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Discipleship / Miscellaneous

The Reformation at 500

October 31, 2017

Screen Shot 2017-10-31 at 4.35.31 PM
MADRID —
After a productive week in Malaysia at the Asian Pastors Equipping Conference (aka APEC), Deborah and I boarded a plane to Spain to teach the “same ole boring strokes” and to preach at the sixth anniversary of our Every Nation church in Madrid. There is so much to report from both Asia and Europe, but I thought that since today is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, I would have our resident historian write us a guest post on the history and theological significance of the Reformation. William (my oldest son) wrote and taught the Church History course for Leadership 215 and is currently finishing his PhD in history at Vanderbilt University. Enjoy.

On October 31st, 1517—exactly 500 years ago today—a German monk and theology professor named Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the door of the church in Wittenburg. Though it may not have been his original intention, this simple act sparked a revolution within European Christianity—a revolution that would have massive implications for every area of Western society including politics, education, culture, the arts, and even the economy.

Although Luther’s grievances with the Catholic church—and in particular with the system of indulgences—were very specific to the time and place in which he lived, three perennial questions were behind the ninety-five theses.

The first question was theological: How is it possible for a sinful human to be justified before a holy God? The second question was practical: How do we receive God’s gift of forgiveness? And the third question was epistemological: How can I know with any certainty that God has forgiven me?

These three questions plagued Luther personally for much of his career as a monk; and as it turns out, these questions also plagued European society as a whole.

In 1517, if you were to ask a Christian on the street in Wittenburg to answer these questions, you might have heard something like this:

Q: How is it possible for you, a sinful human, to be justified before a holy God?
A: By God’s grace and by great effort, we can be justified.

Q: How do you receive God’s forgiveness?
A: Through sincere penance and buying papal indulgences.

Q: How can you know with any certainty that God has forgiven you?
A: Because the priest has declared me absolved and the pope has issued the indulgence.

Luther was unsatisfied with these answers.

Reflecting on his frustrations with the system of indulgences, Luther wrote, “For however irreproachably I lived as a monk, I felt myself in the presence of God to be a sinner with a most unquiet conscience, nor could I believe that I pleased him with my satisfactions. I did not love, indeed I hated this just God…”

However, while teaching a course on the book of Romans in 1515, Luther received the life-changing revelation that “The righteous shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17).

About this moment, Luther wrote: “I felt that I had been born anew and that the gates of heaven had been opened. The whole of Scripture gained a new meaning. And from that point on the phrase ‘the justice of God’ no longer filled me with hatred, but rather became unspeakably sweet by virtue of a great love.”

For Luther, this revelation gave him new answers to the old questions that had plagued him his entire life.

Q: How is it possible for a sinful human to be justified before a holy God?
A: By God’s grace alone (Sola Gratia). Luther recognized that our justification before God was entirely dependent on His sovereign grace. No good work or human merit could ever accomplish (or even add to) the work of Jesus on the cross. Luther was so convinced of the efficacy of God’s grace in our salvation that he offered this humorous (and slightly dangerous) advice: “Sometimes we must drink more, sport, recreate ourselves, aye, and even sin a little to spite the devil, so that we leave him no place for troubling our consciences with trifles. We are conquered if we try too conscientiously not to sin at all.”

Q: How do we receive God’s forgiveness?
A: Through faith alone (Sola Fide). Reading Romans, Luther realized that we receive God’s forgiveness by faith. That’s it. We must simply accept that we are accepted because of the work of Jesus on our behalf. On faith, Luther wrote, “Faith is a living, bold trust in God’s grace, so certain of God’s favor that it would risk death a thousand times trusting in it. Such confidence and knowledge of God’s grace makes you happy, joyful and bold in your relationship to God and all creatures.”

Q: How can we know with certainty that God has forgiven us?
A: God has told us through His Word (Sola Scriptura). And God cannot lie. Luther, who had always struggled with assurance, realized that he could be confident in God’s grace because He could trust God’s Word. For Luther, it was no longer the words of the priest or even the pope that brought assurance but rather the Word of God reminding Him of the truth. On the Bible, Luther wrote, “The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold of me… A simple layman armed with Scripture is to be believed above a pope or a cardinal without it.”

I sometimes wonder how people in our churches would answer Luther’s three big questions in 2017.

Would their answers sound like Luther? Or would they sound more like the man on the street in Wittenburg in 1517?

Whether or not we know the Latin phrases (Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, & Sola Scriptura), my prayer is that every disciple in our churches would know the truth in their hearts that “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Discipleship / Miscellaneous

A Three-Year-Old’s Theology: On Gratitude

October 18, 2017
The Ark Encounter in Kentucky.

The Ark Encounter in Kentucky.

TOKYO AIRPORT — A few weeks ago, I wrote about my granddaughter, Josephine, and her theologically profound comments about tragedy and natural disaster. This was neither the first nor the last time that Josephine’s words have cause me to think deeply about God, the Bible, and life.

This should not surprise us.

In the gospels, we frequently find Jesus making time to be with children. When his disciples would try to push them away, he would say things like this: “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child shall not enter it” (Luke 19:16-17).

What does it mean to receive the kingdom of God like a little child? For one, it involves seriously engaging their thoughts and perspectives about life to see what God might be revealing to us about Himself and His kingdom through their eyes.

I am reminded of this whenever I hear Josephine pray.

Her parents began teaching her to pray as soon as she could talk. And at first, she would simply follow their words as they prayed with her each night and before meals. But recently, she has begun praying on her own. You never really know what she is going to say, except at the beginning of her prayers.

She begins most prayers like this: “Lord, thank you for Noah’s Ark and for Disney World…” Then she goes on to thank God for more normal things like family, friends, her teachers at school, the weather, etc.

Thank you for Noah’s Ark…

This point of gratitude is less bizarre if you know that Noah’s Ark is one of Josephine’s favorite Bible stories. She has Noah’s Ark toys; she has bookmarked Noah’s Ark in her children’s Bible; and she even got to visit the “real thing” in Kentucky with me and Deborah a few months ago.

And for Disney World…

In July after the Build Conference, we took Josephine to Disney World for the first time in her life. Ever since then, she has been obsessed with all things Minnie Mouse. She has Minnie Mouse pajamas, Minnie Mouse dolls, Minnie Mouse ears, Minnie Mouse coloring books, Minnie Mouse socks, etc.

While it might be tempting to write off Josephine’s prayer as three-year-old cuteness and nothing more, I think there is something profound that we can learn about gratitude and the kingdom.

First, we (like Josephine) should thank God more often for Noah’s Ark. His decision to save one man and his family was an act of sovereign grace that changed the course of redemptive history. Of course, Noah’s Ark points to a later, more complete work of redemption in Jesus. But this early story of God’s saving work provides us with a beautiful picture of God’s grace in the face of man’s depravity and God’s care for His creation in the midst of natural disaster. Stories like this are making a gospel imprint on little Josephine’s imagination and should never stop impressing on our imaginations either.

Second, though many adults (including myself) wish Disney World didn’t exist (or at least had shorter lines and less humidity), Josephine’s love of Magic Kingdom demonstrates that all humans—three-year-olds to ninety-three-year-olds—are longing for a kingdom where joy, celebration, awe, and wonder are the norm. We, like Josephine, know that most places are not like Disney World. Most places we inhabit are marked with suffering, futility, and lack. We, like Josephine, long for the coming of God’s kingdom—when every tear will be wiped away, every relationship will be restored, and every heart will be glad. For Josephine, Disney World is one of the closest representations of that kingdom reality (that she has personally experienced), not only because of the castles and real life princesses, but also because her entire family (aunts, uncles, grandparents, parents, etc.) spent the money and endured the heat to make the day special for her.

While the opening words of Josephine’s prayer offer an unexpected juxtaposition (Noah’s Ark and Disney World), they point us to two things we should all thank God for everyday: His redemptive work in history and His coming kingdom.

Blog / Miscellaneous

A Three-Year-Old’s Theology on Tragedy

October 3, 2017

First responders in Las Vegas

NASHVILLE—As her vocabulary has grown over the last few months, my three-year-old granddaughter, Josephine, has said some very funny things (as most three-year-olds do). And she has also said some very profound things with great theological significance.

A few weeks ago, Hurricane Harvey made its way from Texas and up through Tennessee, causing widespread flooding. The day after, Josephine and her dad (my oldest son) took a walk in her favorite park. Since it’s right next to a river, the park had flooded badly. Trees and fences had been knocked over by the force of the water. And the entire playground surface had been washed away by the flood, leaving exposed concrete, metal, and debris from the river.

As Josephine surveyed the devastation to her favorite playground, a scene which many three year olds from Texas to Tennessee would have seen in the days following the flood, she said to her dad:

“God is going to be so sad when He sees this.”

Though Josephine’s three-year-old mind is not yet capable of understanding the fact that God already knew about the flood (In fact, He foreknew this catastrophic event), her comments reveal a deep understanding about the heart of God in the midst of tragedy.

When God looks down on Josephine’s favorite playground and sees the devastation caused by the flood, He, like Josephine, is sad.

When God looks down on Houston, which was hit the hardest by Harvey, He, like millions in that city, is sad.

When God looks down on Mexico City, still recovering from a massive earthquake that killed hundreds, God is sad.

When God looks down on Puerto Rico and the many islands of the Caribbean that have been hit by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, and He sees the devastation and the suffering, He is sad.

When God looks down on the city of Marseille, as it reels in fear from yet another terrorist attack, God is sad.

And when God looks down on the city of Las Vegas today as it mourns the deaths of fifty-nine people from a mass shooting last night, He, like that entire city, is sad.

How can we be sure that God mourns when we mourn? How do we know that our tragedies, big and small, matter to God? How do we know how God feels about tragedies in our cities and country?

Notice how Luke recorded the last time Jesus would enter Jerusalem in Luke 19. In his omniscience, Jesus knew that it wouldn’t be long before His beloved city would be violently attacked and devastated. Let’s look at how He felt: “When he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it” (Luke 19:41). In the words of my granddaughter, “He was sad.”

Not only that, but we follow a savior who not only wept over the city of Jerusalem, but also wept at a small funeral in the village of Bethany for a man named Lazarus (John 11).

It might be helpful to know that in both of these accounts of Jesus weeping, the original word translated “wept” does not mean a single tear slowly coursing down a cheek as lips silently quiver. Rather, it means a loud wailing that anyone within hearing distance would certainly notice.

Even though Jesus knew that Lazarus would die. Even though Jesus knew that he would be raised from the dead. Even though Jesus knew that He had power over death and the grave. He still was sad when He saw the tomb of His friend and saw his sisters, Mary and Martha, grieving.

Because we follow a savior who is both fully God and fully human, we can know with certainty the two things that we all need to hear in moments of suffering grief: God is sovereign in our tragedy and God is sad with us.

I recently completed a video series on my latest book, The Multiplication Challenge. Watch below for the latest video.

 

Blog / Leadership / Miscellaneous / Missions

Before You Attempt to Do Ministry…

July 10, 2017

Preparation

NASHVILLE—Last week, I had the honor of speaking to a group of Every Nation North America Life Year missionaries who are being sent to Ukraine, Scotland, Spain, and New Zealand. Here’s what I told them to do in order to be successful and faithful missionaries.

1. LEARN. Teaching is part of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), but we must learn before we teach. Don’t be that guy with all the answers, especially if you are in a foreign country or an unfamiliar culture. Be a learner first. If we want to learn, we must first study. Successful cross-cultural missionaries study the culture, context, and communications styles of their new world. Then they teach.

2. LEAD. But, what is leadership and and what is the best way to lead in my new context? Too many missionaries (and pastors, church planters, and volunteer ministry leaders) think that serving is a stepping stone to a leadership—that we are supposed to serve so that one day we can lead. That’s exactly the opposite of what Jesus taught. When James and John asked to sit on the right and left of Jesus, they were asking for leadership position and authority. Jesus said they were thinking about leadership like Gentiles (aka people far from God). He then described his view of leadership with two words that James and John would never use to describe leadership: servant and slave. Many are wrongly taught that service is the biblical pathway to leadership. Jesus taught the exact opposite. He taught that leadership is a platform for serving (Mark 10:35-45).  The best missionaries think and act like servants.

3. LOVE. It is common for good people to gradually get to the point where they love the fruit, adventure, and rewards of ministry more than they love God. It never starts that way, but it happens. Some find their way back to their first love, others spend their lives working for God or running from God. Peter denied Jesus three times, then went back to fishing for fish rather than fishing for men. Jesus restored Peter. But notice that Peter’s relationship with Jesus was restored before his ministry was restored. Jesus asked Peter relational questions, then restored his ministry. “Do you love me?… Do you love me?… Do you love me?” Three denials and three chances to express his love. If Peter had denied four times, I think Jesus would have given him four chances to affirm his love. Once the relationship was restored, only then did Jesus recommission Peter to ministry. “Feed my lambs… Tend my sheep… Feed my sheep” (John 21:15-19). All ministry should flow out of relationship. Here’s the order: love Jesus, do ministry.

I can’t wait to hear from these missionaries once they are on the field. I know God will do great things for them, in them, and through them. Probably in that order.

Blog / Church / Miscellaneous

Ethnic Diversity & Sunday Worship

May 10, 2017

Bethel diversity

NASHVILLE—After a long flight from Johannesburg, Deborah and I arrived back in Nashville early Saturday morning. The next day, as we walked into Bethel World Outreach Church, I was struck once again by the logo of praying hands (one black, one white) that appear on everything Bethel produces.

Many people don’t realize this, but Bethel borrowed that logo from our churches in South Africa many years ago. For them, it was a symbol of what the church should look like as South African society tried to heal after decades of Apartheid. Similarly for Rice Broocks and the Bethel leadership, the black and white praying hands represented what church in the American South ought to look like after its own painful legacy of racial segregation.

The praying hands are symbolic. They point to something. They remind leaders and members of the churches in both Cape Town and Nashville that God has called us to into a new community. One where ethnic, social, cultural, and political differences are subordinated to the central reality of the gospel: that in Christ, we have all been adopted into the family of God.

Paul, in his letter to the church in Colossae, put it this way: “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11).

This verse, like the praying hands logo, reminds us of what the church ought to look like, who the church ought to be: a diverse people, united by the gospel.

And yet, so often our experience falls short.

Some churches simply aren’t diverse. And other churches, if they’ve achieved a level of diversity, struggle to find unity.

How can we pursue diversity and keep unity in the church?

In Colossians 3, Paul gives us the answer. After showing the church in Colossae what they ought to look like in verse 11, he then tells them how to do it. In verses 12-15, Paul lists the virtues that Christians need to cultivate in order to live in diversity and unity: compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, love, peace, and thankfulness.

And in verse 16, Paul describes two central activities that diverse church communities need to do in order to stay unified: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

For Paul, the answer to the diversity and unity problem in the church was simple: word and worship.

In order to be the church that God has called us to be, we need to be a people who read, study, and meditate on the Word together. And we need to be a people who worship together.

Why does Paul emphasize the Word and worship?

Because the Holy Spirit does something unique in His people when they gather around the Word and when they join together in songs of worship to God.

Like a tuning fork, the Word gives God’s people the right pitch to which they must all tune their hearts and minds. Without the Word, we have no unity. Without the Word, we are like a band trying to tune their instruments to one another rather than the tuning fork. (In case you’ve never tried. It doesn’t work.)

Similarly, when we sing together, we are once again allowing the Holy Spirit to do a work of divine tuning. But this activity not only engages our hearts and minds, but our bodies as well. When we sing, clap, and dance, God engages our vocal chords, our hands, our feet. And when we do this together, we are reminded of what—actually who—matters most.

We are reminded that only redeemed people can sing like this.

Though we are from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation, one day we will all stand before the throne of God and cry out with a one voice: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9-10)

 

Blog / Church / Miscellaneous

Racism, Segregation, and Bad Theology

May 2, 2017

white-areaJOHANNESBURG—After a week of ministry in Australia and New Zealand, Deborah and I flew across the Indian Ocean to Johannesburg, South Africa, to preach at our Every Nation Word and Spirit Conference.

Before our meetings started, we visited the Apartheid Museum, a moving and powerful reminder of the ugliness of racism and the beauty of reconciliation. It was a humbling reminder that Christians in every age have blind spots that can only be identified and fixed when we intentionally walk in multiethnic and multigenerational Christian community.

Like the Jim Crow era segregation in the American South, Apartheid in South Africa was propagated, supported, and defended by Christians. Often our knee-jerk reaction to these painful realities of church history is to assume that the “Christian” defenders of Apartheid or Jim Crow were not real Christians. Maybe they were just cultural Christians; or maybe they were theologically liberal Christians who didn’t actually believe the Bible.

Unfortunately, history won’t let us off the hook that easily.

I am sure that some defenders of segregation in both South Africa and America were only nominal Christians and others may have been a part of churches that stopped believing the Bible. But many defenders of segregation on both sides of the Atlantic were members of churches that we might have attended had we been around in those days. To put it bluntly, many of them were Bible-believing Christians.

Not only did they defend racial segregation on national and cultural grounds, they defended it on biblical and theological grounds. They were wrong. They were sinning. And they didn’t see it.

It was a blind spot.

There were certainly many white South African Christians under Apartheid who were kind and loving to people of other races and did not personally discriminate against those from whom they were legally segregated. And yet, many of those same people saw nothing wrong with the Apartheid system they were living under. It was a blind spot.

The same could be said for my upbringing in Mississippi. I grew up in a white neighborhood, played golf at a white country club, played baseball on a white Little League team, and attended a private white prep school. In my world, segregation was normal, until I got involved in a multiethnic campus ministry and traded my white world for a world with color. As I developed friendships with people who did not look like me, I could see in their faces the pain of discrimination and the folly of segregation.

The sinful tendency to segregate on racial, ethnic, and cultural lines is not new.

In the first-century church, Jewish disciples often excluded Gentile believers from fellowship because they held to a cultural notion that Gentiles were unclean. This meant, among other things, that many Jewish believers refused to eat with Gentile believers. And this was not just a practice of a fringe group of Jewish legalists in the early church.

Peter and others among the original twelve participated in the segregation of Jewish and Gentile believers. For Peter to repent and change, he needed a powerful encounter with God, an unlikely friendship with a Roman soldier named Cornelius (see Acts 10-11), and a very public rebuke from Paul (see Galatians 2:11-16).

In every time and place, the local church has blind spots—areas of both personal and public sin that to them look less like sin and more like the status quo, that look less like oppression and more like law and order. Things that should break our hearts but don’t even catch our eye. Things that should be shocking but seem mundane. Things that will make future generations of Christians wonder: How could they call themselves Christians and not see that?

This sobering reminder from church history should remind us that planting multiethnic and multigenerational churches is not just an option for the ambitious church planter. Diversity is not an option. It’s a necessity. If we only build with people who look just like us, we will exclude the very people whom God has ordained to help us see our blind spots.

In the words of C.H. Mason, a Pentecostal saint of old: “The church is like the eye. It has a little black in it and a little white in it, and without both, we cannot see.”

Blog / Church / Family / Miscellaneous

An Easter Funeral

April 18, 2017
 Tuckers Grove United Congregational Holiness Church

 NASHVILLE—Late last night, we arrived home from the funeral of Deborah’s grandmother, Sara Nell McAfee, known to her grandchildren, great grandchildren, and great great grandchildren as Mama Mac. In sermons and at parenting conferences, I have often talked about Mama Mac and the godly heritage she left behind for her four children, nine grandchildren, sixteen great grandchildren, and two great great grandchildren (Jo and Liam).

The funeral service was held at Tucker’s Grove United Congregational Holiness Church (see picture above)—the Pentecostal church where Deborah’s great grandfather was the pastor for fifty years and where Deborah’s grandmother attended all her life. As a pastor, I normally speak at the funerals I attend, but at this one, I sat in the pew with my wife, adult sons, daughter-in-law, and my granddaughter, Josephine.

The funeral service was led by the new pastor of Tucker’s Grove, a young preacher who had only been in this church for five years. He was brief, but he said a few words that I’ll never forget. Standing in this rural Pentecostal church that was founded in 1923, the pastor said of Mama Mac and her generation: “Today, people go to the house of God. But in the past, people had an encounter with the God of the house. Lord, we need an encounter with the GOD OF THE HOUSE!!!”

As he said this, I began to think about all that Mama Mac had seen and experienced in this small brick church building during her ninety-four years on this earth. Weddings. Baptisms. Funerals. Communion. Prayer. Foot washings. Baby dedications. Healings. Signs and wonders. Church plants. Church splits. Church growth. Church decline. Church renewal.Since 1923, each generation of believers has had to have their own encounter with the God of the house. I thought about this as I looked at Deborah and reflected on the profound spiritual influence that Mama Mac had on her life. I thought about this as I looked at my adult sons, whose own spiritual lives owe much to their mother’s example of fervent prayer and unwavering faith. And I thought about this as I looked at my granddaughter, Josephine, who at three is now beginning to ask questions about Jesus (she even recognized him somehow on the stained glass windows at Tucker’s Grove).

As I thought about my own family, I also thought about my Every Nation church family around the world. My prayer is that after our founder generation is gone, subsequent generations will have their own encounters with God in some of the very churches we are planting and in the buildings we are building. My prayer is that my generation will not make it hard for future generations to meet Jesus and join His mission. My prayer is that, like Deborah’s grandmother, we will model a vibrant faith and love for God’s word and mission that inspires future generations to take the gospel to every nation in their generation.

Blog / Book / Miscellaneous

Top 10 Books I Read in 2016

January 4, 2017

Last night one of my sons asked me for book recommendations for the new year. That discussion inspired this blog.

I used to write a “Top 10 Books of the Year” blog at the end of each year. While I did not stop reading, for some reason, I stopped blogging that list. Here are some of my previous lists: 2012, 2011, 2010, 2008. Books on my Top 10 lists are not necessarily the best books, the most popular books, or the most important books. They are simply the ten books that impacted me the most in the past twelve months.

Now (after no one noticing that my list disappeared), I am reviving it. Here’s the 2016 list, in random order.

Thomas Long1.  The Witness of Preaching by Thomas G. Long. If you are called to preach, do your congregation a favor and study this book. If you are a church member, buy a copy for your pastor. If you don’t want him to know it’s from you, just quietly slip it in his briefcase or office. I have read a lot of preaching books in my lifetime, and this is one of the best.

 

Eugene Peterson2. Eat this Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading by Eugene Peterson. If you love reading or studying the Bible, you will love this book. If you have a difficult time reading, studying, understanding, or interpreting the Bible, this book might just change your life. Eugene Peterson is the best in the business at making spiritual and scholarly concepts accessible to semi-spiritual, non-scholarly readers.

 

Gothic Enterprise3. The Gothic Enterprise: A Guide to Understanding the Medieval Cathedral by Robert A. Scott. Last year, I preached a sermon and posted a blog inspired by this book. If you liked the sermon or blog, you might enjoy this book. Here’s the blog. While not a “Christian book,” it positively impacted my view of worship as much as any book I have ever read.

 

Lee Kuan Yew4. One Man’s View of the World by Lee Kuan Yew. While I do not always agree with his view of the world, I have always been inspired by Lee Kuan Yew’s vision, clarity, and commitment to excellence. This book presents Singapore’s long-time Prime Minister’s no-holds-barred opinions about America, Japan, China, Asia, Europe, and the Arab Spring. It not only addresses the past and present, but it also gives a glimpse into the possible future.

 

John Lennox5. Seven Days that Divide the World by John C. Lennox. Written by everyone’s favorite Northern Irish philosopher, apologist, and professor of mathematics, this book is a must-read for campus missionaries and university students. I appreciate it when really really really smart people write in a way that makes complicated ideas simple to grasp.

 

Henri Nouwen6. Spiritual Formation by Henri Nouwen. If you are not familiar with the concept of “Spiritual Formation,” or if you have never read a book by Henri Nouwen, this book is a great place to start. The Dutch priest, pastor, philosopher, psychologist, author, and professor (Yale, Harvard, Notre Dame) wrote over 40 books on Christian spirituality that have been published in over twenty-two languages.

 

Marshall Goldsmith7. Succession: Are You Ready by Marshall Goldsmith. I thought I was ready, or at least getting close to being ready. But after a couple chapters of this book, it became painfully obvious that I am not ready and the organizations I lead are not even almost ready. I have much work to do to prepare the next leaders to lead Every Nation and Victory and to prepare Every Nation and Victory for its next leaders. If you lead a church, ministry, or business, please read and reread this book. After you finish Succession, I suggest you also read, Next: Pastoral Succession that Works by Warren Bird.

 

Joe Onosai8. The Power Destiny by Joe Onosai. The much-anticipated autobiography by my friend, Pastor Joe Onosai is filled with brutally honest stories of sin, redemption, violence, love, pain, and healing. Most of all, it is a book about how God uses life-giving relationships to shape his leaders. I can’t wait to read the sequel!

 


Rice Broocks9. Man Myth Messiah: Answering History’s Greatest Question by Rice Broocks.
This follow-up to the book God’s Not Dead presents and examines the evidence for the historical Jesus with an emphasis on the historicity of the resurrection. An important and informative book in an age of ignorance and skepticism.

 

Roger Pearce10. Better Together by Roger Pearce. Powerful stories of grace, forgiveness, and racial reconciliation in the shadow of South Africa’s ugly history of ethnic division. This book offers hope and a way forward for campuses, cities, and nations anywhere in the world that are experiencing racial tension. I hope to see European, Middle Eastern, Asian, and North American versions of this book. Well done, Roger!

 

Honorable mention (aka snubs) that I’m glad I read, but did not quite make my Top 10: The Source of Life by Jurgen Moltmann, On Christian Doctrine by Saint Augustine, Overhearing the Gospel by Fred B. Craddock, Preaching the Story by Jeffrey Frymire, More Power in the Pulpit by Cleophus LaRue, Almost Christian by Kenda Creasy Dean, and Marius’ Mules Book VII: The Great Revolt by S.J.A. Turney.

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 / Family / Miscellaneous

Dick Dastardly, Turkey, and the Remedy for Entitlement

November 23, 2015

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.