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Top 10 Best & Worst of 2012

Another year has come and gone. And with all due respect to the ancient Mayans, looks like there will be a 2013. Before we move on the next year, here’s my list of the best and worst of 2012.

1. Best event: William & Rachel’s wedding! Definately the event of the year. One down, two to go.

2. Best milestone: Our 30th wedding anniversary. And it keeps getting better.

3. Best tweeting toddler: The @HonestToddler. The kid also writes a hilarious blog. I admit it, I’m reading his tweets and blog to get mentally prepared for grandkids.

4. Best TV show:Duck Dynasty. Everyone has been talking about Willie, Uncle Si, and the bearded boys. I finally watched an episode last week, and got addicted. Faith, family, ducks. Plus camo, guns, and ZZ Top beards. What’s not to love!

5. Best song: Unforgiven by Joe Cocker. While in Brisbane my Aussie friend, Wayne Alcorn, reintroduced me to Joe. I returned the favor by introducing Wayne to country music and country culture on his trip to Music City. Dragged him to the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Grand Ole Opry. Also bought him an Eric Church CD and a Roy D Mercer CD. He almost admitted that country music is actually legit music. Almost.

6. Best book: The Lego Principle by Joey Bonifacio. I watched Joey live the Lego principle for many years before I read the book. My 2012 top ten books here.

7. Best conference: Asia Pastors Equipping Conference (aka APEC) in Manila. My day job takes me to lots of conferences all over the world every year, and APEC is always our favorite. Nothing compares with reconnecting with pastors and leaders friends from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, Mongolia, Myanmar, and two dozen other Asian nations. This year the Middle East Strategic Summit (aka MESS) in Dubai was a close second.

8. Best movie: Les Miserables. Lincoln was good, but Les Mis is a classic. Watching the epic battle between mercy and judgment, between law and grace never gets old. It is good to remember that we all have an inner 24601 running from past sins, until we encounter grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

9. Best trip: Safari in South Africa with Deborah and our son, James. Lions, elephants, rhinos, cape buffalo, zebras, giraffes, hippos, leopards, hyenas. We saw them all, up close and personal. One of our best trips ever!

10. Worst millisecond in a sports event: Marquez no-look right to Congressman Pacquiao’s jaw. I’m still trying to forget.

What were your best and worst of 2012?

Top 10 Books I Read in 2012

I love books, digital books and dead tree books. Here are some of the best I read in 2012.

10. The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony. A gift from my South African friends, Roger and Nicola Pearce, I read the whole book on a Joburg to Nashville flight. Couldn’t put it down. The Last Rhino by Lawrence was just as good. Both books made me want to get on the next flight to Africa!

9. The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne. This book could revolutionize the way you think about church and ministry. Highly recommended for pastors, church planters, missionaries, and everyone who works in ministry.

8. Faith to Live By: A Practical Guide to the Life of Faith by Paul Barker. Historical, biblical, theological, practical. This might be the best book on faith you will ever read.

7. The Mormonizing of America by Stephen Mansfield. Learned a lot of interesting and scary stuff. Also enjoyed Lincoln’s Battle with God. Stephen is a great writer and a better friend.

6. No Man is an Island by Thomas Merton. Devotional classic. Not a wasted word. For best results, read slowly with a humble heart.

5. Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas. Long and tedious, but worth the time. I suggest the digital version, unless you want to carry around a ten pound book.

4. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. I did not read all of the 10,000 plus pages of the thirteen volumes, but I have enjoyed every page I’ve read. In don’t know if my sermons are better because of these books, but I’m pretty sure I am better because of them.

3. The Century of the Holy Spirit: 100 Years of Pentecostal and Charismatic Renewal by Vinson Synan. This thick book has been on my Nashville bedside table for a year. It’s the last thing I read as I fall asleep. It informed my mind, stretched my faith, convicted my heart, and inspired my dreams. If you love church history, you gotta read this book.

2. The Lego Principle by Joey Bonifacio. Might be the most important book about doing ministry that you’ll ever read. Discipleship really is relationship! Great book, Joey! Can’t wait to read the sequel.

1. The Bible. I’ve read it a few times before, but this was my first full reading using YouVersion‘s “Blended” plan, with daily OT and NT selections. I am now officially hooked to YouVersion and plan to use it in 2013 and beyond.

Honorable mention, but not quite top ten:

Necessary Endings by Henry Cloud. My first Henry Cloud book. Made me want to fire someone. But I resisted. All leaders should read this one. Also recommended for people stuck in dysfunctinal relationships and horrible jobs.

Calico Joe by John Grisham. Fatherhood. Family. Forgiveness. Baseball. Great themes woven together in classic Grisham fashion, minus the ubiquitous lawyer and tired courtroom.

Drop Dead Healthy by AJ Jacobs. A hilarious look at America’s health obsession/hypocrisy.

What did you read in 2012?

Here’s my 2011 list, and here’s my 2010 list.

Born [Podcast]

Our 1989 Christmas Eve Disaster


’Twas the night before Christmas, and the scene of the crime was Savannah, Georgia. The year was 1989. William, was three and a half. James was one and a half. Jonathan was still inside trying to kick his way out.

This was the year William realized that Christmas meant gifts. He knew that at my in-laws’ house, the gifts are divided into piles. All gifts that say “To William” are put in a pile together. All the “To James”  are put together. 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.

We had attempted to teach our boys the true meaning of Christmas. We had recited the story of the incarnation over and over. We didn’t expect much from an eighteen month old, but we assumed that William understood the Christmas spirit. You know, God so loved the world that He gave His Son . . . That’s the spirit of Christmas – 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 to be sure, he begged us for it.

One day, 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 could do with real arrows.

“Yeah, you know the kind with the red rubber things on the end. Real ones, not just toys.” He was serious about this.

“You mean the kind that stick to 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 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.

Then came William’s turn. As James continued to play with bows 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. What’s wrong with you?”

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.”

He did get a bow with real (rubber-tipped) arrows, but it was buried under a mountain of shredded green and red wrapping paper.

That was quite a memorable and frustrating Christmas for us. We knew something was wrong and we had to fix it.

The first step in fixing it was to admit that we were part of the problem. In 1989, we asked William what he wanted toget for Christmas. He wanted to get a bow with real arrows. Christmas Eve came around. It was William’s turn to open gifts. He was totally oblivious to what others were getting and to what others had given. He was upset 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 in fulfillment comes as we give.We had helped him miss the whole point.

Here’s how we fixed the problem. From then on, rather than asking our children what they want to get, we started asking them what they want to give to their brothers, their relatives, and friends. For weeks building up to Christmas, our children now focused on what they would give rather than what they would get.

Now, when gift opening time comes at the Murrell house, we put all William’s gifts in a pile, all James’ 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” gifts 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 gifts. This way, the focus is on giving rather than getting. Over the next few years our boys learned to be just as excited about giving as getting.

They discovered that it really is more blessed to give than to receive.


This blog was originally written for Evangelicals Today magazine about twenty years ago. Since then it has occasionally been re-posted in December. I thought some of you, especially those with small children or grandchildren, might find it helpful this time of year.

My 2012 Top 10 Christmas Movies

Since Christmas movies have been playing all week, I thought it was time to update and post my annual Top 10 Must-See Christmas Movie List. Here’s my 2012 list:

10. The Family Man (2000) - A modern version of the best Christmas movie ever (see my #1) starring Nicolas Cage, before he got in IRS trouble and started making lousy movies. Bonus: Don Cheadle is the best angel since Clarence.

9. Joyeux Noel (2006) - Oscar-nominated true story of German, French & Scottish troops in WWI who called a ceasefire on Christmas Eve. Peace on Earth, at least for a night.

8. White Christmas (1954) - I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, Philippine style.

7. Elf (2003) – Opening scene with Sr Elf, Bob Newhart, reading the intro story about different types of elves is worth the price of the DVD.

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

5. The Nativity Story (2006) – What The Passion of the Christ is to Holy Week, this movie is to Christmas.

4. Christmas Vacation (1989) – Because every family has a Cousin Eddie.

3. Die Hard (1988) – Some doubt this is a Christmas movie, but the whole thing took place during an office Christmas party. Bonus: Hans Gruber is the best movie bad guy ever. Warning: rated R for language.

2. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) – Wish they still made them like this. Bonus: one of my all-time fav soundtracks, real Jazz (not the devilish smooth kind) on a Christmas album.

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

PS: Every year after I post my updated list, people why A Christmas Story is not on my list. Here’s the simple answer: because it’s a terrible movie!

2 Simple Keys to Success

When things go wrong, we tend to create all kinds of complex reasons (excuses) for our lack of success. When things go right, the reasons are usually ridiculously simple.

Consider Hezekiah. He was a good king. One of the best. Here’s the Bible’s summary of his life and success:

“In everything that he undertook in the service of God’s temple and in obedience to the law and the commands, he sought his God and worked wholeheartedly. And so he prospered.” (2 Chronicles 31:21)

Hezekiah’s keys to success:

1. He sought God

2. He worked hard

This simple formula worked for King Hezekiah 2700 years ago, and it will work for us today. If you are a church planter or campus missionary, an entrepreneur or salesperson, a songwriter or inventor who wants to succeed, I suggest you learn from Hezekiah: SEEK GOD and WORK HARD.

Some people are just too lazy to succeed. They are allergic to work. Others are working hard doing something completely contrary to God’s will because they have not bothered to seek Him.

Life is not complicated. Seek God. Work hard.

© 2012 Steve Murrell

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