Why We Need Big Brothers

NOTE: While doing research for the parenting book I am trying to write, I stumbled on an old blog from deep in the archives that needed to be re-posted. Enjoy.

“I’ll only go if James goes.”

Jonathan, my five-year old, absolutely refused to go to children’s church alone. We were in the States and I was the guest preacher who was expected to stand up and be anointed in about five minutes.In the meantime, all the children quietly vacated the auditorium and settled into their own service, complete with puppets and snacks. They were all doing as expected, except Jonathan. I understood his dilemma. This was not our church. We were guests and he didn’t know anyone in his class. It was a little intimidating for him. He had no idea what evil lurked beyond those sanctuary doors. Fear of the unknown paralyzed him. So, he refused to go, that is, unless James, his seven-year old brother, would go with him. Ah, what a difference big brother makes! James wanted to stay in the big service and hear me preach. But somehow, I was able to coerce him into going to children’s church. So, Jonathan scooted off into the vast unknown in the safety of big brother’s shadow. I don’t like to admit it. But, like my five-year old son, I’m often intimidated by unfamiliar situations. All too often, when God challenges me to take a new step of faith, my first reaction is to stay in my comfort zone. Why? Because I might get rejected out there. I don’t know anyone else going that direction. I might fail.

If not for leadership in my life, I would have never gotten a passport or a plane ticket to go on that original “one month” outreach to Manila’s University Belt in 1984. Like Jonathan, I silently said: “I’ll only go if Rice goes.” Well, Rice went. And so did I. The only difference is that he returned the States after that summer outreach. I stayed.

Thank God for big brothers who challenge us to take big steps of faith.

Daniel was one of those big brother type leaders who had the ability to get people to do things they would never have done if left to themselves. The Babylonians had captured Daniel and his three best friends. They were hauled off to a pagan land far away from all forms of godliness and out of the sight of parents, prophets and priests. New temptations and opportunities to compromise assaulted them. How did they handle the situation? Notice Daniel’s response: “But Daniel resolved not to defile himself. …(Dan. 1:8).  Daniel did not wait until the temptation moment to decide what to do. Way before he had the opportunity to compromise, Daniel already decided what he would do and what he would not do.

When explaining his stand to the Babylonian officials, Daniel said, “Please test your servants. …Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink” (v.12). We know that Daniel made a resolution not to defile himself. But who are these servants and who is this “us” that Daniel spoke of? It seems that Daniel dragged his three friends along with him. He took them where they probably would not have gone on their own. That’s what leadership is all about. Maybe Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego said, “We’ll only go if Daniel goes.” Well, Daniel went. And so did they.

Next time the three amigos made a bold stand for righteousness, Daniel was nowhere to be found. When they faced crazy King Nebuchadnezzar at the door of the fiery furnace, they were on their own. This time, they were not following leadership. They were leading. Once again, God met them there in the scary unknown.

Meanwhile, back to the church service. My younger sons made it safely to children’s church. I preached my best mission sermon, challenging the church to get serious about reaching the world. Deborah and William, my oldest son, heard the same sermon for the 10th time. James and Jonathan enjoyed a Christian puppet show, met some new friends, and ate some snacks. And I saw a picture of how desperate we all are for leadership in our lives.

Thank God for those men and women of great faith who, when they get a vision from God, say, “We” and “Us” rather than I.

Our Christmas Eve Disaster

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

——————

’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. All the “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.

Like all Christian parents, we had attempted to teach our boys the true meaning of Christmas. We 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. (It also confirmed the “T” in TULIP.)

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. Since he knew Santa Clause was a fraud, He prayed to God for it, and just to be sure, he repeatedly reminded us about 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 every eighteen month old, he was more impressed with the colorful boxes and bows than with the contents.

Then came William’s turn. As James continued to play with ribbons   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 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. 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. 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. Like many young parents, we had helped our children miss the 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 learned to focus on what they would give rather than what they would get.

From then on, 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.

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.


——————–

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?

Pondering the Meaning of Life

MANILA. Yesterday, at over one-hundred worship services in fifteen Victory Manila venues, we started a sermon series about the ultimate meaning of life based on the Book of Ecclesiastes. Dozens of Victory preachers asked some deep questions and hopefully provided some biblical answers.

Here’s an old story that I used to introduce the sermon. (This story was originally written for an article in Evangelicals Today magazine over ten years ago.)

While at my favorite beach in the Philippines, I overheard the following conversation.

“Come on, Daddy. Come down the slide with me.”

Splash!

“It’s fun . . . and see, the water’s not too cold . . .”

“Not now, son. I’m watching the sunset.” The overworked, stressed-out American executive mumbled to his energetic son while sipping some kind of crushed ice tropical concoction from a coconut shell.

Like any normal ten-year-old, this kid couldn’t even begin to understand how a human could choose to passively stare at a boring sunset rather than climb to the top of the slippery steps, stand in line behind a bunch of wet, shivering kids, then speed down a water slide, eventually splashing in a pool full of rowdy preteens. So he asked: “Why are you watching the sun, Dad?” The boy wanted a simple, practical explanation to this unsolved middle-age mystery.

The dad waxed eloquent: “Because it’s the meaning of life, son.”

“The what?”

“The meaning of life.” The philosopher-dad explained to his perplexed son, “When you are a ten-year-old, water slides and swimming pools are the meaning of life. But when you are forty, watching the sunset over Sombrero Island is the meaning of life. Understand?”

I don’t think junior understood at all. I’m not sure Dad understood either.

That seaside sunset conversation started my mind racing. Just what is the meaning of life? Immediately I thought about the movie City Slickers. In my favorite scene, Curly the leather-faced cowboy, pointed his index finger straight in the air and spoke of the “meaning of life.”

When the misplaced urban cowboy, Billy Crystal, wondered how one finger could be the meaning of life, Curly explained that one thing, not one finger, is the meaning of life.

“One thing. What one thing?” the city slicker inquired.

“That’s what you have to find,” Curly (Yoda on a horse) responded.

By the movie’s end, Billy’s character had found his one thing—his family.

What about you? What is your one thing? What does your life revolve around? What do you live for? What is the meaning of your life? Sunsets and vacations? Water slides and swimming pools? Family? Money? Fame? Popularity? Success? Survival?

David found his one thing. And, he did not find it in fame, fortune, family, success, survival, or sunsets. He certainly had all of these, especially fame, fortune, and family. Just what was David’s one thing? What was the meaning of his life? He left us a clue in Psalm 27:4:

One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.

David’s one thing was the presence of the Lord. He was obsessed with the glory and majesty of his God.

Paul was another guy who found his one thing. Here’s what he said about it:

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord . . . one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.  (Philippians 3:7,8,13)

Paul was a brilliant and highly educated man. He had power and status in the Jewish religious system. He says he counted it all as nothing compared to knowing Jesus. He didn’t toss it all in the trash for money or for ministry, but for Jesus. His great passion in life was to know God.

According to David and Paul, the real meaning of life begins and ends with the pursuit of God. And just how does one pursue and find God? As always, Jesus is the answer: I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

According to this Scripture, Jesus is more than the meaning of life; He is the life. Thus, any search for meaning apart from Jesus Christ is fruitless.

The Westminster Catechism summed it up as well as it could ever be summed up when it answered the question: “What is man’s chief end?” The answer: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”

There you have it, folks. The meaning of life in a nutshell. To glorify God and to enjoy Him forever! Once you discover the real meaning of life, then the sunsets are much more spectacular and the water slides with your kids are much more fun!

The Most Fortunate Man in the World, R.I.P.

ATLANTA. I recently attended the memorial service of an old friend, Brady Clark. He was my age. And he was way too young to die.

Almost three decades ago, Brady preached at Victory-Manila. After all these years I still remember the gist of his sermon: “It doesn’t matter if you’re in the ministry, as long as the ministry is in you.”

During the memorial service Brady’s sister, Trudy, reminded us of Brady’s famous voice mail message. Imagine the most genteel southern gentleman accent possible, then slow it down and exaggerate it:

You’ve reached the most fortunate man in the world. I’ve got great kids. I love my job. I have the best friends a man could ask for. If there is anything I can do to help you, just leave a message and I’ll call you back as soon as I can.

Brady’s sermon from thirty years ago and his voice mail message from last month sum up a good man’s life and legacy: faith, family, friends, and helping people.

Rest in peace, Brady Clark. You will me missed by many.

Top 10 Highlights of 2013

I guess the last day of the year is as good as any other day to start blogging again. Another year has ended, and another is about to start. Now is the time to look back and thank God for a great year. In my  opinion 2013 was one of the best years ever! Of course, I say that every year. And I mean it every year. Here are my top 10 highlights.

10. Discipleship 2013. What could be a better way to start a  year than talking about “Funnel Vision Discipleship” to 8000 Filipino small group leaders at our annual Discipleship convergence? (above)

9. Ignite2013: Every Nation Campus Ministries Asia Conference.  Nothing quite as loud or as exciting as a few days in a basketball arena with 7000+ students. Change the campus, change the world, and don’t forget to bring your earplugs. Seriously, Deborah and I always bring earplugs to Every Nation Campus Ministry conferences.

8. Asian Pastors Equipping Conference. Hosted by Every Nation Indonesia this year. APEC is always one of our favorite conferences of the year. We get to do life and ministry with amazing leaders who have become life-long friends.

7. Finished 100 Years From Now book. The best part of writing a book is when the final edited manuscript is in your hands. The final edit does not mean all the mistakes are corrected, it just means you don’t have any more time or energy for the project. (above)

6. No More Tuition Payments! In May Jonathan graduated from Belmont University. In June we received our first fund-raising letter from Belmont. Did they really think I would send them a donation after all the money I paid them the past four years?

5. Father, Son (& Friends) Motorcycle trips. Every mile on two wheels is an adventure, but my best ride of 2013 was  Manila to Banaue to Sagada to Baguio to Manila. Get your motor runnin, Head out on the highway, Lookin’ for adventure, And whatever comes our way…

4. EN2013: Every Nation World Conference.  If you have never experienced an Every Nation World Conference, think big family reunion meets mission conference. Special guests included Wayne Alcorn and Mickey Mouse (below).

3. Traveling the world with my best friend. Six trans-Pacific Nashville to Manila trips, plus Taipei,  Singapore, Denpasar, Jakarta, Orlando, Jacksonville, Calgary, Toronto,… I average over 150,000 miles a year on Delta Airlines. I am glad I get to do most of those miles with Deborah. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to do this job alone.

2. MoJo wedding. Do you believe in love at second sight? They didn’t exactly like each other when Moriah’s parents were missionaries in the Philippines and they carpooled together to Faith Academy. Then her family moved back to Detroit. We stayed in Manila. They met again in Nashville ten years later when 18-year-old Moriah was checking out Belmont University. It was love at second sight. Three semesters later, in February Jonathan proposed. Moriah said yes. In June I had the honor of officiating their wedding. Welcome to the family, Moriah!

1. Best Christmas gift ever! Josephine Kate Murrell, our first grandchild. Life does not get any better than this.

(Note: Jo is the daughter of William and Rachel who have been married for 18 months, not Jonathan and Moriah who have been married six months.)

© 2012 Steve Murrell

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