Don’t Quit

This is an odd blog title, since it seems like I quit blogging. There are many reasons for my blog delinquency, but only one is legit, the others are just lame excuses. Here’s my respectable reason for my invisible blogs of late:  most of my writing energy is being invested in a new book about parenting that should be completed in the next couple of months.

I have three working titles. Which one do you think is best?

          The Heart of Parenting

          Discipleship at Home

          My First, Second, and Third Attempts at Parenting

While researching for my new book, I stumbled on this blog that was originally posted six years ago. I thought it might be a good Christmas season post.


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Ever want to quit – a relationship, job, church – but the Holy Spirit wouldn’t let you?

Even though it would be easier to walk.
Even though you were wronged.
Even though it hurts to stay.

Maybe the marriage is not all you dreamed it would be.
Maybe the job is not what it was promised to be.
Maybe the church really is filled with hypocrites.

But for some reason, God will not let you quit.

So what do you do?  Stay, or walk? Go for it on 4th and 20, or punt? Fight on, or tapout? All in, or fold?

What do you do when everything in you says to quit, but some faint barely discernible still quite voice says to hang in there?

If you ever feel like that, I suggest you read the Christmas story.

The one in Matthew 1:18-25.  

Summary. A man discovers his fiancé is pregnant. The baby is not his. She claims it is God’s. Yea, right. I’m out of here. He wasn’t bitter or vindictive. Just hurt. Confused. And moving on with his life. But while he was sleeping, God sent an angel to tell him that the baby really was from God, and he better not quit.

I’m sure he still had questions. And doubts. And pain. But he stayed. He went for it. All in.

“When he woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded.” (v. 24)

Same question as before: ever wanna quit – relationship, job, church – but the Holy Spirit says not to?

We all have.

Aren’t you glad you listened to Him, and refused to quit?

Good People, Bad Things, Why?

MANILA. Why do bad things happen to good people? Most preachers have heard and attempted to answer that unanswerable question.

Every weekend for the past three weeks in over 100 worship services in fifteen Metro Manila locations, Victory preachers attempted to answer the “Why Me?” question by studying and teaching the Book of Job. While I am not sure we really answered the “why” question, we did answer the “how” question. (More on that in point 5 below.)

Last Sunday, in the third installment of our “Why Me?” series, Joseph Bonifacio gave as good a non-answer to that question as I have ever heard. (Here’s a link to that sermon.)

I didn’t preach any of the “Why Me?” sermons in our Job series, but I did read the book. Here are seven thoughts from a recent reading of the Book of Job. Maybe my notes will help you get through your “Why Me?” seasons.

1. Bad things happen to seemingly good and innocent people. Four times
Job is described by God as “blameless and upright” yet he experienced
horrible suffering. Being good and godly does not exempt us from suffering.

2. The devil is real and he comes to “steal, kill and destroy.”
Job 1 makes it clear that all Job’s pain and loss was an act of
the devil, not an act of God.

3. People experiencing bad times need good friends. When you have
friends who are suffering, try doing what Job’s friends did in Job
2:13 “Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven
nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his
suffering was.” Sometimes the best response to a friend in pain is to just be there, and to be silent.

4. Good friends often give bad counsel. Unfortunately, after that week
of silence, Job’s friends opened their mouths and stuck both feet in,
nasty sandals and all. Most of the Book of Job is chapter after chapter of the worst advice ever given.

5. Some things can’t be explained and some “why” questions can’t be
answered. The book of Job never answers the “why” question. But it
does paint a good picture of “how” – how to find God in our pain and
how to respond to calamity in a way that honors God.

6. We can find God in our pain and loss, if we do what Job did when he
realized the extent of his loss – “then he fell to the ground in
worship…” (Job 1:20) Do we only worship God in the good times?

7. In the end, the blessing of God caught up with and overtook Job.
Most people don’t press through and read the whole book of Job. But if
you endure til the end, you will find that “the Lord blessed the
latter part of Job’s life more than the former.” (Job 42:12) And if we
endure past our pain, we will find God in the end.

What Is an Empowered Church?

PORTLAND. It was a privilege to preach at City Bible Church during their Purple People (Purple Book) campaign and to teach WikiChurch discipleship principles at the Ministers Fellowship International (MFI) Focus Conference. I was glad to see Pastor Frank Damazio on the road to recovery in his fight of faith to defeat cancer. His book, The Making of a Leader, is on my top ten book list. And I was glad to meet so many MFI leaders who asked me to say “hi” to my good friend Joey Bonifacio.

As I prepared to teach the “Same Ole Boring Strokes” (aka discipleship) to these MFI leaders who do an amazing job of equipping, I decided to focus on the empowering part of the discipleship process. No matter how effectively we equip people to minister, the discipleship process is incomplete until we empower every disciple to make disciples.

A quick read through Acts shows us what an empowering church looks like:

1. The Holy Spirit empowers believers to be His witnesses.
Acts 1:8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you…”

2. Rather than doing all the ministry themselves, apostles empowered others.
Acts 6:2 “the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables…’”

3. Empowered churches grow.
Acts 6:7 “So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith”

4. Persecuting or killing top leaders does not stop an empowered church.
Acts 8:1 “On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria”

5. Empowered people minister as they go and they minister wherever they go.
Acts 8:4 “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.”

6. Empowered people become leaders of people.
Acts 8:5 “Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christa there”

7. Empowered people preach the good news even if they are not apostles or pastors.
Acts 11:19 “Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.”

8. Barnabas empowered a new believer named Saul when no one else believed in him.
Acts 11: 25 “Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.”

9. Empowering does not mean there are no authority lines.
Acts 15:24 “We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization”

10. In an empowered culture we will always have people who are ministering/preaching who don’t really have a full understanding of theology.
Acts 18:24 “Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervorb and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.”

30 Years in 30 Words

TOKYO. Eight-hour layover. Thinking about the 30th anniversary celebration of Victory.  Here’s my description of how and why it all started 30 years ago, in just 30 words.

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1984.

MISSISSIPPI. Rice. Mission. Money? Partners. Passport…

GO!

MANILA. Traffic. Poverty. Jeepneys. Floods. Smiles. Mango…

U-BELT. Crowds. Radicals. Riots. Teargas. Hopelessness. Gospel. Jesus. Worship. Discipleship. Faith. Hope.

STAY! Victory. Grateful.

 

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(Check out the official Victory at 30 timeline with vintage photos.)

 

 

3 Hard Questions for Preachers

TOKYO AIRPORT. Preaching the Gospel is privilege. It is also a burden. And a calling. I have been a preacher since 1982. I love my job. I love to read, study, teach, and preach. Every day I am thankful that I get to do what I love. I am not a natural communicator. I have had to work hard to develop whatever teaching and preaching skills I have.

Over the years my preaching style has changed a few times. Originally I was a topical list preacher. I would find random verses about grace, faith, or whatever the topic, and preach away. After about ten years of that, I started exegetical teaching/preaching. I spent two years preaching my way through the Book of Mark on Sunday mornings. I spent a year on Acts, six months on 1 Corinthians. Then I taught my way through shorter books like Jonah, Ephesians, Galatians, Philippians, and James. For the past ten years I have done team prep and team preaching. Hopefully each change has been an upgrade. If you are a teacher or preacher I hope you are constantly upgrading your craft.

Before getting on my Manila to Tokyo to Minneapolis to Nashville flight, I met with some of our best Filipino preachers to discuss concerns and pitfalls of preachers and preaching. Here are some of the questions we asked ourselves.

1. ARE OUR PREACHERS MAKING DISCIPLES? Are preachers doing the work of the ministry? Are they ministering to people and making disciples in small groups? Or are they spending all week in their study with a pile of books? I am not suggesting that study is unimportant. Quite the contrary, but we must study people as well as the Bible. The more we connect with people and their pain, the better preachers we will become. The goal is to make disciples. Preaching is an important part of the disciple-making process, but it is only a part not the whole.

2. ARE OUR PREACHERS CARRYING THE BURDEN? Are preachers carrying the weight of the ministry? Are they shouldering the pressure of the budget, the vision, the values, the mission? Or are they simply communicating pre-packaged points? Last Sunday while preaching at Victory-Makati, I felt an overwhelming burden that I had 35 minutes to connect with those in the congregation. I had a heavy burden because the topic was so important. I was not just communicating information, I was preaching a sermon that had the potential to shape, redirect, and change lives. That is a heavy burden.

3. ARE OUR PREACHERS PREPARING THEIR OWN HEARTS? Preparing a sermon to preach is the easy part. Preparing our hearts to preach is difficult and often painful. I sometimes wonder if the time preachers spend working on slick Powerpoint and Keynote presentations, would be better spent on their faces before God. I also wonder if modern preachers spend too much time researching illustrations to make people laugh, rather than time searching the Scriptures for the original meaning of the text. Powerpoint pictures and funny stories do not change lives. God’s word brings change because it is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”

I get to work in Nashville, Manila, and around the world with some really great preachers. The reason they are so good, is because they constantly ask themselves the hard questions.

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.  James 3:1 ESV

It pleased God through the folly of what we preached to save those who believe.  1 Corinthians 1:21

Lucky or Blessed?

MACAU. For the past week I have been on a small island, that looks and feels like a large casino. Every Nation Macau Church hosted our annual Asia Leadership Team meeting and a day later our China Discipleship Convergence. I wish I could blog about the reports I heard from Every Nation leaders in China, Pakistan, Laos, Tibet, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia, but I can’t because of security concerns.

Here’s my Every Nation Asia summary, in the words of Apostle Paul, “The Gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace.” (Colossians 1:6)

While the spread of the Gospel brings great joy to my heart, there is also a deep sadness as I watch thousands and thousands march into the casinos to throw away their money and their future. I have observed a strange mix of greed and hope in the eyes of those coming into the glittery casinos, and a zombie-like hopelessness in the eyes of those shuffling towards the exit doors.

Luck is the operative word around here. Some, a very few, have good luck. Most have very bad luck.

While watching this tragedy play out before me, I read an interesting story about blessing this morning. Many people see blessing as the religious version of luck, but the two concepts have nothing in common. Luck is something that randomly happens to one and not to another. Blessings are often the direct results of our decisions and actions.

It is common for religious people to have wrong ideas about the blessing of God. Consider Luke 11. Jesus just taught his disciples how to pray the “Our Father.” Next He heals a mute boy by casting out a demon. Then He teaches the crowd. Typical day in the life of Jesus.

Watch what happens next, and notice the response of a random woman in the crowd.

As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” Luke 11:27 ESV

Like many people today, most people in Jesus’ day wrongly believed that a person was blessed or not blessed solely based on who their parents were. A person’s family background determined ethnicity and nationality. That was true then, and now. But ethnicity and nationality do not determine divine blessing.

In His response to the woman in the crowd, Jesus redefined what it means to be blessed and corrected a false belief about the source of the blessing.

“Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” Luke 11:28 ESV

How then is one “blessed” according to Jesus? In this passage in Luke, Jesus clearly ties the blessing of God to hearing and living God’s Word.

Never allow your family background, your ethnicity, or your nationality determine your blessing. Hear, read, obey, and live God’s word and you will find the true source of the blessing of God.

© 2012 Steve Murrell

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