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.

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?

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.”

Why I Never Think about My Legacy

JOBURG. At the Joburg airport about to board a long flight back to Nashville, after two productive weeks of ministry. I get to work with some amazing African leaders who are doing much to honor God and make disciples on this continent. More about that on a future blog.

Before my South Africa trip, I listened to an Andy Stanley leadership podcast and scribbled some notes in my journal. Like all of Andy’s leadership podcasts, this one was helpful, until he said, “great leaders are always thinking about their legacy.” I have a confession: I never think about my legacy, and I mean NEVER.

Seriously, the idea of legacy only enters my mind when someone like Andy mentions it, then it is “in one ear and out the other.”

Maybe American politics have ruined the word for me. Toward the end of a president’s second and final term in office, he starts doing things to beef up his legacy. Up until then, everything was seemingly done to get himself reelected or to get his party’s candidates elected.

While not thinking about my legacy, here’s what I do think about all the time, even on my day off:

1. Honoring God. For me, this is the starting point, the finish line, and the ultimate motive for life, work, and ministry. Whatever legacy a life lived to honor God produces is ok with me.

2. Making disciples. This is not my responsibility because I’m a pastor, rather it is my privilege because I’m a follower of Jesus. Making disciples “of all nations” is never far from my mind.

3. Doing mission. This about calling. I don’t know what you are called to do. After years of doing everything that needed to be done in the name of ministry, I finally understood and embraced my call to equip, empower, and encourage current and future pastors and campus missionaries to make disciples and establish strong growing churches and campus ministries in every nation. Knowing my mission in life enables me to say no to everything that pulls me away from what God called me to do.

4. Serving the Church. During a time when leadership was hierarchical and dictatorial, Jesus flipped the script and redefined leadership as serving. If you do servant-leadership right, you’ll never have to worry about your personal leadership legacy.

4. Empowering leaders. This phrase is a bit redundant. Is it really leadership if it is not empowering? Hopefully the leaders I empower will take care of the legacy I never think about.

5. Riding my GS. Unfortunately I think about riding much more than I actually ride. The picture on right of one of my recent father/son rides is worth a thousand words. Not sure #5 has any connection to legacy, but periodic two-wheeled therapy clears my mind and keeps me sane.

 

 

 

 

My Top 10 Most Influential Books

NASHVILLE. It seems that everyone on the interweb is now required to either dump ice water buckets on their head, criticize Victoria Osteen, post narcissistic selfies, or make a top ten book list. Since I have no interest in the first three, I am choosing door number four.

I’m not sure about the rules of the top ten book list, so I am making up my own parameters. These are not my favorite ten books. They are not the best ten books. My list is simply the top ten books that I think had the greatest influence on my life. Here they are, in no particular order.

1. No Wonder They Call Him Savior by Max Lucado. I have lost count of how many times I have read this one. It taught me that complicated difficult-to-understand theological concepts can be communicated with a clarity and simplicity that even a child can comprehend.

2. C.T. Studd by Norman Grubb. First missionary bio I read as a new believer. The CT Studd story planted seeds of sacrifice and service deep in my soul as a teenager. Not sure I would have stayed in Manila had I not read this foundational book about absolute surrender to the Lordship of Christ and cross-cultural mission.

3. Knowing God by J.I. Packer. Helped me know God, and made me want to know Him better. Another book I read over and over and over. Today it is held together by duct tape.

4. The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer. Ignited a lifelong desire to pursue and please God wholeheartedly. Reignites that desire every time I read a page.

5. The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul. Opened my eyes the first time I read it. Opened my heart the second time. Pierced my heart the third time. Healed my heart the fourth. Every time I read this book, I go deeper with God.

6. A History of Christianity: Volume I: Beginnings to 1500 by Kenneth Scott Latourette.  Everything Latourette wrote about history is worth reading, but his early church history is the best. His experience as a missionary to China and later as a professor of Ecclesiastical History at Yale gave him a unique perspective of the expansion of the church. The combination of missional passion and scholastic detail make these 700 pages feel read like an adventure novel.

7. Focus by Al Ries. I read a lot of leadership and business books. None have impacted the way I work or shaped the way I think more than this one. I think I need to read it again soon.

8. The Making of a Leader by Frank Damazio. More than any book that is not part of the Bible, this book has influenced how I think about leadership, how I lead, and how I equip and empower leaders.

9. Shepherding Your Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp. Whatever my sons have become as men, Deborah and I own a debt of gratitude to this book. Best parenting book, period.

10. The Old Man and the Boy by Robert Ruark. My dad’s all-time favorite book. I finally read it when I had my first son, and understood  Dad’s parenting philosophy like never before. “This book captures the endearing relationship between a man and his grandson as they fish and hunt the lakes and woods of North Carolina. All the while the Old Man acts as teacher and guide, passing on his wisdom and life experiences to the boy, who listens in rapt fascination.” (Amazon description.)

 

A Framework for Restoring the Fallen and Fixing Bad Theology

MIDLAND, TEXAS. You know the story. Peter denied Jesus three times and returned to his former life of fishing for fish. Then Jesus showed up. His one agenda: restoration. Like the rest of humanity, Peter was not exactly seeking Jesus, but that didn’t stop Jesus from seeking and finding him. Funny how Jesus shows up when we least expect or desire Him. “Even when we are faithless, he remains faithful.” (2 Timothy 2:13)

After giving some pretty bizarre fishing tips that proved to be successful, Jesus then enjoyed breakfast with Peter and his fisherman friends. The restoration process has started, whether Peter and his friends realized it or not. Over the years I have found that restoration mixes well with food. After starting with food, the next step in the restoration process is to ask a good question, and repeat it until the heart is pierced.

“Peter, do you love me?” (John 21:15,16,17)

Good questions are often pointed and painful. They are also often avoided, deflected, and left unanswered. That’s why they need to be repeated three times or more.

This story teaches us that when we have taken underperformance to a whole new level, when we have failed gloriously, and when we have totally disappointed God and others, Jesus’ first question to us is not about our performance, our disobedience, or our failure. His first question is about our relationship with Him.

“Do you love me?”

Notice that Jesus did not ask a theological question. He did not ask an organizational question. And He did not ask a missional question. He asked a relational question. This is not to suggest that theological conviction, organizational unity, and missional direction are unimportant. It is just that they are not primary when it comes to restoration.

 ”Do you love me?”

If we get the relationship restored, then we can have serious and productive discussions about theological nuances, organizational structures, and missional strategies.

It is common to frame church splits and ministry conflicts as theological, organizational, or missional disagreements. Reality has taught me that the root issue is usually relational. Because we do not want to face the pain of relational honesty, we cop-out and hide behind theological smokescreens. Rather than working through relational offense, we split and blame it on the mission and vision.

At times I have been criticized for being too relational and not organizational enough. After trying my best to correct this, I was then criticized for being too organizational at the expense of being relational. If that is not confusing enough, I have also been criticized for being too theological and not missional enough. And for being too missional and not theological enough.

I concluded a long time ago that since I cannot please everyone, then I would only live to please One. I have also come to the conclusion that pleasing Him requires me to prioritize relationships. And if we get the relational part right, we will be able to fix whatever theological, organizational, and missional problems that arise.

 

© 2012 Steve Murrell

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