“God created creativity – and I really aspire to be a good bearer who reflects the divine image God has put within us. Christians should be among the most creative people on the planet – in music, design, the arts, in scientific endeavour and in how we see things.
“Speaking of creativity, I honestly think God had such fun when He made giraffes. Have you ever watched one drinking? They have to splay their legs out and stoop down? It looks so uncomfortable! And their crazy long purple tongues? Wow!”
There’s a hint as to something about Murray Smith which you may be familiar with, even if you don’t know him personally.
While working as a graphic artist in Auckland, Murray drew the giraffe concept for what is now that ‘Longest Drink in Town’ milkshake cup.
The giraffe he drew – given the name Toby by the company which now owns the brand – is said to have graced the sides of over 120 million paper cups since its inception.
Murray though – now a Waikato-based Pastor – says he doesn’t really give the cup much thought these days.
The big picture, he says, is simply a desire to be a good steward of the giftings God has given him, in whatever spheres of influence God places him in.
He spoke with Jeremy Smith about coming to faith in Jesus, drawing ‘Toby’, sensing God’s call into ministry, family life, seeking to use his giftings to advance God’s Kingdom and what he likes to do with a day off, if he gets one!
To start us off , I’d love to hear your testimony. How did you come to know Jesus and when did your faith become personal?
I’m so thankful I was brought up in a Christian home. I knew a lot about Jesus and the Bible but, in my experience, you can have that and yet still not really have a relationship with Him. As a child, I’m sure my heart was inclined toward God, but on one occasion in my late teens – during the years I spent at art school – I attended a church gathering where I had a deeply personal encounter with the Lord. That truly changed everything about me. The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away…” (KJV). I began to sense the Lord at work transforming me and I began to want to follow Him and live my life under His direction. I felt His love and goodness in a tangible way, more than any of the mere head knowledge I’d had could convey.
As you reflect back on that moment now, what has been one of the most helpful things someone has said to you in terms of helping you in your own walk with the Lord? It might encourage our readers too!
Over the years I’ve had many people I trust speak into my life at key times. I’m very grateful. When I was a young leader, a man spoke to me from the platform in a meeting. He said he felt that God wanted me to learn something from ducks. He said water runs right off ducks backs and that they never get water logged and sink. He said I’d need to learn to let things go to survive – to get over disappointment, hurts and loss of expectation. That is part of the territory of leading. The encouragement was not to brood over stuff but to let it ‘run off’ and stay buoyant. Given my contemplative, reflective personality that’s been invaluable advice over many years.
These days you’re a Pastor. Can you tell me when and how you first sensed God’s call into ministry?
I don’t think you ever really go into a role like pastoring for any other reason than a clear sense God has called you to be there. It’s hard work, only sustainable with God’s empowering presence. There’s tough situations that come as part of the territory in church leadership, but the passion to see God make a difference – because He does make all the difference – and to be a part of something that carries eternal value is rewarding.
I pastored in Auckland for 13 years and began leading Bridges Church in Cambridge 18 years ago in 2003. A saying I think holds lots of truth is “…ministry is not something you come into… it comes into you.” By that I mean while I’d done some formal theological training, it’s really the calling of God that counts, not the conferral of some title. It is about being faithful with the function and call the Lord Jesus has put on your life.
Tell me a little bit about your family? When you have free time, (do you get that?!), what’s your favourite way to spend it?
My wife Michelle and I have six children – Jeremy, Tiffany, Samuel, Rebekah, Aimee and Matthew. Family life matters so much. I love time with friends and family and I have a few other outlets which replenish me. Time spent in God’s creation and on the water is special. I’ve loved water sports since I was young and still get out for a barefoot waterski when I can. I’ve got a little vintage car I enjoy driving too – a 1935 Morris 8 Sports. I’ve owned a few of them now – one of them being my first car ever as a teenager. It was vintage even then too!
What’s the balance of being a husband, a father with a quite a large family, and a Pastor like?
If a leader’s family life lacks authenticity and integrity, you have to wonder about the validity of any call to ministry. Right there is a significant qualifier or disqualifier. We are leaders firstly in our homes. A home operating intentionally under a God ordered set of priorities means we will be careful in the way we demonstrate love, honour, care practically and share within marriage and our natural family. In order for there to be any reality in our calling to lead an expression of the Church family, there has to be consistency within family life. Too many kids have gone off the rails because they saw a different man up the front or in the pulpit than the dad they saw (or didn’t see) around the meal table at home.
Leaders can live out their ministry trying to manage themselves, barely concealing relational brokenness within the home. The pressure to be a perfect model and example can be quite intense, especially as you tend to live your life in a goldfish bowl forever under the scrutiny and comments of others! Living our lives from the perspective that it’s God whom we serve in everything we do mitigates against that. The danger lies in being more in love with the work of the Lord than we are in love with the Lord of the work. Who I really am in my authentic, personal walk with Jesus teaches more than any words I say.
There should be a seamlessness in life, it’s not like we put on a ‘ministry hat’, then take it off for our ‘private life hat’. That kind of duplicity in a leader’s life is a time-bomb. I think all of life is about balance in a way, but we only get a true understanding or sense of balance and proportion when Jesus totally has first place in our lives – in everything. Genuinely seeking first His kingdom above everything cues life for balance, and it will ensure we are vigilant in eliminating anything that is detrimental in our personal lives – or to our family.
In your ‘self-proclaimed’ younger days while working as a graphic artist, you drew the concept which became what’s now the ‘Longest Drink in Town’ milkshake cup! How did you discover you had a love for drawing and art?
I was encouraged to draw from a young age. There was a distinct flair for art and design in my family line and I guess that played a part in my own development as an artist, to the point it became my profession. It’s my opinion that artistic flair is something inherent in a person but that a huge aspect of that natural talent going anywhere is through elements like tuition, practice, observation, and time to develop and hone skills.
I went to a school that was academically focussed – art was relegated to a low priority – you only took it on the basis of it being an ‘extra’ subject. Nonetheless, from school I was accepted to train at a tertiary level and then began working as a graphic designer in the packaging industry, then other studios. I eventually ran my own freelance consultancy for quite a few years. That training, background and awareness isn’t just something you turn off. In a way it’s become a God-given lens I’ll always see things through.
It’s a buzz seeing the end result of something you’ve originated, designed and seen through the whole production process. While I’m not working in the industry now, I’ve kept my hand in a little bit. I still do the odd freelance job and I love the general principles of design, as well as the processes of outworking a brief. I will always have a strong appreciation for design, typeface, colour layout, those types of things.
How did the ‘Longest Drink in Town’ design come to be?
Well, all the way back in the 1970s, while I was a freelance graphic designer in an Auckland City advertising agency, the art director brought a job to me one day that a local company had commissioned. They produced a range of one-use drinking cups and wanted a novel milkshake container design. Throwing around some concepts, we came up with what is now the ‘Longest Drink in Town’ slogan accompanied by the giraffe motif. Following a series of felt pen marker design ‘roughs’, it went through to the finished art and production stages. Some people might remember the original design, which began life in an orange and purple colourway. A company buy-out re-presented the same design in its current red and blue colourway.
It hasn’t been around as long as it has been claimed, having begun ‘life’ in 1978-79. Regardless, who would have known that a simple little job I did back ‘in the day’ would actually take off and assume the place it has today! A big part of that is due to the marketing push that the international owners of the branding have put into it in terms of steps like creating a persona around it. The giraffe now has the fan-generated name Toby and the company has given him a Facebook page so that he’s even on social media. Credit to them, they’ve taken it on and given the design the ‘legs’ and the life span it now has. I do sometimes get asked what it’s like being the originator, but actually I don’t really think about it all that much.
Do you think Toby is Kiwiana these days? What’s something about the early design process which people may not know?
That question always makes me smile. I remember clearly at the time when this job came across the desk – or shall we say drawing board at the time because computer graphics weren’t an established thing. I didn’t own the brand – it was just another job which came across the desk and for which I was paid.
I just felt very privileged to be working in and contracted to a design agency. There were a number of high profile clients, including Ford, McDonalds and others. The cup was actually quite an incidental little job. There were other bigger companies which I did jobs for which came and went. Design does that. The cup though, somehow, has just endured. Looking back now, I suppose I do sometimes think, “wow, that little cup really took off.”
Is it kiwiana? Maybe. It’s at least recognisable alongside things like the Buzzy Bee, Marmite jars and that sort of stuff. One of the other concepts on the table at the time was a stylised ‘sun’ which was wearing giant sunglasses. He was doing the thumbs up and the slogan for that design was potentially going to be ‘The Coolest Drink in Town’. Actually, it was pretty ‘cool’ and could readily be picked as an alternative drink container at some point.
Given your love of creativity, what’s your reaction when you see the immense scope of God’s creation?
God as Creator is a fundamental underpinning for me. His handiwork revealed in nature and in what we know of the universe, informs us about God’s power and majesty and inspires our understanding of His goodness. The Bible says in Genesis, that when He surveyed everything He’d made, that “it was very good.” For God to say something was ‘very good’ means it was totally ‘mind blowingly’ phenomenal. The beauty and diversity of creation is the Designer’s signature. Creation is there because of a Creator. Order is there because God upholds and sustains the cosmos – there is nothing random about it. The order and structure of creation is a testimony to God and as it says in Romans Chapter 1. “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” – Romans 1:20 (NIV). Things that are ‘visible’ in the creation of the world provide us with an important revelation concerning God’s invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature. Because creation communicates so clearly, humanity is without any excuse since He is clearly seen.
What would you say to encourage people as they look for ways to use their God-given gifts for His Kingdom in their walk with Jesus?
Oh, great question. Everyone has gifts uniquely endowed to them by God. In Ephesians 2:10, it tells us, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (NIV). The word ‘handiwork’ in the original Greek is ‘poema’ which means ‘a creative masterpiece’. We get our English word ‘poem’ from it. Every true follower of Jesus carries the flame of being a ‘creative masterpiece’ and it says Jesus empowers and ignites this dynamic in order for us to accomplish remarkable things for His glory – things which He planned for us to do before we even existed!
In your role as a Pastor, what’s an example of a time you were creative in terms of following God’s leading?
To be indwelt by the Spirit of God should produce “God-likeness” within our expressions of doing life. In trying to lead a faith community well, it will mean seeking His inspiration to try and find ways that are creative and relevant in our culture. There’s lots of instances where I can see God led us with a strategy or an approach that was out of the box.
Perhaps a notable one was when our church was committing to a building project. We had land but not funds. Michelle and I decided to sell our family home, which had appreciated in value significantly over the nine years we had lived in it since it was built. It was our ‘five loaves and two small fish’ to give to God for Him to multiply it to fund the construction of our church facility.
However, in trying to sell the house quietly and give the funds to our church, we failed to even get a single bid at auction. After months of deliberation, we felt to create a nationwide promotion to raise funds. Essentially it was a sales promotion whereby people could purchase products on-line and be entered into a draw to win our house. A bit like buying a chocolate bar and being in a draw to win a car, for example. There were those who were not very favourably disposed to this approach, misunderstanding the concept and the goal in mind. It wasn’t an easy time, but we saw God vindicate the effort. We had 50,000 on-line purchasers buy products at $25 per sale in order to enter the draw. The maths speaks for itself. It inspired many others to come on board and to help get us to the finishing line in building our facility.
Christ is our sufficiency in all things, and there’ve been times you’ve walked through deep waters in life. What would you say to encourage others about leaning on God when they are walking through such seasons?
Life has certainly had its difficulties. Psalm 66:12 tells us that it is God who takes us “through fire and through flood”. Sometimes we’d much prefer He took us around those experiences! The promise of His nearness and His presence as an objective reality, even if not always a subjective (felt) reality, means everything. His Word reminds me that He will never leave or forsake me, and knowing that as a fact is an anchor. We walk by faith not by sight. Sometimes what we see happening naturally, might communicate to us that God is not on our case – and we have an adversary who will quickly seek to assure us of that lie being true. Building our lives on the true Rock that is Jesus means we can go through the storms of life trusting Him to sustain us. He’ll never abandon me, rather He will perfect that which concerns my life even when what is happening in life is painful and bewildering. Seeking to hear the Shepherd’s voice is very important to me and so is resting in the peace He gives.
What encouragement would you offer our readers about living the authentic Christian life?
Karl Barth, a well known theologian, was once asked what he considered to be the most important truth in living the Christian life. His reply wasn’t a theological statement, but it was authentic. He said “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so”. Staying grounded and simply being real is a big deal. The truth is that we ‘play to an audience of One’ and nothing is hidden from Him. Is what you are in public consistent with what you are publicly? He requires truth in the inward parts. Cultivating a complete dependence on Jesus and not trusting our own resources is imperative. Psalm 138:6 says, “…but the proud He knoweth afar off.” (KJV). I, like you I’m sure, don’t want to be known afar off. So, humbling ourselves before Jesus is a means of grace being poured into our hearts.
You have a heart to reach the lost for Jesus. Can you tell me about Christmas at the Lake – the annual community concert organised by the combined churches of your town in past years?
Christmas at the Lake has been an event we’ve done over the years to take the opportunity to communicate the message of Jesus coming as God’s Gift to humanity – the Good News for all people that a Saviour was sent from Heaven. Kiwi music acts like Dave Dobbyn, Adeaze, Late 80’s Mercedes, Rapture Ruckus and many others performed there over time and attendance was always free. Surprisingly, people have less and less understanding of the fact that it is indeed Jesus’ Name in the word Christmas!
The goal of the event has been not just to entertain, although it should be loads of fun and have appeal to the community. Through various components including music, multimedia, a Christmas narrative and carols, we’ve endeavoured to offer a festive occasion that is faithful to the Gospel message and to present the Christmas story for our community. In some places this is no longer possible in an outdoor public setting, so it’s been an opportunity to remind people in an increasingly secular culture that Christmas is about Jesus and thousands of people have been impacted with that reminder!
One of the local newspapers Cambridge – knowing you’re a Pastor – reached out to you a few years ago asking you to write a regular column for them. How do you find being a steward of that unique opportunity which allows you to speak into people’s lives in such a way?
I was asked to write a ‘Faith Column’ on a monthly basis a long time ago. During the run-up to Covid lockdowns in the early part of 2020 I was asked if I would step up the commitment to producing a weekly column. So for the last 18 months I have been doing that. It is quite a big challenge to create something each week that is captivating in its appeal and has relevance to an ‘unchurched’ audience. I’m always thinking about being faithful in upholding a compelling presentation of Gospel truth without reverting to Christian jargon.
The publishers have (so far) gratefully received my contributions and allowed me to be exceedingly ‘explicit’ at times with certain articles spelling out a very clear gospel presentation. Other times I’m more ‘under the radar’ but always trying to keep the topics interesting and the subject matter varied for the sake of sustaining reader’s anticipation.
While not everyone will agree with my perspectives, the column seems to be something that is being used to speak to many people and I hear of readers waiting expectantly each week to catch the latest ‘offering’. The level and the nature of the feedback confirms the value of my time investment in this – I regularly have readers tracking me down to talk and seek help relevant to something that hit the mark for them.
Any final thoughts or words of encouragement for our readers?
Put Jesus at the centre of everything and live for Him as your absorbing passion. Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. Don’t just live for this life, but for the life which is to come – for that which is eternal. That perspective cues everything if you desire purposeful living.
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By Jeremy Smith
About the author
Jeremy Smith is editor of, and one of the writers for, Authentic Magazine.
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