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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?

Good People, Bad Things, Why?

MANILA. Why do bad things happen to good people? Most preachers have heard and attempted to answer that unanswerable question.

Every weekend for the past three weeks in over 100 worship services in fifteen Metro Manila locations, Victory preachers attempted to answer the “Why Me?” question by studying and teaching the Book of Job. While I am not sure we really answered the “why” question, we did answer the “how” question. (More on that in point 5 below.)

Last Sunday, in the third installment of our “Why Me?” series, Joseph Bonifacio gave as good a non-answer to that question as I have ever heard. (Here’s a link to that sermon.)

I didn’t preach any of the “Why Me?” sermons in our Job series, but I did read the book. Here are seven thoughts from a recent reading of the Book of Job. Maybe my notes will help you get through your “Why Me?” seasons.

1. Bad things happen to seemingly good and innocent people. Four times
Job is described by God as “blameless and upright” yet he experienced
horrible suffering. Being good and godly does not exempt us from suffering.

2. The devil is real and he comes to “steal, kill and destroy.”
Job 1 makes it clear that all Job’s pain and loss was an act of
the devil, not an act of God.

3. People experiencing bad times need good friends. When you have
friends who are suffering, try doing what Job’s friends did in Job
2:13 “Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven
nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his
suffering was.” Sometimes the best response to a friend in pain is to just be there, and to be silent.

4. Good friends often give bad counsel. Unfortunately, after that week
of silence, Job’s friends opened their mouths and stuck both feet in,
nasty sandals and all. Most of the Book of Job is chapter after chapter of the worst advice ever given.

5. Some things can’t be explained and some “why” questions can’t be
answered. The book of Job never answers the “why” question. But it
does paint a good picture of “how” – how to find God in our pain and
how to respond to calamity in a way that honors God.

6. We can find God in our pain and loss, if we do what Job did when he
realized the extent of his loss – “then he fell to the ground in
worship…” (Job 1:20) Do we only worship God in the good times?

7. In the end, the blessing of God caught up with and overtook Job.
Most people don’t press through and read the whole book of Job. But if
you endure til the end, you will find that “the Lord blessed the
latter part of Job’s life more than the former.” (Job 42:12) And if we
endure past our pain, we will find God in the end.

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.

 

 

 

 

© 2012 Steve Murrell

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