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.)

The Danger of Outsourcing Discipleship to Youth Pastors

QUESTION. Are pastors equipping parents to disciple their children, or are they hiring youth pastors and kid’s ministers to do what parents should do? In other words, are we outsourcing discipleship to paid professionals, while inadvertently relegating parents to the bleachers as passive spectators?

DISCLAIMER. This blog was written with church attending families in mind. I realize that there are millions of youth and kids who do not attend church. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in youth pastors and kid’s ministers. I am the product of the youth ministry of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Mississippi. My family did not attend First Pres, but their youth pastor, Ron Musselman, appointed himself the chaplain of my high school football team, and rrelentlessly shared the Gospel with me for six months until I finally understood and responded in faith. I was sixteen years-old then, and I am forever grateful to Ron and First Pres. It is my hope that churches will see youth ministry the way Ron did, as an outreach to unchurched teens, not as a babysitting service for church insiders.

BIBLE. When it comes to discipling the next generation, the Bible is clear that the responsibility is primarily parental not pastoral, and it takes place primarily at home seven days a week, not at a church building Sunday morning. The following verses address parents, not pastors.

Teach them (God’s word) to your children and to their children after them. Deuteronomy 4:9

Teach them (God’s word) to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Deuteronomy 11:19

CONCLUSION. I fear that many churches, especially program-driven mega-churches, are snatching spiritual formation out of the home and moving it to once-a-week Sunday school or youth event in the church building, when we should be equipping parents to disciple their kids.

CLICK HERE for vintage blog about parental discipleship.

Mother’s Day Message [Podcast]

Top 10 Personal Finance Tips (Before You Die)

FRANKLIN, TENNESSEE, USA. After a long flight from Manila, Deborah and I landed in Nashville Friday afternoon. Despite jet lag, Saturday morning I got up and drove to Bethel Franklin for our 3rd Saturday of the month Men’s Discipleship (& breakfast). James Starr, former Dave Ramsey VP, was talking about money. And he was on the money!

Rather than blog my thoughts about James’ talk, I am editing and posting his notes about the “Love Drawer” concept.

In the words of James Starr, here’s what we all should do to prepare for death from a financial perspective…

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The Love Drawer is basically a drawer that houses all of the important information your family needs in case something happens to you. Preparing for death is not a fun task, but it’s crucial to do this for your family.

Every household needs a Love Drawer. It doesn’t matter if you’re single with no kids or 76 and have 12 grandkids—you need a Love Drawer. It’s the last gift you will give your family, so make it a good one. If you truly care about your loved ones, you will take the time to create a Love Drawer.

The drawer should be somewhere in your home and contain everything your spouse or family needs to know when you aren’t around—anything that has to do with your financial life should be in that drawer. You must organize it in a way that anyone can find a specific document in 30 seconds. All files should be clearly marked, in order, and easy for a grieving family member to find. There’s no need to go into extreme detail when creating your Love Drawer. Simply include the appropriate documents in an easy-to-understand format, and you’re good to go!

Your Love Drawer should contain 10 things. Although it may seem daunting to gather all of this material, you will be happy you did once the Love Drawer is created.

1. Cover Letter – This is simply a letter stating the purpose of the Love Drawer. Nothing fancy, just a way to introduce your loved ones to the contents of the drawer.

2. Financial Account – Anything that has money in it and your name on it should be listed in the Love Drawer. This includes account names, amount and account numbers.

3. Funeral Instructions – All details and specifications for funeral plans should be listed so the family can fulfill your wishes. If you are married, you need one for you and one for your spouse.

4. Insurance Policies – All insurance information, including health, car, disability, term life, etc., should be combined into one single document for easy reference. List the type of insurance, who the policy is for, contact information and policy numbers.

5. Important Documents – Any legal or other important documents you have should be noted in the file. This includes deeds, birth certificates, Social Security cards and titles.

6. Love Letters – Since the intention behind the Love Drawer is to keep your legacy going after you’ve passed away, it’s a great idea to include letters to your loved ones.

7. Monthly Budget – Add a copy of your written budget, so your spouse or loved ones know how to operate your household once you’re gone. This will help your family keep track of bills and focus on more important things.

8. Passwords – Write down all passwords, combinations, usernames and PIN numbers. This information allows your loved ones access to any documents, money or information that is left when you are gone.

9. Tax Returns – Keeping tax returns in your Love Drawer is like an insurance policy for yourself in the event that you get audited. Hopefully you never have to pull them out, but if you do, at least you are prepared.

10. Will and Estate Plans – All information pertaining to your will and estate, including names of the executor and Power of Attorney should be located in one file.

If you put your mind to it, you can create your Love Drawer in 30 days! It’s tedious to gather all of the documents and paperwork that goes into the drawer, but it’s a necessary task in order to protect you and your family.

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Thanks, James, for the wisdom. Deborah and I are working on all of the above. How about you?

© 2012 Steve Murrell

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