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Pride

NASHVILLE. Good to be back in the office writing the final chapter of my parenting book, after ten productive days in South Africa and Nigeria. The wholehearted full volume African worship made my otherwise exuberant home churches (Victory Manila and Bethel Brentwood) feel rather Anglican in comparison.

While reading the tiny book of Obadiah this morning, I encountered a huge and terrifying truth.

The pride of your heart has deceived you.  (Obadiah 1:3 ESV)

Two simple points:

1. Pride is a heart issue. If we are proud it is not because of our accomplishments, culture, education, nationality, or family. It is because of our heart. The only way to deal with pride is to deal with the heart, not the external circumstances.

2. Pride is deceitful. It always makes us see self, others, situations, sin, anointing, and everything else in a distorted way. It tends to downplay our failures and exaggerate our accomplishments. It always tries to write self into the story and push self on center stage. But we rarely realize what pride is doing to us, because it is deceitful.

One simple (but difficult) solution: Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God. (1 Peter 5:6 ESV)

 

 

4 Church Growth Secrets from 2800 Years Ago

NASHVILLE. Most pastors, church planters, and campus missionaries are in the ministry because they want to obey God, serve people, and change the world. Sure, some have messed up motives, but most have pure hearts. And most want to grow in terms of ministering the Gospel to more and more people.

Despite honorable motives, the desire to grow and actual measurable growth are not the same. To borrow a word from the prophet Isaiah, many in ministry feel “barren.”

Notice what Isaiah said to the barren.

“Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married,” says the Lord. (Isaiah 54:1)

After going to the conference, listening to the podcast, reading the book, attempting what the mega-church celebrity suggested, and not seeing results, we usually feel like quitting and complaining, not singing.

Besides singing, Isaiah had clear instruction for those who are being ignored by Outreach Magazine’s fastest growing church list.

“Enlarge the place of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes. (‭Isaiah‬ ‭54‬:‭2)

If you have not experienced the level of fruitfulness you desire, try singing and doing the rest of what Isaiah said:

1. ENLARGE YOUR VISION (“Enlarge the place of your tent”)
Think bigger. Dream bigger. Enlarge your place. Consider getting a bigger facility, or at least maximizing the one you have.

2. STRETCH YOUR FAITH (“let the curtains… be stretched”)
Isaiah did not tell them to replace the curtains. Their curtains were OK, they just need to be stretched a bit. Stretching is not comfortable, but is is essential for growth.

3. LENGTHEN YOUR REACH (“lengthen your cords”)
OK, you are reaching your campus, your city, your country, but what about the next campus, the next city, and the next nation? When and where is your next campus outreach? When and where is your next church plant? Who is your next campus missionary? Who is your next church planter?

4. STRENGTHEN YOUR FOUNDATION (“and strengthen your stakes”)
More growth requires more strength. Greater outreach demands greater depth. In a building, the deeper and stronger the foundation, the taller the building. Same in ministry. Deeper and stronger spiritual foundations support greater growth.

Q: Why do we need to enlarge, stretch, lengthen, and strengthen?

A: Because God plans for us to “spread abroad to the right and to the left” and for our next generation to “possess the nations.” (Isaiah 54:3)

If you desire growth, whether you feel barren or fruitful, I suggest you get busy enlarging, stretching, lengthening, and strengthening. God will do the rest.

Sometimes the Spirit Leads Us Where We Don’t Want to Go

NASHVILLE. For many of us who have been around the church world for a long time, the phrase “led by the Spirit” conjures up all kinds of strange and bizarre behavior, and maybe a lot of bad memories. That’s why we need to look at the Bible, rather than YouTube, to learn what led and empowered by the Spirit actually looks like.

Matthew says that after Jesus was baptized by John, he was “led by the Spirit into the wilderness” where He was tempted by the devil.  Mark’s account says, “the Spirit immediately drove him into the wilderness.”

Being led usually implies the one leading is in front of us and we are following, maybe holding the hand of the leader. Being driven usually implies someone is behind us pushing and directing us.

Matthew says the Spirit led Jesus. Mark says the Spirit drove Jesus. Which is it? I think it is both. At times I have certainly sensed the Spirit in front of me leading me where I should go, and at the same time I have felt Him behind me driving and directing me from behind, and occasionally giving me a bit of a push.

Mark and Matthew both mention that Jesus ended up in the wilderness where He was tempted by the devil. This was not a fun and joyful experience for Jesus. Rather, it was quite stressful and painful.

Sometimes in the tough seasons of life, we wrongly conclude that we must have wandered out of God’s will. This mistaken idea is rooted in the faulty teaching that God’s ultimate will is for us to be happy. We reason, “the wilderness is not a happy place, so it must not be God’s will. We must have missed God or we would be in a place of perpetual happiness.”

Jesus was in the center of God’s will, He was led by the Spirit, He did not take a detour, yet he ended up in the wilderness being tempted by the devil. He ended up in an uncomfortable place.

Lest we wrongly conclude that tough places are signs that God is not pleased with us, take a look at the previous verse, just before Mark says, “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.” (Mark 1:12)

Jesus was baptized by John, then, “a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son;with you I am well pleased.’” (Mark 1:11)

A voice from heaven said, I AM PLEASED! Then the Spirit immediately leads him into the wilderness to get tempted by the devil. The fact that God is pleased with us does not mean that life will not take some difficult turns.

We should never look at our painful circumstances and conclude that God is not pleased. Instead, we should look at His word and His sacrifice on the cross and conclude that He is pleased.

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NOTE: Our Every Nation Nashville office is doing a sixteen week discipleship journey through the book of Mark. Every Tuesday in our weekly staff devotion, we will look at one discipleship lesson from each chapter in Mark.

Our discipleship lesson from Mark 1 is: Following Jesus means being led by the Spirit (even if He sometimes leads us where we don’t want to go.)

 

7 Questions about the Value of Modern Discipleship

MANILA, PHILIPPINES. I received the following seven questions from someone who is writing a paper for a class about whether discipleship “has value in today’s context.”

Here are my quick answers to his important questions:

Q1: What is a disciple?
A1: A disciple is someone who follows Jesus, “fishes” for people and does this in fellowship with other disciples, while carrying a cross. Discipleship is not complicated. Difficult, yes. Complicated, no. It is so simple that a carpenter described it to uneducated fishermen 2000 years ago in one sentence. (See Matthew 4:19 for that sentence.)

Q2: Do you have to be saved to be a disciple?
A2: Yes. But since evangelism is the starting point of making disciples, the discipleship journey starts long before one is saved.

Q3: Are all Christians disciples? If not, what are the differences?
A3: All should be, but unfortunately not all are following Jesus, fishing for people, or fellowshipping with others. And not all are carrying a cross and living a life of self-denial.

Q4: Does church membership make one a disciple?
A4: No. Most churches spend a lot of time, energy, and money developing a membership process, but no time developing a discipleship process. Therefore they are successful at making members, but failing miserably at making disciples.

Q5: What does a disciple’s life look like?
A5: Following Jesus (devotion). Fishing for people (evangelism). Fellowshipping with other believers (community). Carrying a cross (self-denial).

Q6: Is being a disciple important in today’s culture or to one’s life?
A6: If the Bible is important, then discipleship is important. Of course, if the Bible is no longer valid, then discipleship is an outdated concept and a waste of time – so we might as well do whatever it takes to attract a big crowd and call it a church.

Q7: Who is responsible for making disciples?
A7: Every person who is a follower of Jesus – no matter how old, no matter how long they have been saved, no matter where they work. Every believer should be a disciple and every believer should make disciples – EVERY believer.

Those are my quick, off-the-cuff answers. If I had time to edit, I might change some of these answers, but I’m out of time.

Are you a disciple of Christ? Are you making disciples?

When God Seems Far Away

Sometimes the brutal honesty of prayers recorded in the Bible make my prayers seem shallow and sanitized.

Exhibit A: Psalm 22.

Verse 1. “My God, my God, why have you FORSAKEN me? Why are you so FAR
from saving me?”

There is more raw emotion than religious pretense in this prayer. Since God already knows everything, I don’t think He is particularly bothered by the psalmist’s blunt and honest prayer. And He probably won’t be bothered if we pray with a little  honesty either.

The psalmist used two intense words and two semi-accusations to describe how he felt about his relationship with God.

Why have you FORSAKEN?
Why are you so FAR?

Do you ever feel forsaken? Do you ever admit it to God? Does He ever feel far? Do you ever ask Him why?

Sometimes our temptations, failures, and circumstances are screaming that God has FORSAKEN us. Sometimes our sin, shame, and guilt make Him feel FAR far away.

If verse one describes your reality, keep reading.

Verse 2. “O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.”

That didn’t help. Keep reading…

Verse 3. “Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.”

When we feel FORSAKEN and when God seems FAR away, in reality he is still HOLY and He is still ENTHRONED. My feelings and my experiences do not change who He is.

If your circumstances are such that you feel forsaken and God feels far away, remind yourself that He is still HOLY and He is still on the THRONE.

And remind yourself that on the cross, Jesus was forsaken so we can be forgiven.

 

How to Win Your Prodigal Children

NASHVILLE. A “Not Now!” sign is on my door all this week, a sign that everyone in the Every Nation office is ignoring. Try as I may, I obviously don’t intimidate anyone around here.

I am in writing mode, working against a speeding deadline, trying to finish a book that does not have a title yet. Two possible titles: “The Heart of Parenting” or “My First, Second, and Third Attempts at Parenting.”

I am taking a break from chapter seven to post this blog. Chapter seven is titled “Pilgrim’s Progress: God’s Heart for Your Prodigal.” (The other chapter titles are at the bottom of this blog. As you can see, they are all borrowed from classic books.)

After applying the principles of the Parable of the Prodigal Son to parenting, the chapter I’m working on finishes with three tips called, How to Win Your Prodigal.

Here are those three tips.

1. Be a parent, not a pastor. In the course of their lives, my sons have had many pastors. But they have only had one mother and one father. We can outsource the pastoring, but not the parenting. If I don’t fulfill the role of pastor to my sons, there are plenty of other pastors ready and willing to step into that void. But if Deborah and I don’t fulfill the role of parents, no one else can.

2. More praying, less preaching. I am not sure, but my guess is that the father of the prodigal in the parable did a lot more praying for his son than preaching to his son. In the end, after much pain and shame, it turned out better than ok for the famous prodigal family. If you have tried preaching to your prodigal, and he is still far away, I suggest muting the sermons and replacing them with prayer.

3. Look for progress, not perfection. As soon as the prodigal turned toward home, when he was still far off, his father ran to him. He was far from home and far from perfect, but he was finally pointed in the right direction. As soon as your prodigal makes a turn and takes a step in the right direction, rather than criticizing how far away he still is, why not try running to him and throwing a party?

Please pray for me as I attempt to finish this book in the next few weeks. I am just over half way finished. As you pray for this book, I am praying that prodigals will turn toward home and toward God.

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Here’s the book. Bold chapters are finished, and getting shredded by my copy editors. Non-bold are scattered noted in my iPad and stories in my head that are trying to find form.

FORWARD by William Murrell, Jr,  The Three Musketeers: What My Parents Did Right

PART 1: HISTORY

CH1: Gone with the Wind: Seize the Moment Before the Moment is Gone

CH2: The Old Man and the Boy: Lessons from My Father

PART 2: HEART

CH3: The Godfather: God’s Heart for His Children

CH4: The Heart of Darkness: Every Child’s Heart

CH5: War and Peace: Every Parent’s Heart

CH6: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: Seven Deadly Heart Issues

CH7: Pilgrim’s Progress: God’s Heart for Your Prodigal

PART 3: HOME

CH8: Where Wild Things Are: Discipleship Starts at Home

CH9: Great Expectations: Leadership Development Starts at Home

CH10: A Tale of Two Cities: At Home in Manila and Nashville

CH11: All’s Well that Ends Well: What I Would Do Differently at Home

 

 

 

© 2012 Steve Murrell

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