| Reluctant Leader

Date archives 2010

Blog / Leadership

Top 10 List: Best Books of 2010

December 31, 2010

Read lots of books this year. Some good. Some bad. Some life-changing. Some painfully boring. Here’s my 2010 top 10:

10. Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty by Muhammad Yunis

Former MTSU prof, Nobel Laureate, Bengladeshi national hero – this guy really did change the world.

9. The Blessed Life by Robert Morris

I’m probably the last pastor on the planet to read this one, but better late than never.

8. Before I Am 30: Testimonies of a Life Transformed by World Missions by “Jack”

Only 47 pages, but one of the most inspiring stories I’ve ever read. “Jack” is a young leader in the Chinese church. I am honored to call him my friend.  (“Jack” was one of our featured speakers at EN2010 in Manila, but because of our security protocols we were not able to podcast his message.)

7.  The Devil in Pew Number Seven by Rebecca Nichols Alonzo

A true story that reads like a hard-to-believe novel. A movie begging to happen. If you know anyone struggling with forgiveness issues, give them Becky’s book. Her message will crack open the hardest of hearts.  (Becky & her family are members of Bethel, Every Nation’s church in Nashville.)

6. Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church by Soong-Chan Rah

Anyone attempting to build a multi-ethnic church or do cross-cultural missions should read this one. Also recommended to all in a cross-cultural or multi-ethnic marriage as well as those who have adopted foreign children. Should be required reading in all mission schools.

5. How the Mighty Fall by Jim Collins

This small book scared me real bad. As far as I know Bro Jim is not a believer, but he sure has a prophetic message for pastors and ministry leaders – especially those who lead a growing church or ministry.

4. Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall & Denver Moore

Another true story that should be a movie. I read it straight through. Could not stop. Enough said. Buy it. Read it. Live it.

3. The Unlikely Disciple by Kevin Roose

Randomly bought this one while looking for something else in Borders. Laughed, cringed and repented as I read an outsider’s undercover  Images experience inside the Evangelical world.  Every pastor and campus missionary should read this. I have bought and given away at least 20 copies.

2. The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns

Painful, but necessary look at the gospel demands regarding our responsibility to the poor.

1. Movements that Change the World by Steve Addison

My book of the year. Most reading this blog want to change the world. Here’s how.

What books did you read in 2010? What was the best?

Blog / Leadership / Missions

Are You Following God or Man?

December 30, 2010

Abraham followed God and ended up in the Promise Land. Lot followed man and ended up in Sodom.

Who are you following – God or man?

It is unfortunately common for believers to think they are following and obeying God when they are actually following a religious personality, celebrity pastor, TV preacher, cool podcaster, or trendy blogger.

Consider Abe and Lot:

“Abram left, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him” –Gen12;4

“”Abram went from Egypt to the Negev… and Lot went with him” –Gen13:1

Abe heard from and followed God. Lot followed Abe. I guess if you are going to follow a man rather than God, then Abe is a good man to follow.

But here’s what eventually happens to people who follow people but don’t seem to actually hear from God themselves.

Genesis 13:12 &13 tells us that Lot “pitched his tents NEAR SODOM. Now the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord”

A few verses later Lot is not only NEAR SODOM, he is “LIVING IN SODOM” (Gen14:12)

Too many today are more like Lot, always following their favorite spiritual guru or Bible teacher, never really having their own relationship with God.

While is helpful to have good spiritual leaders, ultimately we must learn to HEAR FROM GOD and OBEY HIM.

Blog / Miscellaneous

Chritsmas: Pagan or Christian?

December 24, 2010

Living in the Philippines for the past twenty-six years, we've gotten used to celebrating Christmas wearing havaianas and board shorts. White Christmas? As long as the white part is a beach. 

Now we are in the States. And while Christmas might not be white, it will be freezing. No more havaianas and board shorts.

The cold is not our only adjustment to American Chritsmas. In the new hyper-sensitive, super-tolerant, politically correct America we are supposed to say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Chritsmas." Apparently pronouncing the letters C, H, R, I, S and T when followed by "-mas" rather than a "cuss" word is offensive to some.

And it's not just the secularists who don't like Christmas. Some of my fellow pastors do not participate in  Christmas traditions because of the ungldly pagan roots. My anti-Christmas religious friends say:

– Christmas trees are bad because evergreen trees were used in pagan Druid ceremonies

– December 25 was not really when Jesus was born, rather it was choosen to Christianize the pagan winter solstice celebration

– the whole modern celebration promotes materialism

All of the above and more may be true, but does that mean we should skip Christmas?

Could God possibly take something that was pagan and make it point to Christ? Isn't that exactly what the incarnation is all about? Isn't the real reason God came to earth in human flesh to redeem things that were pagan – like me and you?

Blog / Missions

Remember the Poor

December 22, 2010

Too busy to blog lately, but I'm re-posting another Christmas blog from the arcives. This was originally posted Dec 22, 2006.


Last night I made a Christmas memory I hope I never forget. I went with my 18 and 16 year old sons to a Christmas party for about 400 "at risk youth" and their families. It was sponsored by Nashville's Youth Life Learning Center and included kids and staff from all five Life Centers in Nashville.

After the meal, it was gift time. Youth Life Learning Center director, Pastor James Lowe, was better than Santa in the gift giving department. I wish you could have seen the smiles on the faces of these kids when they were given brand new bicycles, skate boards and other gifts. One little boy even received a flat screen TV. When I asked James how he decided what gift to give to each child, James told me he gave them exactly what they asked for. When I asked how he paid for all these gifts, he pointed to the people serving the food and said, "Bethel church members."

These kids went home with much more than nice gifts and a great meal. Pastor James told them one of the best Christmas stories I have ever heard, with Jesus in His rightful place right in the center. I am so impressed with the Youth Life Learning Center staff and volunteers who selflessly serve "the least" as if they were serving Jesus Himself. The best part was knowing that this was not just a one-time-shot, but there is ongoing ministry to these kids, their families and their communities through the Life Center staff and Bethel volunteers.

Last night with the Life Center kids made me think of one my favorite Christmas traditions back in Manila. For as long as I can remember, our church, Victory, has received a Christmas Eve offering for the poor. In past years our Christmas Eve offering has helped orphans, typhoon victims, tsunami victims, and others in need. This year the whole offering will help students through our Life Scholarship fund. Please give as generously as you can this Christmas Eve. I am proud of the fact that the Christmas Eve offering is usually our largest offering of the year, and 100% goes to the needy.

Proverbs 28:27 He who gives to the poor will lack nothing, but he who closes his eyes to them receives many curses.

Blog / Family

A Christmas Eve Disaster

December 12, 2010

WARNING: Long Christmas blog. This was originally written for Evangelicals Today mag, 17 yrs ago. Since then it has been hidden deep in my archives, along with piles of other ancient blogs. I thought some of you, especially those with small children, might find it helpful this time of the year. Will use this story tomorrow as intro to my Luke 2 sermon at Bethel-Franklin.


’Twas the night before Christmas, and the scene of the crime was Savannah, Georgia. The year was 1989. Our oldest son was amost four. Our second son was eighteen months. The third was still inside trying to kick his way out.

This was the first year that William, #1 son, realized that Christmas meant gifts. He knew that according to the "youngest-first rule" at my in-laws’ house, he would be the second in line to open his gifts. At my in-laws’ house, the gifts are divided into piles. All gifts that say “To William” are put in a pile. All “To James” gifts are put in another pile. Once all the gifts have been put in the right pile, they are opened one at a time beginning with the youngest and continuing to the oldest. This meant that James was first, then William, then older cousins, uncles and aunts, then Mom, Dad, and finally, grandparents.

As good Christian parents, we had attempted to teach our young boys the true meaning of Christmas. We didn’t expect much from James, but we assumed that William understood that it was better to give than to receive. After all, Jesus was born because God so loved the world that He gave . . . That’s what Christmas is all about—giving. What happened that night let us know that our children had completely missed the point, and that we had to adjust the way we would celebrate Christmas in the future.

All William wanted for Christmas that year was a bow and arrow. His little mind was made up. He knew what he wanted and he would not be denied. He prayed to God for it, and just in case that would not work, he cponstantly remined us.

One day, just to make sure I understood his request, he said, “Daddy, I want REAL arrows.”

“Real arrows?” I asked, wondering what kind of damage a three-year old would do with real arrows.

“Yeah, you know the kind with the rubber things on the end. Real ones, not just toys.” He was serious about this. “You mean the arrows that stick to walls and windows if you lick ’em before shooting?” I responded, hoping I knew what he meant by real arrows.

“Yeah! Like in Toys-R-Us.”

Back to the Christmas Eve crime scene in Georgia.  Here’s what happened. James, the youngest, was first to open his gifts. Like all eighteen month olds, he was more impressed with the colorful boxes and ribbons than with the contents. He hadn’t caught on to the materialistic spirit of Christmas yet.

Then came William's turn. As James continued to play with his wrapping paper and boxes, William anxiously ripped through his first gift in world-record time. He completely ignored the contents and immediately tore into the next one. (At least James played with the boxes.) He only got the wrapping paper half way off this one before tossing it aside and grabbing the next one.

Deborah and I discerned that something was wrong here. “William, maybe you should say thanks and at least act like you appreciate these gifts.”

On the verge of tears, he said, “I thought I would get a bow and arrow, with REAL arrows. That’s all I wanted, and I didn’t get it. I got all this other stuff instead.”

Well, he did get a bow with real (rubber-tipped) arrows. He just hadn’t got to that gift yet because it was buried under a mountain of shredded green and red paper.

That was quite a memorable and frustrating Christmas for us. We knew something was wrong, but we weren’t sure just how to fix it.

A few months later, I read a book that described the scene you just read about, only it was happening in another city to another family with small kids. It was sure comforting to know that our experience was not unique. Right now, I can’t seem to remember the name of the book or the author. Anyway, this guy in the book not only had the same problem, but he had identified the root of the problem and had come up with the solution. It was so simple. It opened our eyes and changed the way we have approached Christmas since the disaster of ’89.

On that fateful Christmas Eve I described above, William was upset and ungrateful because he thought he didn’t get a bow with real arrows. The root of the problem is in the word “GET.” His focus was on what he would GET. We will always have a problem when we focus on what we get. Christmas (and life) is all about giving, not getting. The greatest joy and fulfillment comes as we give.

We decided that from now on we would do our best to focus on what each child wanted to GIVE, not on what they wanted to GET.
In 1989, we asked William what he wanted to GET for Christmas. He wanted to get a bow with real arrows. Christmas Eve came around. It was William’s turn to open gifts. All he could think about was what he would get. He was totally oblivious to what others were getting and to what others had given. We had helped him miss the whole point.
Now, rather than asking our children what they want to GET from us, we ask them what they want to GIVE us, their brothers, their relatives, and friends. Now, for the weeks building up to Christmas, our children are focused on what they will GIVE rather than what they will GET.

Now, when gift opening time comes at the Murrell house, we put all William’s gifts in a pile, all James’s in a pile, all Jonathan’s in a pile. We separate Mom’s and Dad’s into piles of their own.

In William’s pile are all the gifts that say “FROM William” on the tag. In James’s pile are all those that say “FROM James.” The “FROM Jonathan” presents are in another pile, as are the “FROM Mom” and the “FROM Dad.”

Once all the gifts are in the piles, each person can now take his turn to GIVE all his gifts. This way, the focus is on giving rather than getting. Over the years our boys have learned to be just as excited about giving as getting.

They have discovered that it really can be more blessed to give than to receive.
Blog / Discipleship

Revival or Discipleship?

December 8, 2010

When I was new in ministry I was always asking God for revival. I had no idea what revival looked like, but since everyone around me wanted it, I joined the chorus and cried out for that elusive pot of spiritual gold at the end of the rainbow – REVIVAL.

I don’t really do that much any more. I guess over the years, I just got too busy making disciples, developing leaders, planting churches and doing cross-cultural mission work. Plus, I think much of what we call revival today is just plain weird.

I’m all for prayer, but lots of church people spend so much time in prayer meetings that they have completely lost touch with the needs of non-religious people. And, they tend to speak a strange language that only prophets and intercessors can interpret.

That’s not how Jesus did life. He certainly prayed, but he also engaged irreligious unspiritual people (“tax collectors and sinners”) on their turf and in their language, not in a religious meeting using a hyper-religious language.

Suggestion: along with praying for revival maybe we should also consider doing what he already told us to do: GO AND MAKE DISCIPLES. 

Blog / Family

Top 10 Christmas Movies

December 6, 2010

Here's my 2010 must-see top 10 Christmas movie list:

10. Christmas Vacation (1989) – Every family has a Cousin Eddie.

9. White Christmas (1954) – I'm still dreaming.

8. Elf (2003) – Opening scene with Sr Elf, Bob Newhart, reading the intro story is worth the price of the DVD.

7. Home Alone (1990)- The "Wet Bandits" are some of the best bad guys ever.

6. Christmas in Connecticut (1945) – Black and white classic that never gets old.

5. The Nativity Story (2006) – The REAL story of Christmas.

4. Die Hard (1988) – Some doubt this is a C'mas movie, but the whole thing took place during an office Christmas party.

3. Miracle on 34th Street (1947) – another B&W classic. The color version does not make my top 20.

2. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) – Wish they still made them like this. Special bonus: one of my fav soundtracks ever. Schroeder plays a mean piano.

1. It's a Wonderful Life (1946) – THE Christmas classic of all Christmas classics.

What's on your list?


Wiki Church

November 25, 2010

How does a wiki church work? “Imagine the church where every single person is out there being used by God no matter how old and no matter how long they have been saved.” Listen to this message by SteveMurrell and find out how the Holy Spirit powerfully works in and through ordinary people like Ananias to bring people to Christ.

Blog / Leadership

Sometimes Leaders are Supposed to Get Angry

November 24, 2010

You can tell a lot about a person by what gets him mad.

I tend to get mad about inconvenience and incompetence. Manila traffic, baristas who mess up my latte and loooong security lines at the airport – especially when I get behind the infrequent flyer who slowly pulls yet another forbidden metal object from his bottomless pocket.

In the grand scheme of things, too much foam in my latte and a missed flight don’t really matter. What I should get angry about is INJUSTICE. But too often I’ve used up all my anger on the trivial and temporal.

Lesson from Saul: he knew when to get angry. (See 1Samuel 11 where Saul “BURNED WITH ANGER” over injustice.)

What gets you mad – inconvenience, incompetence or injustice?

Blog / Discipleship / Leadership

The Voice of God or the Voice of Man?

November 23, 2010

Some thoughts on hearing God's voice/call from this morning's Old Testament reading.

1. Sometimes the voice of God sounds kinda like the voice of man, especially like the voice of our spiritual mentors.

Again the Lord called, "Samuel!" And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, "Here I am; you called me." "My son," Eli said, "I did not call; go back and lie down." 1Sam3:6

– Samuel heard God calling but he thought it was Eli.
– It is common to hear God and think it is just the voice of a preacher or leader.

2. Sometimes we need spiritual leaders to help us discern the call of God.

The Lord called Samuel a third time, and Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, "Here I am; you called me." Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. 1Sam3:8

– Eli was the first to realize that God was calling Samuel.
– Do you have an "Eli" in your life to help you discern the call of God?

3. Spiritual leaders are not supposed to be the voice of God; they are supposed to teach people how to hear and respond to the voice of God.

So Eli told Samuel, "Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, `Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.' " So Samuel went and lay down in his place. 1Sam3:9

– Eli did not try to be the voice of God for Samuel.
– Eli simply tried to teach Sam how to respond to God's voice.
– Hearing God's voice and responding to it are two different things.
– Have you responded to God's voice/calling?