Crashing Planes & Crushing Myths

NOTE: I wrote this article 10 years ago for the PCEC (Philippine Council of Evangelicals Churches) magazine.

September 11, 2001. As always, I phoned my dad to wish him a happy birthday. I was getting ready for bed in Manila. He was getting ready for work in Mississippi. After a brief discussion about the US stock market, I handed the phone to my sons so they could speak to their grandfather. As soon as we hung up, I heard my wife calling, “Quick, you gotta see this. A plane just crashed into some building in New York!”

Like thousands of others around the globe, I was glued to CNN for the next few hours, watching in disbelief as three more planes crashed, killing thousands, wounding a nation, and terrorizing the world. Over the next few days the news moved me to tears, to anger, and to prayer. I was amazed that the same news producers who usually mock and vilify preachers, were now putting them on primetime asking their perspective on the attack. The line-up included Billy Graham, Franklin Graham, TD Jakes, Dr. James Dobson, and others. Courtesy of CNN, these men probably preached the gospel to more people that week than at any other time in their lives.

Of course, the newscasters interviewed plenty of “experts” who had nothing to say, but kept talking anyway. I did not know whether to laugh or cry when they interviewed novelist, Tom Clancy. I suppose he qualified as an expert on terrorism because he once wrote a novel about a hijacked plane that crashed into a building. It’s a sad commentary on contemporary culture when all it takes to be an expert is the ability to make up a good story.

Here’s what Mr. Clancy had to say about the situation: “We need to be careful not to overreact to this. We must realize that WE ALL SERVE THE SAME GOD OF LOVE.”

Do we really all serve the same God? Do all religions worship a God of love? Clancy’s comments about the tragedy are typical of many post-modern pseudo-intellectuals. Unfortunately even Christians get sucked into this irrational unbiblical way of thinking. It is my hope that the events of September 11 will forever expose and crush two powerful myths that defy logic and corrode the foundations of the Faith.

1. THE MYTH OF RELIGIOUS SINCERITY. Anyone who was ever attempted to be a witness for Christ has heard some variation of this statement: “As long as you are sincere, it doesn’t matter what you believe or which religion you follow.” It seems that sincerity has replaced truth as the ultimate religious issue of our day. Unfortunately, many today are sincerely wrong. Suppose we are both on a sinking ship and neither of us can swim. We are told to get into the inflatable lifeboats and we will be safe. We both sincerely believe what we are told and act accordingly. You get in one boat and I get in the other. One problem: my boat has a hole in it and sinks. It does not matter how sincerely I believe the boat will save me, if it has a hole then my sincerity is useless. Unfortunately many people sincerely believe in religions and philosophies that are filled with holes, destined to sink. Don’t ever forget that the pilots who crashed into the World Trade Center towers, killing thousands of innocent people, were very sincere in their service to their god. This is the result of elevating human sincerity above divine truth. Let September 11 be a reminder that truth, not sincerity is the ultimate issue.

2. THE MYTH OF RELIGIOUS EQUALITY. Another common myth tells us that “All religions lead to the same God.” If one person studies and practices the teachings of the Bible, another the Koran, another the Veda, another the Book of Mormon, will their values, beliefs, and lifestyles be the same? Of course not, because all religions are not basically the same, they are fundamentally different. For example, Jesus taught his followers to love and serve pagans in hope that they will voluntarily turn to the true God. Even if this has not been obeyed in history, this is what Jesus taught. And it is a far cry form declaring holy war on infidels and unbelievers. So, do all religions ultimately lead to the same God? Do all roads really end up at the same place? Does it matter which road you take if you are driving home? Of course it matters because all roads do not lead to the same house. If you take the wrong road, you will not reach your destination, no matter how sincere you may be. When Thomas said to Jesus: “Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” (John 14:5) Jesus did not answer: “Thomas, my son, it does not matter which way you go because all paths ultimately lead to God.” No! Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Jesus was very narrow. He said there was only one way, not several options.

May the same acts of violence that took the lives of thousands of innocent people also destroy the myths that blind the minds of millions around the world.

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.

——–

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.

 

——–

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

 

 

Thirty Years, Thirty Memories

MANILA. While on a recent Nashville to Manila flight, I couldn’t stop thinking about Victory‘s 30th anniversary. As memory after memory flooded my mind, my face reacted accordingly. A smile. A chuckle. A tear. So many memories. Some painful, but mostly good.

Here are thirty random memories from the first thirty years of Victory in the Philippines. Each memory could be a blog or a book by itself.

Smile. Laugh. Cry. Enjoy.

1. UNIVERSITY BELT. Where it all started. The harvest was plentiful, but the workers were few, so we stayed awhile.

2. ADMIRAL HOTEL. Our first “home” in Manila and Victory’s first baptismal tank (aka hotel swimming pool).

3. ROCK SEMINAR. “I won’t take no prisoners won’t spare no lives, nobody’s putting up a fight, I got my bell I’m gonna take you to hell, I’m gonna get ya Satan get ya… Hell’s bells…” Some of us decided to “put up a fight” for the souls of Filipino students.

4. TANDEM BASEMENT. The ugliest, stinkiest, and hottest church facility ever, but that did not stop hundreds of students from hearing the Gospel at our underground “Concrete Cathedral.”

5. MENDIOLA BRIDGE. Proof that Filipino students have been #RadicalSince1984. There is nothing quit like hearing gunfire and breathing teargas while preaching in the middle of a student riot. Good times. (Hey, that was before I had kids.)

6. BUKO JUICE. Along with mangoes and chicken adobo, this is the real reason we stayed.

7. PEOPLE POWER. Changed a nation and inspired the world.

8. MAKATI MED. Three of my best memories happened at a hospital in April 1986, July 1988, and February 1990.

9. FAMILY FIRST.Noah built an ark to save his family,” and in saving his family, he saved the world. This is how we roll at Victory.

10. RIZAL MEMORIAL. Deborah and I spent countless hours melting in the summer sun, watching our sons compete against the best tennis players from all over the Philippines. Great memories, but we are glad we no longer have to endure the traffic and the heat.

11. ANSON ARCADE. This was our first attempt at being a multi-site church way back in 1986. We didn’t have a clue what we were doing and we have no idea why all those people kept showing up. The building no longer exists, but the memories and friendships will last forever. So many lives were transformed by the Gospel, and we met many of our closest friends at Anson Arcade.

12. ASIAN INVASION. Filipino cross-cultural missionaries are literally all over the world today because of these conferences.

13. VICTORY FIRE. When blogs and church websites were made of paper.

14. SAMBANG GABI. Victory’s twist on a Filipino Christmas tradition. I hate waking up before the sun, but for the sake of puto bumbong and bibingka, I did it anyway, but only once a year.

15. STAR COMPLEX. Standing room only crowds of Christian transfers and church hoppers forced us to get serious about reaching the lost through small group discipleship.

16. VALLE VERDE. Where our sons grew up and where we had the best neighbors on the planet, including a “crackedhead.”

17. TALENTS INC. Amazing things happen when artist realize their talents come from God and exist for His honor.

18. THE ROCK. This is where we got really serious about equipping leaders for church planting and world mission.

19. EDSA TRAFFIC. Purgatory on wheels.

20. BROWN OUTS. Bad memories. No comment.

21. CAMPUS MINISTRY. Preparing students for life, and preparing students to lead.

22. PURPLE BOOK. Almost one million in print in twenty-five languages. Who would have guessed?

23. FORT BONIFACIO. Home sweet home. When we moved to Ft B, there were five buildings. Twelve years later, well, let’s just say progress happened.

24. REAL LIFE. Honoring God by serving the poor and empowering their dreams through educational assistance, character development, and community service.

25. LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT. Identification. Instruction. Impartation. Internship.

26. NATURAL DISASTERS. I am proud of the way Victory people respond every time a typhoon or flood pounds a city.

27. RADICAL LOVE. God’s radical love demonstrated on the cross demands a radical response. (Radical Love album release soon!)

28. HONOR GOD. The ultimate motive for all we do.

29. MAKE DISCIPLES. This is what Victory is all about. Engaging culture and community. Establishing biblical foundations. Equipping believers to minister. Empowering disciples to make disciples.

30. EVERY NATION. This is where we are called to honor God and make disciples.

If some of these phrases mean nothing to you, simply ask a Victory old-timer and you’ll hear great stories.

What Matters Most in the Next 12 Months?

I recently met with Every Nation regional directors from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and North America. We gathered in Dubai to clarify our top global priority for the next twelve to twenty-four months. We used Patrick Lencioni’s book, The Advantage,as the framework for our discussions.

The Advantage teaches that organizational health is dependant on leaders practicing four disciplines:

  • Building a cohesive team
  • Creating clarity
  • Over communicating clarity
  • Reinforcing clarity

In order to make point #2 happen, Lencioni crafted six questions designed to help organizations create clarity. Of course, if we do not have a cohesive team, we will never be able to create, over communicate, or reinforce clarity. All four disciplines build upon one another.

Warning: after you read our answers to Lencioni’s six questions, you will wonder how it took us three days to come up with something so simple. The truth is, simplicity requires disciplined thought and rigorous debate.

Here are Lecioni’s Six Questions, and Every Nation’s best answers.

1. WHY DO WE EXIST? We exist to honor God by establishing Christ-centered, Spirit-empowered, socially responsible churches and campus ministries in every nation. 

If the question had been: what is your mission statement, the answer would have been easy. But answering why we exist sparked quite a debate. The fact that our regional directors settled on our mission statement as the answer told us that our mission statement is more than words on a website, that it is actually a useful guidepost for our movement.

2. HOW DO WE BEHAVE? We behave spiritually, relationally, and globally. 

Again, that seems like an obvious answer, but it took time to get to the obvious. There might be a blog coming in the near future about this answer.

 3. WHAT DO WE DO? We do church planting, campus ministry, and world missions.

Of course we do other stuff, but these three are core. If we stop doing any one of our Big Three, we will cease to be who God has called us to be. Other programs, ministries, departments, brands might come and go, but these here are permanent.

4. HOW WILL WE SUCCEED? We will succeed by making disciples, developing leaders, and doing life together.

Each phrase in this answer is loaded with meaning. The starting point is making disciples. We make disciples by engaging our culture and community with the Gospel, by establishing biblical foundations, by equipping believers to do ministry, and by empowering disciples to make disciples. We take those disciples and develop them to be leaders in all walks of life. We develop leaders by identifying gifts and strengths, by instruction, by impartation, and by internship. And finally, for Every Nation to succeed, we must do discipleship, leadership, and life together. If we stay together, we succeed. If we scatter, we fail.

5. WHAT IS MOST IMPORTANT NOW? Our most important priority in the next twelve months is to strengthen and expand campus ministry globally. 

This will require us to do the following:

  • -Create a cohesive global campus ministry leadership team
  • -Assess the status of campus ministry by region
  • -Create a global campus ministry brand
  • -Create buy-in from pastors and campus missionaries
  • -Synchronize our campus conference themes globally
  • -Identify best practices

 

6. WHO MUST DO WHAT? The answer to this one is still being processed among our global staff.

Of course, every pastor, campus missionary, church planter, and small group leader in our movement has a role in building a cohesive leadership teams, in creating clarity, over communicating clarity, and reinforcing clarity.

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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