I’ve been staring at this blank screen for a while now trying to produce words that will convey some sort of semblance to what my heart feels. I keep coming up short.
Yesterday, I attended the funeral of Mike Morrow, one of the greatest men of God I’ve ever known. His life has touched mine in various ways; directly, through his children (one of whom, with his wife, taught my Sunday school class and poured into me throughout college, for which I will always be grateful), through his church (especially the women in it), and through his kindred-spirit relationship with my pastor.
He was a contributing writer for RTM Magazine and the co-founder of our bi-monthly pastors’ fellowships, and those are just two of the many avenues God drove him down to distill the Gospel and His glory.
Mike’s heart was focused by grace on the exaltation of God’s flawless beauty, with the sky not the grave as his goal. He loved and lived the Gospel and I’m so grateful for his life and legacy that remain as he joins the great cloud of witnesses around us.
Watch for yourself as Mike talks about the world he is now experiencing:
For audio from his funeral, click here.
It was the perfect afternoon for a grill out. Driving several miles outside of the city to the home of one of the families, we joined with the core group of the new church plant for an evening of food, Bible study, and prayer. Last night was relaxing, delicious, edifying, and fun.
When it came time for the Bible study, Michael encouraged the church to fight the idea of “church” based on traditional church culture, which says church is something to which one goes, and instead find their roots in the New Testament, which says church is something one is.
“It’s easier to follow tradition than the Holy Spirit,” Michael said. “Fight this.”
Using the text of 1 Thessalonians 1:8, Michael gave four characteristics of a missional church (there were eight but time was limited).
“For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything.” -1 Thessalonians 1:8
“What I care about is not your ecclesiology, eschatology, or your denomination. I don’t care that you’re not Baptist—you can choose to be wrong, if you want to,” he said with a laugh. “But really, when we get to heaven we’re going to find out that we all missed it somewhere. None of us have all truth. If there’s no perfection past this life that means I’ve already got it and that’s just not true. What I care about is your understanding of the Gospel.”
Through two nights and four sessions, Michael challenged the pastors out of the 60 people in attendance to continually both believe the Gospel for themselves and give it to their flocks.
He encouraged them to not reject their personalities in pursuit of preaching like their heroes but to recognize their personalities have been created and shaped for their specific role in their specific church.
“This conference is not for you to imitate what I do,” he said. “I preach the way I do because that’s who I am. I should be less of who I am and more of Jesus. The truth is God uses us in spite of us not because of us. Be who you are.”
“Be men, real men, and that includes all of your emotions,” he said. “I refuse to preach on hell, if I cannot be broken. I don’t know how you can preach on eternal punishment in a detached way. And how can you preach about the fullness of joy at God’s right hand and pleasures forevermore with a straight face?”
“The way you discuss God ought to befit the dignity that is His.”
“The point of preaching is not to teach your people more Biblical information; that’s just a tool God uses to manifest His presence.”
“If you don’t lay down your life for your sheep, you’ll never get on a cross for them. Our lives are too wrapped up in our reputation. When you can die to your reputation, you’re laying down your life for your sheep.”
“If you don’t spend time in prayer praying for you, you cannot adequately pray for others. If my heart is not right with God, how can I help your heart? The best thing a pastor can do for his congregation is keep his heart in love with Jesus.”
“Pastor, God didn’t call you to be the Holy Spirit for your people and if you are continually answering people and doing what they ask they’ll never learn to listen to the Holy Spirit for themselves. One of the best things you can tell your people is no.”
“God has entrusted you with one of the greatest gifts given to men: the privilege of preaching. It is a holy and serious thing but it is also a privileged thing. God called me to be a preacher for my people but also because I need it to be made more like Jesus. Preaching is a place where you are carved and crafted to look more like His Son. He is more concerned about the man than the ministry and the philosophy of God is that if He can get the man right, the ministry will be right.”
On Sunday morning we had the honor of returning to Osoi Baptist Church and worshipping with our family there and that night Michael and Florin spoke at an evangelistic service hosted by the new church plant.
God is so good. He uniquely and purposefully designed our day according to His exact specifications. Through His Holy Spirit, He re-routed plan, made straight our paths, allowed us to experience His tangible presence, ministered to His people, and, according to reports, convicted the not-yet believer.
Great is His faithfulness.
“I will give thanks to You, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to You among the nations. For Your steadfast love is great above the heavens; Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.” -Psalm 108:3-4
Below you’ll find some photos and a recap of both services.
Every time we go to Osoi we feel almost as though we are back home with our church family. It would be difficult to find a church so similar to Oak Grove in all the world. We are truly kindred spirits. Pastor Benny Fulesi is a dear brother who leads his flock with love-swept humility and Christlike tenderness. We love him and his church dearly and are grateful for their hearts and desire to pursue the Lord with fervor.
With a message titled “When it’s not what it seems,” Michael spoke from Matthew 11:2-11 about life’s disappointments and John the Baptist’s doubts regarding Jesus’ methodology. Following the message, Brother Benny and several church members shared how much they needed this message and how God had used it to encourage them and minister to their aching hearts. We are humbled and grateful for the opportunity to know and worship with this church.
“Why doesn’t ice cream have the same nutritional value as broccoli? Many things in life are not what you wish they would be. This was John’s problem. He didn’t doubt who Jesus was—He doubted His methodology.”
“What’s missing in Jesus’ answer to John’s doubt? Rebuke. Jesus didn’t answer his doubt with disgust but with a compliment (Matt. 11:11).”
“So you’re struggling to believe God. You know it and He knows it. Listen. He’s not about to rebuke you, chastise you, or put you down. It’s God’s job to lift you up.”
“You might say, ‘Well, what about when Peter doubted as he tried to walk on the water and Jesus rebuking him for having little faith?’ That’s a good question. But look at what happened. Jesus did say Peter had little faith but He did so as He gave him a hand up out of the water. When God rebukes you, and He will, He doesn’t do so with His heel but by extending His hand and lifting you up.”
“You don’t need me to come and tell you to stand on God. You know this. Your pastor teaches you this. So my question is why aren’t you doing it? Because, like John, the dungeon you’re in has taken your eyes. Go back to the Book.”
A few minutes before getting up to speak, the Lord changed Michael’s message. For reasons unbeknownst to Michael (but known completely to God), the Lord re-routed his intentions and prompted him to preach the same message from Osoi. The Lord used it greatly. Several people associated with the new church plant (who hosted the service) had invited unbelievers and almost all of them told Michael afterward, “God had you change the message for my friend.” Sola Deo Gloria—He knows what He’s doing.
The room was extremely quiet as those that filled it were engaged on the message God prepared for them. Michael encouraged the hurting and the seeking when he said, “We’ve all been there. God worked in a way we didn’t expect and we’re left shaking our heads. When that happens, Jesus is saying, ‘Trust Me and trust the way I do things.'”
He quoted Vance Havner paraphrasing Jesus, “Blessed is the man who does not get upset by the way I run My business.”
“When a man or woman repents and believes, God always saves,” Michael said. “Let Him do it His way. He is most happy to do His business and you are most happy when you submit.”
As I write this, the Iasi RMF Pastors’ Conference is underway with more than 60 people in attendance. Tomorrow night the second half of the conference will take place. Lord willing, the new church plant, Adora Christi, will be constituted next Sunday during a baptism service. We have a few other meetings planned this week and we are expectantly watching for God’s activity and how we can join Him in it. We are not here to create something but to simply partner with what He is already doing here and He is active.
For part one, click here.
(The following is material from yesterday’s conference. Please attribute all quotes to Michael Durham, unless otherwise stated.)
A message from God through a human agent. It’s a word from above for the people gathered to hear it.
An encounter with God. The goal of preaching is not to just give people Bible information. The goal of preaching is that your people experience God Himself while you’re preaching. Something supernatural should happen while we are sharing the Word with the congregation—we pray that God would manifest Himself to the hearer. It may not be the entire sermon, there’s a mystery here. Most of the sermon may lack this divine inspiration of God but that message leads to a point when God shows up. And when that moment occurs, there’s the real impact. Just communicating truth to your congregation will not give them an encounter with God. We need an encounter with God.
Engaging to the entire person. The preacher and the hearer both need to be engaged with more than just the mind. The preacher must engage his entire person—mind, body, soul—and the listener must engage his or her entire person as well. Otherwise, preaching becomes nothing but one brain transmitting information to another brain.
To make your preaching spiritual you need the Word—Jesus Christ—to infuse both you and your listener so that both parties experience the Lord. I’ve learned that Christians will forgive poor speaking ability and are willing to overlook your personal appearance, if you can give them a sense of God’s presence when you preach. There’s only one way you can do that: You, yourself, must be filled with God. The aroma of God must be all over you. You must have spent time in His presence. You must let God impact your soul with His person.
It’s not necessary for you to be homiletically perfect; if there is something about the Holy Spirit of God on you, God will be at work in the people to whom you proclaim His truth.
This morning we go to Osoi Baptist Church and tonight we will have an evangelistic service with the new church plant. Please pray for both meetings that the Spirit of God would come in power and give all in attendance exactly what they need. Thank you for joining us in this mission.
Though the intended audience for the conference was pastors, there were many women there. As we talked to some of the women during lunch and afterward, they said they had no regrets in coming but that God had spoken to them, showing them ways they can teach other women and girls in their church.
(The following is material from today’s conference. Please attribute all quotes to Michael Durham, unless otherwise stated.)
For those of you who are not pastors, I encourage you to pray for your pastors. God has not only called them to preach to you but He’s called them to declare the message to the world—the world you live in. Through the Spirit and their preaching, you also become ambassadors of the Lord Jesus Christ. Your pastor doesn’t preach just to inform your mind. They preach that your spirit may be empowered to do the work of the ministry.
In one sense, we’re all proclaimers of the Gospel. But I want to specifically address the God-fearing men who fill the pulpit.
Most preachers today preach to see peoples’ lives changed, which is often qualified by their behaviors changing. For example, the drunkard is no longer drinking. The man who beat his wife no longer does so. The person who lives immorally ceases their immorality. They start attending church. They stop doing the things they used to do and start doing good things. And many a pastor would be happy to see those things take place. He would love to see his members start living moral lives. But, brothers, that’s not the goal of biblical preaching.
You must never forget it was the religious group that had Jesus crucified. We need a supernatural change. The sin problem is not just about what you do! The sin problem is about who you are. Are you a child of Adam or are you a child of God? Men will always beget men. And when we beget children we beget them in our own image, just as sinful as we are. Only God can beget in His own image. That’s a miracle. That’s the goal of preaching.
“But I’m a man, I can’t do that!” That’s true, but there are some things you and I must do if we are to be the vessels God will use to bring about the miracle. That’s why I say there is a dire need for seriousness in the pulpit.
The discussion of God, the Gospel, and Scripture must be done in a very serious manner. One of the greatest enemies of the Gospel and preaching is entertainment. Preachers are being deceived to believe that if they want to grow their audience they have to be entertaining. That is simply not true.
You cannot discuss God like you can discuss any other topic. We should approach the discussion of God very reverently. Some of your family members and friends are not believers because when you discuss God or the Gospel with them you do it with a lack of fear and seriousness. They don’t see in you this gravity and seriousness. This is one of the reasons I won’t debate people about God. I refuse to debate about God because He is not like politics or other discussions on which we might debate. You do not debate people into the kingdom. Men are soul-sick. They need a spiritual medication to bring life to them.
For part two of today’s recap, click here.
On one hand, it seems as though it’s been more than that long and on the other, it feels as though no time has elapsed at all. This was the meeting with the leaders and core group of the new church plant in Iasi, which, Lord willing, will be constituted on the Eastern Orthodox Palm Sunday (April 24). It’s amazing how God has knit our hearts together and how we can see the activity of our Lord in their hearts and lives.
As Michael stared out the meeting, he went right to the Word to rehearse what was discussed at the retreat last year.
Then Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” -Mark 1:17
“We need to create an environment of discipleship. We’re not interested in having another church with an address in Iasi. We want an atmosphere that lives, breathes, the Great Commission.” Michael said. “If Jesus spent His entire ministry making disciples, how can I say I’m like Him if I’m not making disciples?”
With the captive audience, he then broke down the text into three parts.
(The following is material from the evening. Please attribute all quotes to Michael Durham, unless otherwise stated.)
We’ve put discipleship in a sterile environment. Worship is an entire life lived to the glory of God.
You don’t make yourself a fisher of men. Pastors don’t make you a fisher of men. Jesus promised to do this. How does this equate with the Great Commission? What part of the Great Commission do you think this would parallel with? What about, “…baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit”? Jesus gives us, from the very beginning, a new identity.
How do you know you have a new identity? How do you know you believe what the Bible says? Because you have the desire to will and do His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). You have a new identity that desires to do it and then you do it (John 14:15).
We want to create an atmosphere that makes it easy for people to know, believe, and do.
1. Life on Life
We have to change our mindset and definition of what church is. For most, church is an event and not life-driven; it is what happens at 9 o’clock on Sunday morning. But go back to Jesus. He’s the Master Discipler. Let’s learn from Him. The Apostles were not taught in a classroom or in a once a week meeting, were they? What does Mark 3:14 say is the reason He appointed the twelve disiples?
Then He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach… -Mark 3:14
If He had trained them in a once a week meeting, how long would it have taken? Then why do we think we can do this in a once a week meeting? Discipleship is life on life. Discipleship includes every aspect of life.
There’s nothing wrong with knowledge, but in the classroom you’re limited to only the transmission of information. This must be life on life.
2. Life in Community
It takes a community of believers to disciple a person. God does not call you to disciple everyone personally but He intends you to disciple personally with others. You can’t do that in a church service. This has to be real life, guys. Jesus relates to us in different ways and we need the way He relates to others to have a fuller glimpse of who Jesus is. Jesus relates to Victor in a way that is unique to him because he’s a unique personality. Jesus intended the disciple to be well rounded. This happens in community.
3. Life on Mission
Jesus discipled His disciples while He was on His mission. He didn’t stop for three years to get the guys ready and then get on His mission. While on His mission of redemption, He trained and discipled them. This is where the power of the Spirit will be demonstrated, on the mission of making disciples.
If this church is not on mission to make disciples, training those new disciples in the very act of mission, their hearts will not be exposed. If you don’t expose the issues of the heart, you can’t disciple them beyond those issues.
Listening to a pastor in a church service may convict you but it is so easy while listening to a convicting sermon to sit there and begin to rationalize, “No, I don’t necessarily do that,” or “I’m justified in that,” or “I’m not as bad as he is.” It’s easy to sit in a church service and convince yourself you’re not as bad as the sermon is telling you. Think about it. Have you always responded to conviction in a church service? How many times have you been convicted but you left and no one else knew that you had been convicted?
When you get in real life and with people on mission, hearts are exposed by the actions that come out of them. You can’t rationalize that away because those around you see it. And when you see it in others (and vice versa) we have an opportunity to disciple that person and show them why they did what they did and how the Gospel is the answer. It must all come back to the Gospel.
That is, in a nutshell, the environment we want to see this church foster. And one man can’t do that. It’s a community.
Tomorrow morning we will leave early to spend the day in Ungheni, Moldova, where Michael and Florin will lead an RMF conference for pastors and church leaders.
Please be in prayer for the days ahead, for sensitivity to whatever God wants for our time there (even if it differs from our plans), for His church to be strengthened, for more worshippers to be gathered for eternity, and for the radiance of His glory to break through the darkness of Eastern Europe.
It isn’t fantasy; it’s a fact. And what is proof of my proposition? You.
Are you comfortable with sharing your faith? Do you find it easy to explain to someone their need of Christ and His grace? Are you eager to witness to unconverted people and give them the Gospel? And do you do so often?
Chances are you are one of many believers who have a desire to be more evangelistic but aren’t doing so because they believe they don’t have what it takes.
Why have we put all of our evangelism eggs in the ordained clergy basket?
In Acts 8, Saul of Tarsus was unstoppable. He believed his persecution of the church was a personal mission given to him by God. He led an angry mob to stone Stephen and, like a wild dog having the taste for blood, hungered for more. Through the streets of Jerusalem, his private detail of temple guards entered homes and businesses in search of the Nazarene’s followers. The thoroughness of Saul’s attacks made most of the Christians in the city believe if they stayed they would be next and so, they packed essentials and got “out of Dodge.” And as they went they preached.
Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word. -Acts 8:4
But, Luke, the author of the book of Acts wanted you and me to know that the average Christian (whatever average means) is remarkably equipped to be as missional as the missionary. Now Saul was consenting to his death.
At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. -Acts 8:1
“Except the apostles.” He adds this simple statement in a matter of fact way, but we must not overlook it. Those who were scattered and preached were not preachers but simple Christians. They may have been afraid of Saul, but not afraid to witness. And they preached.
It can also mean to proclaim, declare, or even show someone good news. No doubt, some probably proclaimed the Gospel in a sermonic form, but the vast majority announced the Gospel in their own quiet and lowkey way. The New Testament demands that we see the function of the church pastor and realize not everyone is called to that role. However, the non-minister can still preach, but in a different way than we typically think. The Gospel is declared by demonstration as well as proclamation. Most often, it is demonstrated more than proclaimed, but is never more effective than when it is both shown and shared. I think this is what we read in Acts 8:4.
How do you show the Gospel? By demonstrating your spiritual gift to those outside of the church. For years, I believed that the spiritual gifts were only for the edification of the saints and not for the evangelism of sinners. I could not see that spiritual gifts had value for the unbeliever. I was taught that bias growing up in church and each time I read the Bible it was there clouding my judgment. However, my view has changed because the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 14 shows how some gifts of the Spirit are effective in convincing the sinner of his or her regrettable state.
What are some examples and illustrations of working out of your giftings?
Read the rest of the article in the March/April RTM Magazine.
It was the mid 1990s. Vance was pastoring a church in a small Tennessee town, and over the course of three years the congregation grew to almost a fourth of the town’s population. God was moving and lives were being changed, but in a plot twist of deeply painful proportions, Vance and the entire staff team were asked to leave.
The clouds were so dark and the storm so heavy that Vance believed he would leave the ministry in effort to protect himself and his family from facing that magnitude of pain again.
But the profound loss produced greater gain.
“In one night of being asked to leave and everything we worked for just sort of dissipating, we were left with nothing but Jesus—to come to the greatest discovery of our lives, and that is to know that He is enough,” he said.
“Up until that moment, if you would have asked me, ‘Vance, what’s the primary call on your life?’ I would have said the primary call on my life was ministry,” he said. “It was in that transition that I learned that the primary call of my life was not ministry; it’s intimacy. Ministry is what He does out of the overflow of intimacy. Through that, God invited me into a journey of just pursuing Christ’s life in the gospels and really understanding the Christian life is not me living for Jesus, but Jesus living through me.”
This realization produced another storm in the Pitman family. This time, however, it was not a storm of turbulent wind and hail but of billowing peace and grace, grace that directed their paths to the thriving metropolis of Las Vegas.
How did the Pitmans decide on Las Vegas? Well, it involves a blank check, a phone call, and a plane ticket. Read the rest of their story in the March/April RTM Magazine.