Asia Leaders Summit: Asians Reaching Asia

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA. I was surprised and honored to be invited to speak at the 2015 Asia Pastors Summit. Unfortunately, I was given the dreaded post-lunch 1:30 PM slot. For afternoon speakers, the standard for success is pretty low. I figure that if at least half of the conference people actually attend to the post-lunch afternoon session, it is a success, whether they pay attention or fall asleep. My talk ended four hours ago, and I am calling it a success.

The Asia Leaders Summit is an invitation-only conference for Asian mega-church pastors. The motto is “Asians Reaching Asia.” Apparently no one on the organizing committee googled my photo to discover that I’m an American reaching Asia. So, I am the only white dude in the room. And I feel at home.

The other people in the room are the pastors of some of the largest churches in the world. And, oddly enough, some of these pastors are the most humble leaders I have ever met. Could it be that  humility and church growth are somehow connected?

I have been particularly impressed with the humility of the organizer of the summit, Dr Younghoon Lee, who is also the senior pastor of the largest church in the world, Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul. He and his team humbly and graciously serve in a way that honors God.

I end this blog with a few random quotes from today’s seven sessions.

“We need missions with humility, not missions with imperialism.”

“We need to replace racism with grace-ism.”

“We should be grace-ists not racists.”

“So many are called to the UK, USA, and Australia. Why does no one feel called to Pakistan and Afghanistan?”

“We have too many churches that are led by CEOs. We need more senior pastors who know how to defeat and behead Goliath.”

“A well-managed church is not the same as a well-led church.”

 

 

 

Greed

MANILA. What is repentance and does it still matter? Luke 3 records John the Baptist’s message to religious people who wanted to be baptized. As usual, John boldly and unapologetically demanded repentance.

You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance… Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

As was often the case when John (and Jesus and Paul) preached, the crowds not only got answers, they also walked away with questions. Here’s the big question prompted by John’s blunt call to repentance.

What shall we do?   (Luke 3:10)

That’s always a good question to ask when one wants to repent.

As you read my summary paraphrase below, see if  you can spot the common theme in John’s answer to their question about repentance.

Verse 11 Whoever has extra clothes and food, give to those who have none.

Verse 13 Collect no more taxes (money) than authorized.

Verse 14 Do not extort money and be content with your salary.

No matter the audience (tax collectors, soldiers, random people), the answer to their what shall we do question was basically the same: reject greed and embrace generosity.

At some point, real repentance will confront our greed and demand generosity. This might not always be the first step in repentance, but it will be a step or two or two thousand on the lifelong journey of walking with God.

I love the way this passage ends: So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people. (Luke 3:18)

This passage describes repentance as rejecting greed and embracing a lifestyle of generosity. When John preached about repentance and generosity Luke said he preached good news to the people!

The message of repentance and the call to generosity is good news!

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

© 2012 Steve Murrell

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