Posts by Steve Murrell

Blog / Family


Christmas presents

 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 amost 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.
Blog / Family / Miscellaneous

Dick Dastardly, Turkey, and the Remedy for Entitlement

NASHVILLE. Yesterday at church my good friend, Rice Broocks preached a powerful sermon that included brilliant exegesis, solid theology, practical application, and a reference to two of the greatest cartoon characters ever – Dick Dastardly and his canine sidekick Muttley. Only Rice would attempt to connect the dots from the Apostle Paul to Timothy to Dick Dastardly and Muttley. (“Rashin frashin Rick Rastardly!”)

In his sermon, “Gratefulness is Our Greatest Weapon,” Rice talked about how gratefulness protects our minds, our relationships, and our hearts. He said that unexpressed gratefulness is actually ungratefulness. This sermon was both inspiring and convicting. And it also took me back in time.

When our now adult sons were young, Deborah and I decided that we would not tolerate an entitlement attitude in our home. Our remedy? Teach our kids to be thankful. I am not sure how successful we were, but we sure tried to raise grateful sons.

Yesterday Rice reminded me of the main point that we tried to teach our kids, that entitlement cannot coexist with gratitude.

Entitlement says that parents, businesses, siblings, government, church, life, God, and Santa owe me something. And since I am owed, there is no reason to say thanks.

Thankfulness is like kryptonite to entitlement. Kills it on contact.

And that brings us to that American holiday, Thanksgiving Day. After a hundred years of American cities and communities declaring their own thanksgiving celebrations, in 1789 President George Washington proclaimed November 26 “as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of ALMIGHTY GOD.

Notice that the original official Thanksgiving Day was not about being generally thankful, but about specifically thanking ALMIGHTY GOD.

Recently Americans have become obsessed with removing all God references from the conversation lest we offend Bill Maher. With Thanksgiving we have taken that obsession to an absurd level, not only removing God but also removing the idea of thanks from Thanksgiving Day.

Increasingly Americans are calling the 4th Thursday of November, “Turkey Day” rather than Thanksgiving Day. Are we afraid that if we call it Thanksgiving, someone might accidentally thank God?

So now, rather than thanking God once a year for His gracious provision, we eat turkey and watch football.

Blog / Discipleship

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.


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.)


Blog / Discipleship

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?

Blog / Worship

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.


Blog / Family

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.


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


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

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


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


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




Blog / Family

The Greatest Accomplishment of the World’s Greatest Explorer

In 1984 the Guinness Book of World Records named Sir Ranulph Fiennes the “World’s Greatest Living Explorer.” That was at the beginning of his amazing career as an adventurer and explorer. Thirty years later, in his 70’s, Fiennes hasn’t slowed down one bit.

Fiennes’ accomplishments include being the first person to cross Antarctica on foot, the first person to visit both Poles by surface means, the oldest Brit to climb Mt Everest, the only person to circle the world along the polar axis by land and sea, and this is just the beginning of his death-defying adventures.

My favorite Fiennes story followed his failed solo unsupported walk to the North Pole. After suffering severe frostbite on all the fingers on his left hand, Fiennes had to abandon the adventure. The surgeon recommended he wait several months before amputation, to allow possible regrowth of nerves. Tired of the pain, Fiennes amputated his own fingertips. With a saw!

Perhaps his craziest adventure was running seven marathons, on seven continents, on seven consecutive days, just four months after suffering a heart attack and undergoing double bypass surgery. Here’s his post-surgery marathon schedule:

26 October – Race 1: Patagonia – South America
27 October – Race 2: Falkland Islands – “Antarctica”
28 October – Race 3: Sydney – Australia
29 October – Race 4: Singapore – Asia
30 October – Race 5: London – Europe
31 October – Race 6: Cairo – Africa
1 November – Race 7: New York – North America

Reflecting on these marathons, Fiennes said, “In retrospect I wouldn’t have done it. I wouldn’t do it again.” Wimp.

When asked about what he considers to be his greatest accomplishment, Fiennes responded in his classic upper-class British accent, “Actually, it was being happily married for thirty-four years (to childhood sweetheart, Lady Virginia Pepper Fiennes). I was incredibly lucky.”

Conclusion: A happy marriage is an exciting adventure and a worthy accomplishment to pursue.

Question: What are you trying to accomplish with your life?




Blog / Leadership

Wise Leaders Listen to Old Men

It seems like every time I get around leaders my age the conversation eventually meanders to the topic of multi-generational ministry and succession planning. Some already have a succession plan. Some are working on a succession plan. Others have no interest in succession plans because dying is not in their plan.

I’ve been thinking about my Manila succession plan for about thirty years. That does not prove that I am good or even marginally adequate at advanced strategic planning. I am not. Because I was only planning to stay in Manila a few months, I figured I better find some next generation leaders to equip and empower. In those days the next generation was two to five years younger than me. Now they are twenty to thirty years younger.

King Solomon got off to a great start because he understood multi-generational leadership and the importance of continuity. Consider his prayer in 2 Chronicles 1:9.

“O LORD God, let your word to David my father be now fulfilled, for you have made me king over a people as numerous as the dust of the earth.”

Unlike so many young insecure leaders today, Solomon was not looking for a “new word” from God. He believed that the old word that God gave his father was still valid for his generation.

Solomon prayed, not for his own mission/vision/word to replace the mission/vision/word of his father. Rather he saw himself as a continuation of God’s purpose. He did not need his own unique mission/vision/word. He embraced a multi-generational mission/vision/word.

Solomon’s multi-generational mission did not start with his father’s generation. In his prayer, Solomon recognizes that it started long before David. Being king over “people as numerous as the dust of the earth” harkens back to God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Unlike his father Solomon, Rehoboam “abandoned the counsel that the old men gave him” (2 Chronicles 10:8). Rejecting the wisdom of old people who represent previous generations is always a bad idea for a young leader.

Solomon recognized the importance of multi-generational continuity. He remembered the wisdom of his father David. He even acknowledged he was in some way building on the foundation of God’s promises to Abraham. Because he “listened to the old men” Solomon had a strong foundation to build on and a clear mission to accomplish.

Lesson for young leaders: Patiently listen to the “old men” who repeat the same stories over and over and over.

Lesson for old leaders: Never grow tired of reminding young leaders of God’s promises and purpose so they can build on ancient foundations rather than starting over and building on nothing.

Summary: “Listening to the old men” means we don’t have to start over from scratch and make it up as we go.

Blog / Leadership

Leaders Lead

Leadership is not complicated. It is simple. I’m not saying it is easy. Just simple.

Want to be a leader? Then lead. See, it’s that simple. But difficult. And costly. And time-consuming. And painful. But you need to lead anyway.

Stop waiting around for someone to give you a title, a salary, a budget, a staff, an office, an invitation. Start leading. Now.

Who should I lead?

First lead yourself. Motivate yourself. Encourage yourself. Strengthen yourself. Build yourself up. Self control is foundational to leadership.

Then lead your kids, if you have some. Leadership starts at home. If I can’t lead those closest to me (and smaller than me), then no need attempting to lead others.

Then lead anyone who happens to see your example. At work. On campus. At church. In the gym. Leadership is by example, not by position. When people see a worthy example, they instinctively follow that example.

“That the leaders took the lead in Israel, that the people offered themselves willingly.” -Judges 5:2

Leader, are you willing to TAKE THE LEAD? As soon as you do, people will FOLLOW WILLINGLY.

Blog / Family / Leadership

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.