Chris Russell

  • Rock Star Pastors

    I hate to speak against the Church or various movements within the Church, but I have to admit that it has always bothered me to see the way many pastors seem to set themselves up as “rock stars” within their congregations and within the Christian world. And sometimes it’s not that they set themselves up as rock stars, but it’s their churches or Christians in general who elevate them to that status.

    I am happy that these pastors and ministries often win souls to Christ. At least the message of the good news of Christ is being proclaimed (Philippians 1:15–18). That is why I normally don’t speak against others or write blog posts like this.

    However, in the past few weeks we’ve seen the sad events unfold around the indiscretions of Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, and this has renewed my concerns about this approach to Christianity. Let me say here that I am not trying to say that Mark has sought that rock star status. I have no way of being able to discern his motives. He has clearly done many great things for God’s Kingdom and has rescued many souls along the way. And I don’t believe the last chapter has been written for his ministry.

    I just feel like pastors, ministries, churches, etc. that have a rock star mentality are extremely vulnerable to Satan’s attacks, and there is a huge risk of hurting a lot of people who are watching. The rock star model for ministry leadership is certainly not a healthy, sustainable approach.

    Jesus never set Himself up as a rock star. If anyone could have done so, it would have been the Son of God. But that was not his approach. No laser light shows, no smoke machines, no tour buses. Jesus modeled servanthood, humility, and sacrifice.

    Consider the most amazing sermon that has ever been delivered on this side of the universe: The Sermon on the Mount. Here are a few snippets that contrast greatly with the rock star mentality that we see so often today:

    Matthew 5

    3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 

    4 Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted. 

    5 Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth. 

    6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled. 

    7 Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy. 

    8 Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God. 

    9 Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God. 

    10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 

    11 “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. 

    12 Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. 

    13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. 

    14 You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. 

    15 Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 

    16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

    Later in the same sermon, Jesus rebukes those who do their spiritual work in order to be seen and honored by men. Ponder His words here:

    Matthew 6

    1 “Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 

    2 Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 

    3 But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 

    4 that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly. 

    5 “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 

    6 But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. 

    7 And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. 

    8 Therefore do not be like them.

    Likewise, Paul also echoed this humble approach.  For instance he made these statements to the believers in Philippi:

    Philippians 2

    3 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 

    4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. 

    5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 

    6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 

    7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.

    8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.

    My hope is that pastors and churches and ministries will work to make Christ the true Star of their ministries. Self-promotion needs to go. Celebrity status should be rejected.

    Pastors, resist the seductive lure of fame and popularity. Do not allow people to lift you up, and certainly do not engage in self-promotion. Work to become invisible so that others can see Christ through you.

    Church members, avoid the tendency to elevate Christian leaders to rock star status. They are simply people, just like you.

    For another interesting twist on this subject check out this podcast by Brant Hansen here (Brant and Sherri).

    By the way, I’d love to hear your comments about this subject. Do you agree with me here? Disagree? Let me hear your feedback!


    For more, visit Sensible Faith.

  • The One Book That’s Always Relevant

    The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever. (Isaiah 40:8)

    I have three teenagers living in my home, and I find it amusing to see the trends that their generation seems to love! Messed up hair is OK now. Fashion companies can now sell jeans that have the holes already in them… for a rather high price, even! Nerdiness and social awkwardness are the “new cool.” Nice. Yes, very nice. Why can’t they come up with really great fads like I had in my day? You know.  Like the mullet! Well, maybe those fads weren’t much to be proud of after all!

    Each generation has its fads, it seems. And with each generation seems to come a renewed call to be relevant. You are nothing if you are not relevant!

    One of the fantastic claims of the Word of God is that it “stands forever.” God’s Word does not come and go like other books, movies, dramas, and fads of each generation. God’s Word is a compilation of inspired writings that are relevant to every generation, every culture, and every class of people in history. Wow! Take a moment to stop and think about that! Who could ever compose such a document – other than God Himself, of course!

    As you study God’s Word, take time to see what He has to say about your work, your marriage, your parenting, and your journey with Him. Seek Him on a personal level and not just on an academic level. Seek His answers that He has given you that will help you to live your life better… today!

    Today’s big idea: God has written His Word in such a way that it is truly relevant to every generation.

    What to pray: ask God to help you to apply His Word to your life today in a way that is relevant to the specific issues you are facing.


    For more, visit Sensible Faith.

  • Experiencing God’s Grace — Even at the Death of a Child

    I’ve been in pastoral ministry for over twenty-five years, and the most difficult experience I’ve had to help people through is the death of a child. Most of us cannot even conceive of the anguish of a parent who has had to endure such a loss.

    Recently, I officiated at a memorial service for a precious baby who passed away just ninety minutes after birth. While a memorial service like this would normally be filled with indescribable grief, this particular service was filled with a special sort of joy, which I have only witnessed a few times in my life. While this young couple from my church, Erik and Jessica, were grieving over the loss of their beautiful little girl, Ella, they were able to experience God’s grace in a profound way.

    This was most clearly demonstrated by the words they each read as a part of the service. Following is a transcript of their words which brought tears to every eye in the auditorium:

    Erik’s words:

    I had never expected that nearly five months ago Jess and I would receive life changing news after what I had thought would be a simple, routine ultrasound. I remember the day that the doctor told us that Ella had a severe brain deformation and was likely to have an impaired and very short life. That was the hardest day. The shock of going through the experience was jarring and devastating. It crashed headlong into my dreams and ambitions for Ella, destroying them and leaving in its wake a landscape of fear and uncertainty.

    The night of the diagnosis I remembered lying in my bed, hoping I would wake up the next morning to find out that everything had been a horrible nightmare. I hoped that I would awaken the next morning and the memory of what had transpired would fade from my recollection quickly and painlessly. But when the morning came and I asked my wife, “Was it just a dream?” I was again confronted with the harsh reality of our circumstance.

    That morning I sat with Jessica on the floor of what would have been Ella’s room, and I held her hands, and together we prayed. I opened my heart up to the LORD, and I cried out to Him with tears in my eyes. Between sobs of desperation, I pleaded with God to give us direction for Ella’s life. I asked the LORD to give me strength to lead my wife through this time of hardship. I asked God to take away our fears and help us to give Ella the unconditional love any child deserves from his or her parents. I asked God to protect our hearts from the despair and depression that loomed around us and to give us His spirit of peace that surpasses all understanding.

    I thanked God for the many blessings in our life, and I acknowledged Him for His sovereignty in all things, including Ella’s life. I thanked Him for giving her to us to be her parents. I prayed that he would lead us to be the parents he wanted for Ella. I asked that God would give us the strength to honor him during our hardships and not turn our backs on Him, our only shelter from the storm.

    During this time in our lives,  Jess brought a verse to my attention, and I think it is has great relevance. Psalm 34 is a beautiful psalm that encapsulates much of what I want to convey to you today. Here is what it says:

     Psalm 34:

    1  I will praise the LORD at all times. I will constantly speak his praises.

    2  I will boast only in the LORD; let all who are helpless take heart.

    3  Come, let us tell of the LORD’s greatness; let us exalt his name together.

    4  I prayed to the LORD, and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears.

    5  Those who look to him for help will be radiant with joy; no shadow of shame will darken their faces.

    6  In my desperation I prayed, and the LORD listened; he saved me from all my troubles.

    7  For the angel of the LORD is a guard; he surrounds and defends all who fear him.

    What I would like everyone to know is that the LORD holds true to every promise he has made to me. The LORD freed me from the bondage of all my fears and my troubles. The LORD has given me joy in this dark hour of my life. The LORD has surrounded me with his angels which are those of his children whom I am blessed to know as friends and family. The LORD is truly great, loving, and deserving of exaltation. HIS grace has overwhelmed us, and the power of HIS spirit has overtaken our weakness.

    Ella’s life on Earth was tragically short, but it was entirely sweet and filled with joy. I miss her and long to hold her. But I am comforted by the truth that her life hasn’t ended but only begun. HIS promise to us is that we will be reunited with HIM in heaven some day.

    This is the reason Jess and I wanted this to be a celebration of life, because we are grateful for the one she was given! It was filled completely with love. And Ella’s life hasn’t ended! It has merely been transformed from the one here on Earth to the one the LORD has created for those who love and believe in Him in heaven. Thank you all for coming and being with us tonight as we remember her short life on Earth and celebrate God’s greatness and His eternal life for us. It is our honor and privilege to share our little girl’s life with you so that you can know her as we did.

    Jessica’s words (a letter from her to Ella):

    Dear Ella,

    Today is the day we have chosen to celebrate your life and acknowledge the impact you have made in your very short time here on earth. You were a true gift of God to your Daddy and I, and we know that our lives will forever be changed because of you. Your Daddy and I are closer to each other now and stronger as a couple because of you. Most importantly we are closer to God and so thankful that, because of you, we know what it means to truly surrender our lives and trust to Him each day.

    The day you were born seems like a blur to me now. I remember checking into the hospital and getting things in place for your arrival, and before I knew it, the doctor was in the room telling me that it was time! You were so beautiful. You had a full head of dark hair and the most wonderfully unique features. Your little lips reminded me of your big brother Ethan when he was a baby. You cried when you were born, which filled mommy’s heart. It would be the first and last time I heard you cry, but I treasure that sound you made. You even opened your eyes which I took as your way of saying hi to me. We knew, little girl, that you might not know how to breathe once you didn’t have mommy’s help anymore, and that turned out to be the case. Thank you for trying to figure it out, though, for so long. Thank you for letting us love you and hold you and share you with all of the people that came to meet you. I am happy to have filled your short life with love. I have learned so much about unconditional love from carrying you. I would have traded my own life so that you could have experienced the joys of this world, and I understand so much clearer now the love our Savior has for me. I know that you are made perfect now, though. And I also know that part of my love included being okay to let you go and be with the Lord instead of getting to raise you here. My perfect healed baby girl, you are experiencing a life that Mommy could have never given you here. I am so happy for you that you get a headstart into eternity!

    In the book of James he says we should consider it a joy when we face trials of any kind, and now I know what he means. I consider it a joy to have walked this journey with you Ella and a true privilege to be the one that God chose to be your mommy. He has a strong purpose for your life with us, and we are only beginning to see the impact you are making in this world. I will treasure every minute that we shared together and have great expectations for our time in eternity together. Your Daddy and big brother Ethan and I will never forget you. Fly high sweet angel girl. Mommy loves you very much.

    Love,

    Mommy

    ———————————

    I have known Erik and Jessica for many years now — since they were teenagers. And I can tell you that the reason they were able to find God’s grace in this difficult trial was because they knew what it means to walk with God. I have watched them for many years as they have sought the Lord, served Him in ministry, and surrounded themselves with a support system of godly friends.

    When you find yourself in a dark hour of trial, my encouragement to you is to lean into God.  That is where you will find strength, hope, and courage.

    When the storms of life approach,

    run to God and not away from Him!


    For more, visit Sensible Faith.

  • 8 Keys to Knowing God’s Will For Your Life

    When I was a young man, I seemed to continually wrestle with knowing God’s will for my life. I wanted more than anything to follow His plan. Interestingly, now that I’m “old” (currently 47 years old), I still wrestle with doing His will in my life. I have come to learn that this is not just something that a young person does early in life; it is a lifelong pursuit in order to stay in the exact center of His plan.

    So, then, how can we know God’s plan for our lives? Over the past twenty-five years that I have been in ministry, I have discovered eight vital keys to knowing God’s will. Here they are:

    1) Walk with God.

    For starters, if you are interested in knowing God’s plan for your life, then you must learn to walk with God. You need to develop a relationship with Him. Christianity is all about relationship rather than just religion.

    And so you must cultivate your relationship with God. You must seek to know Him and not just seek to know about Him.

    You will cultivate that relationship best by spending time in His Word, taking time for prayer, and taking every opportunity you can to be involved in church and small group Bible study opportunities. When you seek these disciplines in your life, God will begin the first steps to revealing His plan to you.

    Proverbs 3:5-6

    5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; 6 In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.

    2) Surrender your will to God’s.

    Many times when we say we are seeking God’s will, what we are really wanting to say to God is this: “OK, God, here’s what I’m planning to do. Now I need you to rubber stamp this, all right?” I must tell you that this is not really effective in finding His true will.

    Before God will begin to reveal His will to you, you must be committed to doing whatever it is that He desires for you to do. God will likely be slow to show you His plan if He knows you will likely not do that plan anyway.

    Romans 12:1-2

    1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

    Jesus was willing to die for us, so shouldn’t we be willing to live for Him? When we surrender to Him, that is when He really begins to direct our steps.

    3) Obey what you already know to be God’s Will.

    Many people seem to want to know what God’s plan is for their lives, but they overlook the fact that 98% of His will is already delineated carefully through His Word. God is very clear about many, many aspects of His will. For instance, it is clearly His plan that we abstain from sexual immorality (1 Thessalonians 4:3).

    If we do not obey the things that God has shown us clearly to be His will, why would we think He would reveal any further information regarding His plan for our lives? Obedience is an important first step.

    4) Seek godly input.

    One key component to finding God’s will is to seek the input of godly advisors in your life. If you don’t currently have 3-4 godly mentors, then I would highly recommend that you seek them out right away.

    Think of it this way: you should understand that you are basically a composite of the five people you spend the most time with. So, then, it is vital that you choose those five people well. If you choose to surround yourself with godly advisors, they will be instrumental in helping you discern God’s plan for your life. But if you surround yourself with people who are far from God, your hope of finding His best for your life will be greatly diminished.

    Proverbs 11:14

    Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety.

    The church is designed to help you greatly with this. I would encourage you to be in church every single time the doors are opened. The more you involve yourself with a community of believers, the greater your chances will be of finding godly men and women who can help you discern God’s will.

    5) Pay attention to how God has wired you.

    God has created you to fulfill a specific role in this world. There is no one else who can achieve completely what God has purposely created you to do.

    The Apostle Peter gives us this admonition:

    1 Peter 4:10

    As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.

    God has gifted every one of us to perform a special mission for which we alone were created. How amazing is that? Wow!

    So, when you seek to discover God’s will for your life, pay attention to how He has gifted you. His plan for you will always be directly related to the gifts that He has bestowed upon you. The great news is that you will automatically be good at whatever it is that He has called you to do!

    6) Listen to God’s Spirit.

    I experienced a major turning point in my own prayer life when I learned simply to shut up while I was praying. That may sound odd to you, and it seemed odd to me at first.

    You see, I used to do all the talking when I prayed to God. But then, several years ago, I read Bill Hybel’s book, Too Busy Not to Pray. That book completely changed the way I approached God through prayer. Since reading that book, I have added a significant component to my prayer life: listening. I take time to listen to what God might have to say to me.

    Practically, the way I go about this is to bring a notepad with me when I sit down to pray. Then I write at the top of several pages things like the following:

    • “What is the next step in my career?”
    • “What is the next step in my ministry?”
    • “What is the next step for my family?”
    • “What is the next step for my marriage?”
    • “What is the next step in my education?”
    • “What is the next step in my finances?”

    During my prayer time, I meditate on questions such as the above. Often, God will start flooding my heart with ideas and information regarding one or more of those questions. I write as fast as I can as He speaks to my heart. What a glorious experience that is to sense His Spirit on me, guiding my thoughts and words.

    Through experiences like this, He has shown me many times with great clarity what His will is for my life. I long for those experiences when He speaks to me like that. Those times are truly life changing.

    John 10:27

    My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.

    7) Listen to your heart.

    In addition to listening to the Spirit, I also recommend listening to your heart. To understand my point here, consider the following passage:

    Psalms 37:4-5

    4 Delight yourself also in the LORD, and He shall give you the desires of your heart. 5 Commit your way to the LORD, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass. (NKJV)

    I love this passage, because it shows me that, when I am walking with the Lord, He will actually let me do many really cool things that I actually love to do! When you are close to Him, He actually begins to shape your desires so that you desire the things that He has already called you to do.

    So then, His plan actually becomes a super-exciting adventure. I always have the most fun in life when I am doing God’s will. And that is because He shapes my “wanter” to want to do the things for which He has actually created me.

    8) Take a look at your circumstances.

    God often clearly demonstrates His plan for our lives by lining up circumstances in obvious ways. And He also shows us what His will is NOT for us to do in that same way. It is not His will for you to take the job that is not offered to you. If you are 5’ 6” tall and weigh 125 lbs., it is not likely that God has created you to play professional football.

    Over the years, I have discovered that God is pretty good at opening and closing doors. He even did that for the Apostle Paul and his enterouge in Acts. Take a look at this passage:

    Acts 16:6-10

    6 Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia.

    7 After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them.

    8 So passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas.

    9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”

    10 Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them.

    So, even Paul had to face closed doors in his ministry. God often uses closed doors to show us clearly what He does NOT want us to do. And He also uses open doors at times to show us what He DOES want us to do. Of course, this does not mean that every open door is definitely God’s plan, but it does help to give you some basic direction.

    A Closing Thought:

    The next time you begin to ponder God’s plan for your life, I would encourage you to mull over the above eight keys. Use these principles to help you to hone in on His plan. And when you seek His will earnestly, you will find it!


    For more, visit Sensible Faith.

  • About Chris Russell

    Chris Russell has spent the past 25 years actively involved in ministry through pastoring, church planting, writing, Christian radio, and special speaking around the country and in seven different countries. He is passionate about communicating the truths of God's Word in a creative, highly-relevant way.

    Chris has three kids and happens to be married to his best friend, Leigh. He currently pastors a church on the north side of Cincinnati. When he's not pastoring or blogging (www.SensibleFaith.com), he runs a real estate company in his "spare" time (www.PlumTreeRealty.com). He believes that A.D.D. (Attention Deficit Disorder) is one of his 'spiritual gifts.'