overhanging boughs of a tree. Up above, the sky is a magnificent shade of blue with not a single wisp of cloud on the horizon. Close by you can see a small brook, and the gentle, rhythmic murmur of the rolling water, as it wends its way past stones and boulders, is a soothing sound to your ears. Apart from this, and the small group of birds flitting around in the branches above your head, the air is silent and still. You breathe deeply and, in such tranquil surroundings your body, mind and soul soon relax. You stretch out in the grass and fall into a comfortable and restful sleep.

Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it?

Now picture another scene.

You are standing in the center of a trash pile. Everywhere you look there is garbage: household rubbish, rusting cars and bicycles, sodden paper and cardboard, tins, plastic. It is stacked high in all directions. And then there is the smell. The aroma of rotting food and other wastes fills your nostrils and makes you want to retch. There is no escaping it. As you hold your breath, you clamber through the reeking mess, stumbling over protruding items as you do so, cutting your knees and hands in your search for something – anything – that is of value, but never finding it.

These two contrastingly stark images were what came into my mind recently as I read the following words from the third chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippians:

“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about these things” (v8).

What a beautiful glimpse this gives for how God wants each one of us to live our lives – focused on Him, growing in Him, living our lives for His glory. And when we do this – as Paul says – “the God of peace will be with you” (v9).

Yet so often we forget this truth. Instead of in the green pastures where he offers to lead us, we choose to spend our lives on the trash heap. We immerse ourselves in gossip, lies and idle talk. We choose to judge others and we think badly of them as we plot against them. We give in to fear, anger and bitterness. Addictions take hold of us, obscuring our view of God. We become absorbed in our phones, the internet, trash TV. We settle for second best, instead of God’s best, for our lives. It all stinks – but we simply choose to ignore it after a time. Yet it is all still grossly offensive to a God who has so much more for us.

May we instead be people that seek God’s better way – those things that are noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable. May we pursue the excellent way that God offers for our lives and praising Him in all we do. He deserves nothing less!

Across the Railway Line

This is a short description of a visit to the Misisi slum, in Lusaka, Zambia. Although written several years ago, the suffering of people who live “across the railway line” is no different today…

You step across the railway line to get into the Misisi slum. And, when you cross the line, you enter a world of squalor and suffering. Children with nowhere to go and nobody to care for them sit silently along the edges of the streets. Unloved and forgotten, there are no smiles to be seen on their lips, no hope to be found in their eyes. Mothers, seeking to provide for their children, are often forced into selling themselves for a pittance before they can purchase scraps of food. Young men, with no opportunities, no prospects, and no chance, get stoned on the local brew, get into fights, and fall headlong into a life of crime. The streets of Misisi are oppressive; a place where fear and the threat of violence are constant, unwelcome, companions.

There is no sewage system in Misisi. The stench lingers wherever you go and worsens as the temperatures soar. It is the rainy season now, flooding the streets and ramshackle, makeshift houses with water and human waste. This is a place where the rats thrive. Big, savage rats. They are everywhere. Waves of disease sweep mercilessly through the camp at times like this. There is no escape from it. Malaria, cholera, AIDS all take turns to strike down their victims. Yet death is an everyday event in Misisi. And, for many, when it comes it is almost welcomed – a relief from the agonizing, daily struggle just to exist.

I can leave. And I do. I step back across the railway line, leave Misisi and return to a better, safer, world. For its inhabitants that is just a distant dream. Tomorrow will be the same on the other side of the line. Segregation. Deprivation. Starvation. And the desperate need for salvation.

Looking for God’s fingerprints

Life is full of disappointments. Relationships that we cherish flounder. We experience unexpected loss, and struggle with the grief that goes with it. We may have had great hopes that are dashed or plans that fail despite our best efforts. Our fragile bodies and minds become sick. We live in a world where there is profound brokenness, tragedy, suffering and death.

And amidst the suffering, God is at work – and he is loving, steadfast and faithful. Always.

Yet so often we forget this truth as we wrestle with circumstances and problems directly in front of us.

Let’s take time today to look beyond our current circumstances and what we can see through our own eyes. May we allow the Lord to open the “eyes of our hearts” to see and experience those ways in which he is at work on our behalf – in our own lives and situations, in the church, in our communities, and in the wider world. May we remember the constant faithfulness he has shown us in the past, and the wonderful promises he has made to us – and will keep – for the future.

God’s fingerprints are everywhere, all around us, every day. Let’s take time to look for them – and to praise him!

What great advice has helped shape your leadership?

What advice resonated most with you when you started out in a leadership role?”

This was a question that a colleague recently asked me as we discussed leadership growth. Over the past 25 years, I have worked with many different leaders and have learned from each of them, receiving a lot of wise counsel along the way. Here are three key pieces of guidance that have impacted me and helped shape my leadership through the years:

“Whenever you can, give your team members the freedom to do their jobs unhindered.”

This was a piece of advice received from the school principal of my first teaching job. I was young and inexperienced, yet he gave me the freedom to do my job, take responsibility, try out new ideas, make mistakes (and recover from them), and develop my knowledge and skills – without me ever feeling that he was constantly breathing down my neck. And I thrived under his leadership as a result.

Most people don’t like to be micromanaged. Letting team members do their jobs without constant intervention does not mean that they are not to be held accountable, or that you are not giving them encouragement, support and guidance along the way. These things are essential. But it demonstrates your trust in them and their capabilities – and, in doing so, it is likely that you will get better results from them as a result.

Of course, there are times when intervention or extra support is needed – particularly when a team member is starting out in a new role or when concerns arise. Poor performance, negative attitudes or other character issues that emerge need to be addressed quickly and appropriately. But – whenever possible – let people do their jobs unhindered!

“Remember the impact that your face has on your team.”

As a young leader, I struggled when things went wrong – when each day seemed to consist of lurching from one mini-crisis to another. I became dispirited, and at times I let it show – through the things I said, in my posture, and by my actions.

Then, one day, one of my staff came into my office, sat down and said to me: “Matt, you need to know that the expression on your face is dragging everyone down and making us all feel discouraged”.


That conversation made me realize the impact that my words and actions – and the expression on my face – had on my team. No-one wants a leader who appears dejected and despairing.

That does not mean that we cannot be real, honest and truthful with our teams about what is happening around us. But we need to be supportive, encouraging and offer hope, even when the journey is rough. Remember the impact that your face has on your team!

“Accept that there will be some people that will think negatively about you – no matter what you say or do.”

This was a valuable piece of advice given to me by a much wiser friend during a time when I was wrestling with a particularly difficult leadership challenge.

Let’s face it, most of us like to be liked.

But, in reality, there will be times when even leaders – even the best leaders – have to manage people that don’t like them – and don’t hide that fact – no matter what the leader says and regardless of what they do.

There are two things that I have come to learn in such situations.

Always be fair with people, no matter their attitude towards you. Constantly check your attitude. Never retaliate. Provide even those who think badly of you with support as you would to any other team member.

At the same time, devote the vast majority of your energy into developing those people that are with you and who believe in your team’s mission. Your time and resources are limited, so invest them wisely – in people who are teachable, who have integrity, who are team players, and who are fully committed to your organization’s cause.

What are some of the key pieces of advice that have helped shape your leadership?

Hope amid suffering in Myanmar

The atmosphere in the city’s slum is stifling. Bouts of heavy rainfall have left the streets – and many of the houses – waterlogged or flooded, yet between the downpours the temperatures and humidity rise steadily and the air soon becomes oppressive. But there is a greater sense of heaviness, ominous and menacing, that lingers over this place. Poverty is widespread here and many people are struggling just to survive. Child abandonment and abuse is rife. Violence, particularly against women and girls, is commonplace. Drunkenness and drug use is a way of life for many people. As I walk up and down these streets, seeing the squalor, suffering and brokenness, I feel sick to the pit of my stomach.

And yet God is at work here.

The care center is run by a local pastor and his family. It is like a flower pushing its way up through a crack in concrete: here there is color, laughter, joy, hope. The 75 children know that they are loved by the amazing staff team and they are seeing encouraging improvements in their educational attainment, physical health, emotional well-being, and their understanding of a loving Heavenly Father who calls them precious, beautiful, children of His.

And this hope is contagious. It is spreading from the care center itself to the families of the children that are served and the community beyond. I experience this when I visit the family of a little girl in their rickety, dilapidated home, made of bamboo, that provides little protection against the weather. Sitting on the floor, I hear how the girl’s paralyzed father was, like most of the people in this community, a Buddhist. Yet God has clearly been at work in his life, and he has come to know Christ. The girl’s mother earns a little money by washing clothes for her neighbors, and she would help her since her parents could not afford to send her to school. That has now changed – thanks to the support of the care center – and this little girl beams as she tells me she is “overjoyed” that she now has the opportunity to receive an education. “May God bless all those who support me” she earnestly tells me.

Please join me in praying for this community. Pray that hope would continue to break through the heaviness, the evil, that has its grip here. Pray for God’s constant protection for the staff and ministry. And pray for these beautiful children, that they would come to experience for themselves the love of the Savior.

(August 2019)


On Monday 1 February, Myanmar’s army took control of the country, detaining democratically elected leaders of the National League for Democracy (NLD) who had won a landslide election victory in November. A one-year state of emergency has been declared, and a curfew is currently in place, with the army patrolling the streets.

The pastor leading the care center program has asked for prayer:

  • For peace – the safety of those who are demonstrating, the release of government leaders, and a speedy and peaceful resolution to the crisis
  • For the church – that believers would be a light in the darkness at this time
  • For God’s wisdom and leading for this pastor and his family as they care for church members, shepherd new believers in their faith, and coordinate efforts to provide care to children and families in the community
  • For the care center – for continued positive impact in the lives of children, their families and the community, and for funding needed to continue operating the center in the coming year

(Note that no names of people or places have been included in this post for security reasons).