SteveMurrell.com | Reluctant Leader

Posts by Steve Murrell

Blog / Family

Thoughts on Thirty-four Years

August 22, 2016

unnamedNASHVILLE, TENNESSEE, USA. Yesterday, Deborah and I celebrated our 34th wedding anniversary.

A lot has happened since we were married on August 21st, 1982.

In 1982, Ferdinand Marcos was the longtime leader of the Philippines, Ronald Reagan was the new president of the United States, and Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” (featured in Rocky III) was the number one song on the radio.    
In 1982, I lived in Starkville, Mississippi, pastoring a small church near the campus of Mississippi State University, and I had no intention of leaving.

Fast forward thirty-four years, one accidental mission trip, three children, and two grandchildren later — nearly everything about my life has changed.

I am no longer in my 20’s; I’m in my 50’s. I no longer call Mississippi home; Manila and Nashville are now home. I no longer pastor a small campus church; I work with a global church-planting movement that didn’t exist in 1982.

Two things have not changed in the past thirty-four years: who I serve (God) and who I serve with (Deborah).

Deborah was there in 1984 when God called us on a one-month summer mission trip to the Philippines that never ended. She was there (obviously) when our three sons were born. She was there in 1994 when Every Nation was birthed in our living room in Manila. She was there in the early days when we didn’t have enough money for cab and jeepney fares. (We did a lot of walking in those days.) She was there when we finally bought our first home — in a high rise apartment building. She was there when my mom and dad died. She was there when our two grandchildren were born.

I thank God every day for my wife. She’s an amazing mother, grandmother, and mother-in-law. She’s been the perfect pastor’s wife, disciple-maker, and spiritual leader. I would not be half the man I am today without her, and I would not have accomplish half as much without her.

Those who know Deborah know she’s deeply spiritual — and normal. Some people are so “spiritual” they’re weird. Not her. She’s naturally spiritual.

Besides asking Jesus to forgive me, my second best ask ever was asking Deborah to marry me. I’m forever grateful to her and to God that she said yes.


PS: If you’re single and want to get married one day, I suggest you find someone smarter and and more spiritual than you. That formula has worked out wonderfully for me 

Blog / Discipleship / Missions

Multi-ethnic Ministry and Ministry Flexibility

August 16, 2016

hands Brown Smaller ResMANILA, PHILIPPINES. Last week, following a sermon I had recently preached on Luke 24:46-49, I asked the question: What does Spirit-empowered, multi-ethnic ministry look like in practice?

Looking at Peter’s first attempt at cross-cultural, multi-ethnic ministry (in Acts 10), we discovered that in order for Peter and the early apostles to reach every nation, they had to be willing to set aside their Jewish cultural (and culinary) preferences and eat every food. Peter’s willingness to accept Cornelius’ hospitality (and eat his non-Kosher food) was a crucial first step, but it was just the first step.

Peter didn’t stop there. He went on to preach the Gospel to Cornelius and his household. And that’s when things got really interesting…

Remember, Peter was preaching the Gospel to non-Jews for the first time. He had never seen a Gentile become a follower of Jesus, and he assumed that anyone who responded to the Gospel would probably need to convert to Judaism (and be circumcised) before they could follow the Jewish Messiah. In Peter’s mind, the discipleship process looked like this: repentance, circumcision, baptism in water, and eventually, baptism in the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit, it turns out, had other plans.

All those who heard Peter’s message were baptized in the Holy Spirit and immediately began speaking in tongues—before he even finished his sermon (see Acts 10:44-48)! The Jewish disciples who had traveled with Peter were shocked at what they saw. Not only had these brand new Gentile believers skipped the “crucial” step of circumcision, they had not even been baptized in water before they were baptized in the Holy Spirit.

Peter was also shocked. But he decided to abandon his own ministry expectations and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, saying, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (Acts 10:47)

In short, if Spirit-empowered, multi-ethnic ministry requires us to be adventurous in our eating, it also requires us to be flexible in our ministry expectations.

Imagine if Peter had been unwilling to adjust his ministry expectations and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. Imagine if he had silenced the new believers from speaking in tongues. Imagine if he had made everyone (well, all the males) be circumcised first, then baptized in water a few weeks later, and then baptized in the Holy Spirit only after they completed the process.

How would this story of cross-cultural, multi-ethnic ministry have played out differently if Peter had rigidly held to his own ministry expectations?

Perhaps it’s easy for us (Gentile) believers in the 21st century to see that Peter made the right decision when ministering to Cornelius and his family. But at the time, what Peter was doing was highly controversial and shocking to many Jewish believers.

Spirit-led, multi-ethnic ministry often requires that we be flexible with our ministry expectations in order to reach people who are very different from us.

Here are a few modern examples of this from around the Every Nation world:

Example 1: Friday worship services in the Middle East

  • Though most Christians throughout church history have gathered to worship on Sundays, most of our churches in the Middle East hold their weekly worship services on Friday. Why? Because Friday is the day of the week when most people in majority Muslim countries have off work. If our missionaries were rigid about worshipping on Sunday, then few people would be able to come since most people work and/or attend school on Sunday.

Example 2: Discipleship groups in the pub in Western Europe

  • Though many American evangelicals and Pentecostals choose to abstain from drinking alcohol (this includes me), our missionaries to Western Europe have found that one of the best settings to make disciples is in the pub. Why? Because pubs have a different function in European society than they do in American society. In the eyes of Western Europeans, pubs are less a space of drunkenness and partying than they are a space of conversation and community—kind of like a coffee shop. That’s why many of our Every Nation missionaries find pubs to be a perfect place for small group discipleship.

Example 3: One2One discipleship in Japan

  • Though the One2One discipleship material has been an effective tool for teaching new believers (and even pre-believers) the basics of the faith, our missionaries in Japan found that the material—originally intended for a Catholic Filipino audience—assumed too much background knowledge about the Bible and the life of Jesus. Our leaders decided that to make the tool more effective in their context, they needed to rewrite the One2One book with a Shinto/Buddhist/secularist Japanese audience in mind. Among other things, this involved adding a “Chapter 0” to lay the groundwork for Chapter 1 on Salvation.

These are just a few of many examples of how our cross-cultural missionaries have needed to be flexible with their ministry expectations in order to do effective Spirit-led, multi-ethnic ministry in every nation.

Remember, the truth of the Gospel does not change, but how we communicate and embody that message should change depending on our ministry context.

So let’s learn from Peter and remember to be flexible and, most importantly, to be led by the Holy Spirit as we go and make disciples of all nations.

 

Blog / Missions

Every Nation, Every Food

August 10, 2016

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NASHVILLE, TENNESSE. Last Sunday, I preached a sermon at Bethel World Outreach Church (in Brentwood, TN) that looked at Jesus’ answer to our current ethnic and cultural divides.

It’s the same answer whether you’re in 21st-century America or 1st-century Palestine.

Here’s the SparkNotes summary of the sermon (based on Luke 24:46-49):

  • The Gospel is a message that we can’t keep for ourselves and for our own ethnic group; it’s a message that must be preached to “all nations”—the Greek word for “nations” being ethnos (Luke 24:46).
  • This task of cross-cultural, multi-ethnic ministry is not for someone else. As Jesus said to his original disciples (and, in effect, to us), “You are witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:48).
  • The only way we will succeed in this difficult task is if we are “clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49)—a promise that was fulfilled a few weeks later at Pentecost.

So here’s the question:

What does Spirit-empowered, multi-ethnic ministry look like in practice?

In Luke 24, Jesus gives his disciples the mission to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, but it’s only in Acts when we see how they do it.

So how did twelve Jewish disciples of a Jewish rabbi take the message to non-Jews? What practical problems did they have to overcome in order to engage in cross-cultural, multi-ethnic ministry?

Believe it or not, one of the disciples’ biggest obstacles to reaching every nation (ethnos) was their initial unwillingness to eat every food.

Jewish law had strict dietary codes (no pork, no shrimp, etc.), and as a result, most Jews (including Jesus’ disciples) had never eaten in the home of a non-Jew. Though the disciples didn’t realize it at the time, this profound cultural barrier between Jews and Gentiles would make reaching every nation difficult—if not impossible.

Everything changed in Acts 10 when Peter had a dream.

In Peter’s dream, he saw a large sheet filled with “unclean” food—stuff Jews were not allowed to eat. God told him to take and eat, but Peter—like any good Jew—refused, saying, “Surely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” Then God responded by saying, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (Luke 10:14-15, NIV)

The meaning of Peter’s dream became clear when men sent from a Roman soldier, named Cornelius, came to Peter’s house and requested that Peter come with them to speak to Cornelius and his family.

Peter knew that accepting this invitation to engage in cross-cultural, multi-ethnic ministry would mean two things. First, he would be staying in the home of a Gentile (probably for the first time ever). Second, he would be served food that was “unclean” according to Jewish dietary laws.

Going against his cultural and ethnic instincts and preferences, Peter decided to go to Cornelius’ home and preach to his family. Long story short, the entire household received the Gospel and they were all baptized in water and Holy Spirit. The book of Acts does not give us any detail about Peter’s first meal in a Gentile’s home, but I have no doubt that it was an uncomfortable, awkward, and maybe even troubling experience for Peter.

But if he had not chosen to set aside his own cultural preferences, if he had rejected Cornelius’ hospitality, and if he had held to his lifelong commitment to eating Kosher, Peter would have never reached Cornelius and his family.

What does this mean for us?

It means that doing cross-cultural, multi-ethnic ministry requires that we set aside our own cultural preferences. It requires that we accept the hospitality of those who are different from us. It requires us to open our hearts and our stomachs to other nations and cultures.

If we really want to reach every nation, we must we willing to eat every food.

Blog / Family

The Realities (and Truths) of Parenthood

August 1, 2016
My grandson and newest member of the Murrell family, William Stephen Murrell III.

My grandson and newest member of the Murrell family, William Stephen Murrell III.

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE, USA. Last Saturday (July 23rd), we welcomed into the world the newest member of the Murrell family, William Stephen Murrell III—named after his dad, his grandfather (me), and William Wilberforce.

The presence of a new baby in the house reminds me of when our sons were that age, but the wonderful thing about being a grandparent is that you can enjoy all the benefits of a newborn without any of the responsibilities. Seeing my son, William, and his wife, Rachel, take care of little William has reminded me that alongside the new baby clothes, the cute Instagram photos, and the precious moments (often during naps), are dirty diapers, hospital bills, and sleepless nights.

Here’s the unavoidable reality about parenting: children are expensive, children are hard work, and children are unpredictable.

But if we go into parenthood with only these realities in mind, we will miss out on the bigger truths we find in Scripture—Kingdom truths that put these earthly realities in proper perspective.

In Psalm 127:3-4, we read: “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are the children of one’s youth.”

In this passage, we see God’s perspective on parenting: children are a heritage, children are a reward, and children are like arrows.

  • HERITAGE: From the moment they are born to the time they move to college, you will spend more money than you can possibly imagine on your children. And yet, God tells us that children are a heritage—or inheritance. How can children be an inheritance (something of great value) when it seems like they cost us so much? Inheritances are gifts from parents to children. And they are valuable not only because of their intrinsic value but because of who they come from. In the same way, our children have great value not only because of their potential benefit to us—but because they are gifts from God.
  • REWARD: Whether you have an eighteen-month-old or an eighteen-year-old, children require a great deal of time, energy, and patience. It’s true that becoming a parent requires a lot of hard work and personal sacrifice. But if we learn to see children as God sees them—as rewards—then all of the expense, time, and lifestyle changes will pale in comparison to the rewards of parenthood.
  • ARROWS: As parents, there are many things about our children that are totally out of our control. When they are newborns, we have no idea what their personality will be like. We have no idea what hobbies they will gravitate towards as children. And we have no idea what they will study when they go to college. And yet Scripture tells us to see our children as arrows—young men and women who we are called to shape, equip, and send out from our homes filled with purpose and direction. We may not know what specific target God has prepared for our children, but we do know that it is our role as parents to prepare them to be launched out of our homes and into God’s purposes.

As a grandparent whose diaper days are behind me, it’s easy for me to put the realities of parenting in proper perspective (with the truths of scripture). But when you are a parent of young children (or even teenagers!), it can sometimes be difficult to see beyond the challenging realities of parenthood and believe that your children are truly a heritage and a reward.

My advice for all young parents is to memorize and meditate on Psalm 127. Preach it to yourself until you believe it. Return to this verse over the years and through the ups and downs of parenthood and allow the Holy Spirit to help you see your children as God sees them.

 

Blog / Miscellaneous

BACK TO SCHOOL

July 25, 2016

The Asbury 8 with Charles Wesley on the Asbury Seminary campus.

WILMORE, KENTUCKY. As I write, I am finishing up the first on-campus installment of a DMin (Doctor of Ministry) program at Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky.

I am part of a group of Every Nation pastors and campus missionaries from all over the world who over the next three years will be furthering their theological education with the goal of becoming better ministers and better leaders.

It’s been a long time since I was in school, and I am happy to be back in the classroom. I have learned a lot since the program started. Here are a few initial impressions from my time here.

The Value of Education

Returning to school after so many years has reminded me that learning is hard work. Plowing through long reading lists, engaging with new ideas, articulating my thoughts in formal academic writing—this is all hard work. But it is worthwhile work. Though I’ve always been a reader and have been blogging and writing for many years, this DMin program has challenged me to flex new intellectual muscles. How so? Because I am being forced to read books that I would have never chosen on my own. And I am reading these new books and engaging these new ideas with other Every Nation (and non-Every Nation) pastors from around the world. Self-guided learning is good, but learning in community is even better.

The Power of Preaching

One of the central focuses of our DMin program is preaching. This seems appropriate since Asbury Theological Seminary was named after the great Methodist preacher Francis Asbury (1745-1816). Responding to John Wesley’s call to the American mission field, English-born Asbury spent most of his adult life as an itinerant preacher in the American colonies and even in the “Western” frontiers of Tennessee and Kentucky. Riding from state to state and town to town on horseback, Asbury preached over 16,500 sermons in his forty-five-year career. (That’s an average of one sermon every single day for forty-five years!) During that time (1771-1816), the Methodist movement in America grew from 600 to 200,000. Preaching the gospel is powerful—both then and now.

The Role of Institutions

As movements grow, leaders will always be faced with the question of continuity. How can we sustain movements for future generations? There are many ways to answer this question, but one often underrated solution to the problem of continuity is investing in institutions that will carry on the mission and vision of the founders long after they are gone. Look at Asbury Theological Seminary. In 2016, it is still promoting the central vision of men like Wesley and Asbury who first came to America as missionaries over 200 years ago. Though the Methodist movement started with revival, it was sustained by institutions (churches and seminaries) that were able to train future leaders of the movement.

It is my prayer that in the coming years we will be able to grow and expand our own educational institutions (Every Nation Schools of Ministry), so that we can continue to train up next-generation leaders who will carry on the mission to reach every nation and every campus—long after the founders are gone.

Blog / Book / Family / Leadership

To Empower or Not to Empower? That is the Leadership Question

April 20, 2016

Arrows in Quiver

MANILA, PHILIPPINES.  Because of my latest book, My First, Second & Third Attempts at Parenting, Deborah and I have been doing our “Heart of Parenting” seminars more than ever. During the Q&A portion of the seminars, we are often asked questions about adult children. Our answer is always the same. Using the language of Psalm 127 that refers to children as arrows, we encourage parents of adults to intentionally empty their quivers.

Arrows are made for the target, not for the quiver, therefore we tell parents of adults, “take your adult kids out of the safety of the quiver, take your hands off, let go, and let them fly toward their God-ordained target.”

The same idea applies to leadership development in your church and campus ministry. Just like parents with adult children permanently hiding in the quiver, many pastors have quivers full of potential leaders who rarely get an opportunity to actually lead. These keepers of the quiver boast of having a “deep bench,” but no one is actually in the game.

Like all strong leaders, Elisha the prophet attracted scores of potential leaders. They were called his spiritual sons. Like real sons and daughters, Elisha’s spiritual sons knew they were not destined to stay in the safety of the quiver forever, so they spoke up.

Now the sons of the prophets said to Elisha, ‘See, the place where we dwell under your charge is too small for us.’ (2 Kings 6:1)

Of course it was too small. They were called to lead, not to wait forever to be allowed to do something significant. Because real leaders want to lead, and because real leaders think big, it’s only matter of time before they tell their leader that the quiver “where we dwell under your charge is too small for us.”

At some point, everyone who equips leaders will hear this sentiment from next-generation leaders. What you do next will determine whether you multiply or collect leaders and whether you build a leadership multiplication culture or a one-man-show culture.

Notice Elisha’s response.

Go. (2 Kings 6:2)

I am sure Elisha could have responded with a list of character flaws and unfinished leadership tasks. But instead, he allowed them to get out of the quiver and let them fly through the air toward their bullseye.

Releasing leaders is risky for them and for us, but if we want a multiplying leadership culture, we must take our hands off and let them go.

If you are a leader today, at some point someone took their hands off and empowered you to fly toward your target. I am sure you were not totally ready, but you were released anyway.

Potential leaders will only become productive leaders if they are empowered, and it is up to us to empower them…and to let them GO!

Blog / Leadership

Theological Education or Leadership Development?

April 14, 2016

Pencil on Bible

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE, USA. Being a global ministry working in unreached nations, many of our recently ordained Every Nation pastors were raised as Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, agnostics, or atheists. As such, most had zero Bible knowledge before meeting our mission teams. Now, just a few years later, these relatively new Christians are serving as campus missionaries, church planters, and pastors.

It did not require vast wisdom to recognize the need to upgrade the theological foundations of Every Nation’s global pastors.

One year ago I was part of an international team that met in Istanbul to make decisions about minimum theological standards for an Every Nation Churches & Ministries pastor anywhere in the world. If someone is an ordained Every Nation pastor in Katmandu, Bangkok, or London, what are our minimal biblical and theological educational standards? That Istanbul discussion set into motion what is now called Leadership 215. (Inspired by 2 Timothy 2:15)

As part of the Leadership 215 development team, this week I have had a back-and-forth email discussion with Every Nation leaders in Asia, Europe, and North America about our need for pedagogical clarification.

As I read the email thread from brilliant and dedicated global teachers, I quickly realized that while I was not the smartest man in the conversation, nevertheless I had a unique perspective that made my ideas matter. So after looking up the definition of “pedagogical” and several other arcane words (commonly used by dead and mostly dead European theologians) I threw in my two cents worth, which addressed two points.

1. One Team vs. One Genius.  While I am grateful for the teachers who are doing most of the Leadership 215 heavy-lifting, obtaining the “pedagogical clarification” we desired, would require the input of teachers and non-teachers. The non-teachers include pushy apostles, mystical prophets, loud evangelists, practical pastors, and young zealous campus missionaries. Being a teacher, I find it much easier to work with a team of teachers. When I’m with teachers, we almost always agree. But when I add those other people to the conversation, we rarely agree and it often becomes messy.  But despite the messiness, when it comes to leadership development, we are much better together. One team of average minds working together is more productive than one genius working alone.

2. Leadership Development vs. Theological Education. Since the beginning of our Leadership 215 project, I have filed all related documents under “leadership development” not under “theological education.” To the untrained eye this might look like a minor issue, but I think it is an important distinction. My filing label reminds me that the purpose of the Leadership 215 project is not primarily theological education, but leadership development. Theological education is an important part of leadership development, but it is only a part. It is common to succeed in theological education and fail in leadership development, but it is impossible to succeed in leadership development and fail in theological education. In other words, there are many great theologians who can’t spell leadership. But there are no great spiritual leaders who can’t spell theology. We must upgrade our theological standards if we want the kind of leaders who will reach every nation and every campus with the Gospel of Christ. But we must remember that our endgame is a leader not a theologian.

QUESTION: Which is most important, leadership development or theological education?

ANSWER: Both!

 

Blog / Worship

Light in the Dark Ages

March 31, 2016

NASHVILLE. Many Christians look at our modern world of brutal terrorists, corrupt politicians, crumbling economies, decaying morals, compromising churches, and broken families and conclude that a new Dark Age is upon us.

Maybe they’re right and we’re living in the dawn of a modern Dark Age.

But maybe a new Dark Age is not as bad as it sounds. After all, people in the original Dark Age (roughly 500-1500 AD) were completely obsessed with light.

If you have ever visited a Gothic cathedral, you know what I am talking about. Gothic architecture had two foundational design elements: height and light. And every corner of the cathedral is a stand-alone art museum.

Beginning in the eleventh century, 600 years into the Dark Ages, hundreds of massive Gothic cathedrals were constructed all across Europe — from Scandinavia in the north to the tip of the Iberian Peninsula in the south, from Wales in the West to modern Poland in the East. In addition to the great cathedrals, thousands of huge abbey churches and tens of thousands of smaller parish churches were also constructed during this time. While not as grand in scale as the famous cathedrals, these abbey and parish churches were equally obsessed with light.

Because of the church building surge during the Dark Ages, by 1300, France and England had one church for every 200 people. In contrast, today in the Philippines, we have approximately one evangelical church for every 1,000 people, and many of those churches don’t meet in a church building. So, a return to the Dark Ages might be an upgrade.

I mentioned that the people in the original Dark Ages (a.k.a. Middle Ages or Medieval Period) had three obsessions that manifested in Gothic architecture: light, height, and art.

Light. Because of the heat and humidity of Mediterranean Europe, churches in the Roman Empire were typically built with tiny windows and thick walls constructed of stone. This was their attempt at ancient air conditioning. In contrast, Northern European cathedrals built during the Dark Ages included huge windows. These windows allowed Gothic architects to accomplish more with angles, shadows, stained glass, and sunlight than modern sound and light specialists can do with the latest high-tech million-dollar light rigs. Dark Age architects were not only obsessed with natural sun light, they were masters of light, shadows, and color.

Height. Try walking into a Gothic cathedral and looking down. I bet you can’t do it, at least not for long. Eventually, you’ll look up. No matter if you’re a worshiper or a tourist, the stained glass, pointed arches, carved vaults, flying buttresses, and beautiful art force the eye upward. The idea is to help worshipers get their eyes off of temporal earthly things and to focus, at least for a moment, on the eternity and majesty of heaven. Today’s church “architecture” forces the modern worshiper to focus on fallen finite fallible humans — singers, musicians, and preachers — on a stage.

Art. The third ubiquitous design element of Dark Age Gothic cathedrals was art. And art was everywhere in these cathedrals. Paintings, sculptures, mosaics, stained glass, and wood carvings adorned every Gothic cathedral built during the Dark Ages. In fact, when we talk about a Gothic cathedral, the whole building should be considered a work of art.

Some of the most amazing medieval cathedral art was recently discovered during renovation work on Salisbury Cathedral, an 800-year-old Gothic cathedral located 137 kilometers west of London. While doing renovation and restoration work, stonemasons discovered beautiful art hidden in parts of the cathedral that human eyes were never supposed to see. The top of the spires, the back of statues, the bottom of roof tiles, and inaccessible attic spaces all contained intricate carvings and detailed artwork that no one had seen in over eight centuries, since the original artists created it and hid it. In fact, some of the most stunning art in Salisbury Cathedral was designed and positioned so that it would never be seen my human eyes.

Why would these stonemasons, painters, woodcarvers, and sculptors spend time creating art then hiding it so no one would ever see it?

The answer to that question is profoundly simple. These people lived, worked, worshiped, and built buildings for God, not for man.

They saw work as worship, and they believed that worship was to honor God not to impress man. For us, worship means singing four songs before the sermon on Sunday morning. I think the Dark Age perspective of worship was closer to the biblical ideal than our modern Sunday morning mini-concerts.

I have nothing against the singing part of the modern church worship service. Singing those four songs on Sunday morning can be a powerful way to worship and experience God’s presence. But singing on Sunday is a small part of real worship.

Consider what Paul said about worship in Romans 12:1.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

Paul taught that “spiritual worship” happens not only when we sing four songs on Sunday morning before the sermon, but when we “present our bodies” to God as a living sacrifice. This means that all of life can and should be worship to God.

If we live life as a sacrifice to God, then what we do at work on Monday through Friday is valid worship just as much as those twenty minutes of singing before the sermon.

I’m not suggesting that every carpenter and stonemason who worked on a Gothic cathedral 1,000 years ago was necessarily living Romans 12, but the overall cultural idea certainly leaned toward seeing all of life as worship to God. Why else would sculptors carve the back of huge statues? Why else would stonemasons carve intricate details on the tops of spires that no one but God would ever see?

They saw their work as worship. Do you?

Blog / Family / Leadership

Great Leaders Put Family First

January 3, 2016

CANTON, MISSISSIPPI. While visiting our Mississippi friends and relatives during the holidays, we stopped by the Murrell family farm/lake house. Has it really been four years since I was last here? Many of my best childhood memories are connected to that land and lake just north of where I grew up. While on the family farm, I took a moment to visit Dad and Mom’s grave sites (photo above). They both wanted to be buried between the cabin and the lake.

I am thankful that I was raised by parents who put family first.

Like most years, I plan to read through the whole Bible in 2016, so as usual, I started in Genesis where I always encounter old friends like Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, plus many lesser known but equally fascinating men and women.

Thoughts of my parents and my childhood in Mississippi were flooding my mind as I read about Enoch in Genesis 5. I have always been intrigued by Enoch, the father of Methuselah. Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of Bible characters knows that Methuselah was the oldest man to ever live, dying at the ripe old age of 969. We know almost nothing about Enoch except that, “Enoch walked with God” and that “he fathered Methuselah and other sons and daughters.” (Genesis 5:22-14)

So basically we know two facts about Enoch, but those two facts are really all we need to know about anyone.

1. He was a spiritual man. “Enoch walked with God.”

2. He was a family man. “He fathered Methuselah and other sons and daughters.”

That’s about all I ever wanted to be, a spiritual man and a family man.

I am in the middle of writing a leadership book that will be released at the Every Nation World Conference in Cape Town, South Africa later this year, so I have leadership on the brain. Everything I see, hear, and read is filtered through my leadership grid as potential material for my book. So, here’s a leadership lesson from our two Enoch facts.

When I am looking for a potential leader or working with a current leader, I need to know about the person’s spiritual life and family life. If those are in order, then everything else tends to take care of itself. But if either of the big two are out of wack, then no matter what a leader has going for him or her, the potential for disaster is always looming.

I have added a number three to Enoch’s big two to frame how I want to live all of 2016. If at the end of this year I have done the following, it will have been a good year.

1. Walk with God

2. Be a good husband

3. Be a good father (and father-in-law and grandfather)

What do you want to accomplish in 2016?

 

 

Blog / Family

A CHRISTMAS EVE DISASTER

December 1, 2015
 This was originally written for Evangelicals Today mag, many years ago. I like to pull it deep from my archives around Christmas. I thought some of you, especially those with small children, might find it helpful this time of the year. 

————–

’Twas the night before Christmas, and the scene of the crime was Savannah, Georgia. The year was 1989. Our oldest son was almost four. Our second son was eighteen months. The third was still inside trying to kick his way out.

This was the first year that William, our first son, realized that Christmas meant gifts. He knew that according to the “youngest-first rule” at my in-laws’ house, he would be the second in line to open his gifts. At my in-laws’ house, the gifts were divided into piles. All gifts that said “To William” were put in a pile. All “To James” gifts were put in another pile. Once all the gifts were put in the right pile, they were 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.

As good Christian parents, we had attempted to teach our young boys the true meaning of Christmas. We didn’t expect much from James, but we assumed that William understood that it was better to give than to receive. After all, Jesus was born because God so loved the world that He gave… . . That’s what Christmas is all about—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.

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. He prayed to God for it, and just in case that would not work, he constantly reminded us.

One day, just 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 rubber things on the end. Real ones, not just toys.” He was serious about this. “You mean the arrows that stick to walls and 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, the youngest, was first to open his gifts. Like all eighteen-month olds, he was more impressed with the colorful boxes and ribbons than with the contents. He hadn’t caught on to the materialistic spirit of Christmas yet.

Then came William’s turn. As James continued to play with his wrapping paper 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.”

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.”

Well, he did get a bow with real (rubber-tipped) arrows. He just hadn’t gotten to that gift yet because it was buried under a mountain of shredded green and red paper.

That was quite a memorable and frustrating Christmas for us. We knew something was wrong, but we weren’t sure just how to fix it.

A few months later, I read a book that described the scene you just read about, only it was happening in another city to another family with small kids. It was sure comforting to know that our experience was not unique. Right now, I can’t seem to remember the name of the book or the author. Anyway, this guy in the book not only had the same problem, but he had identified the root of the problem and had come up with the solution. It was so simple. It opened our eyes and changed the way we have approached Christmas since the disaster of ’89.

On that fateful Christmas Eve I described above, William was upset and ungrateful because he thought he didn’t get a bow with real arrows. The root of the problem is in the word “GET.” His focus was on what he would 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 and fulfillment comes as we give.

We decided that from then on, we would do our best to focus on what each child wanted to GIVE, not on what they wanted to GET.
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. All he could think about was what he would get. He was totally oblivious to what others were getting and to what others had given. We had helped him miss the whole point.
After that, rather than asking our children what they wanted to GET from us, we would ask them what they wanted to GIVE us, their brothers, their relatives, and friends. For the weeks building up to Christmas, our children were taught to focus on what they would GIVE rather than what they would GET.

When gift-opening time would come around at the Murrell house, we put all William’s gifts in a pile, all James’s in a pile, and all Jonathan’s in a pile. We separated Mom’s and Dad’s into piles of their own.

All the gifts in William’s pile would say “FROM William” on the tag. All the gifts in James’ pile that say “FROM James.” The “FROM Jonathan” presents are in another pile, as are the “FROM Mom” and the “FROM Dad.” Once all the gifts were in the piles, each person would take his turn to GIVE all his gifts. This way, the focus is on giving rather than getting. Over the years, our boys learned to be just as excited about giving as getting.

They discovered that it really can be more blessed to give than to receive.