Be In The Moment

My son and I like to play chess. Neither one of us is very good, but it’s still fun. To be successful in chess you have to think two or three moves ahead. This is a great strategy for chess, but a terrible one for life, in many instances. It’s even worse in ministry. Unfortunately, this is how many of us operate. In ministry we are sometimes even worse about this than others. I would encourage you instead to BE IN THE MOMENT.

Multitasking is a myth. There is much talk about multitasking. Women are all convinced that they are born masters of it and that men are incapable of it. The truth is there is no such thing as multitasking. This is not just my opinion; there have been multiple studies that show this to be true. If you think about it, you only have one set of hands and one brain. Yes, I understand that our brains are impossibly complex and capable of incredible things. But, while your mind may be able to do more than one thing at a time, you can only REALLY focus on one thing at a time.

Focus on what you’re doing. You may think that you are getting more done, or being more efficient by working on more than one thing at a time. The truth is you’re not giving anything your full attention and, therefore, not giving any of it your best. Set aside the other stuff your working on. Determine what has to be done NOW. Then focus on that. The results will be much better and, chances are, you will actually finish that thing quicker and be able to move on to the next.

Focus on WHO you are talking to. Unfortunately, our mental chess game can often extend to people as well. If you are in ministry then Sunday morning is go time. For me that means I have about a million things on my mind. So, when someone comes up to me to talk, my mind tends to wonder. While I’m “listening” my mind is already on the next thing I have to do or the next few things. The result is that I am not actually listening. I may be able to hear the conversation and may even walk away from it with a pretty good idea of what was said, but I am not truly listening. They will probably notice. If they do, then you have probably just lost the confidence of that person. You may have a desire to minister to them, but your lack of focus could have damaged that potential.

Stop thinking about what to say next. Perhaps your not thinking of the things you have to do, but there’s a good chance that you are thinking about what you are going to say next. Often times with the first few words that a person speaks we are already thinking about what we are going to say. Stop doing that. In that moment when you begin to formulate your reply you have stopped listening. Maybe the person talking just needs someone to talk to, not an answer. Maybe they are trying to work something out and just need a sounding board. Whatever the case, if you are thinking about what you are about to say, then you have stopped listening.

It isn’t easy. Oh, it’s real easy for me to write these things, but it is not easy for us to do them. My desk and office are evidence to the difficulty I have in finishing one thing before moving on to the next. In ministry and in life we often have multiple projects going on at once. This is a must. However, we have to learn to focus on one while we are working on it. Then move on to the next. The benefits really are worth it. Give these things some thoughts. Think about it as you go through your day or week. Then, see what you can do to help yourself BE IN THE MOMENT.

Matt Norman

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Enthusiastic Obedience

Recently during my morning quiet time I came across the phrase “enthusiastically obedient.” This was referring to the attitude we should have when obeying God. This really struck me. This statement should define the Christian life. But, if we are honest, it probably doesn’t describe most of us. Sure, you may be obedient, but when was the last time you were enthusiastically obedient?

 It’s my pleasure to serve you. This is a statement that you will often hear when getting your favorite chicken sandwich from a certain chicken based fast food restaurant. Chick-Fil-A has built a culture in which their people seem truly happy to serve you. If you’ve ever been to Chick-Fil-A, then you know what I’m talking about. It feels good to be on the receiving end of this enthusiasm. We often feel that this is how we, as paying customers, deserve to be treated. Really?! So, buying an inexpensive meal makes you worthy of such treatment? If that’s so, how much more does God deserve our enthusiasm?

Daddy’s girl. My kids generally do what I tell them to do. But, my 13 year old son definitely lacks enthusiasm when he does it. He is willing, but could not be defined as enthusiastic. My daughter, on the other hand, is generally enthusiastic about doing what I ask. You see my daughter, Jayden, is 6 years old and is daddy’s girl. She get’s so excited at the thought of helping me with something that she will do just about anything I ask of her and do it with much enthusiasm. My son, Trey, is willing, but lacks enthusiasm. (Yes, I understand that part of that is simply being 13.)

Which one are you? When you are obedient are you like Trey – willing but unenthusiastic or like Jayden – willing and enthusiastic, often even excited. How great would it be if the people of God had the same attitude? Jayden loves the idea of being part of whatever I am working on. She relishes the opportunity to be helpful, to prove her value. Jayden does this for me and I am just a man. When you serve God is it simply out of a sense of duty? Is it because you fear the repercussions? Or, are you excited at the prospect of being a part of what God is doing, of being helpful? 

Does God not deserve even more? Jayden get’s excited about being a part of what I am doing. She relishes in the opportunity to be helpful, to prove her value. We have been called to serve the one who created the universe. Yet, our obedience is often lacking enthusiasm. God is at work all around us, with us or without us. How eager should we be to be part of what He is doing? When I work then cars get washed; things get built; yards get mowed. When God works cancer is healed; blind people see; the dead rise. When I work cool stuff can happen. How much cooler is the stuff that God does? 

How is your enthusiasm? There are times, in life, when we need to take a step back and evaluate our heart. I would encourage you to take such a moment now. Ask yourself some questions:

  1. Am I being obedient?
  2. Am I being enthusiastically obedient?
  3. Is God working around me? (Hint: the answer is YES. He’s always at work around you. The question really is, how can you be part of the work He is doing?)

These questions are not designed to cause guilt. I don’t believe that guilt is a tool that God uses. However, asking these questions may lead to conviction. It can be difficult to ask such questions of yourself. You may not like the answers you get, but it is worth asking.

Bottom line: Obedience is good, be obedient. BUT, do what you can to be enthusiastic. Obedience is good. Enthusiastic obedience is even better.

Matt Norman

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NASCAR, Jeff Gordon and Your Ministry

I have often heard that ministry is a marathon. There is truth in this, but I would argue that it has more in common with a NASCAR season.

What is a marathon? A marathon is a 26.2 mile race. When you start a marathon you know that you have 26.2 miles to run, without stopping. To be successful you must keep a slow, steady pace for a long distance. To finish there may be times when you slow down, but there can be no real down time. There can be no stopping.

Is ministry a marathon? When you look at ministry from a very broad point of view it could seem to be a marathon. After all, much of what we do has very long lasting effects. Furthermore, we are looking to build ministries that are bigger than us and will outlast us. But, I think we can learn more from NASCAR in this regard.

What does NASCAR have to do with ministry? Jeff Gordon, has raced 287,125.7 miles in NASCAR. This doesn’t even include racing he did prior to NASCAR or in other forms of racing during that time or during practice. That’s an unimaginable number of miles. Let’s put it into perspective. Let’s say you commuted 20 miles each way to work for a total of 40 miles per day. Assuming you worked 49 out of 52 weeks per year, taking some time off for vacation and illness, it would take you 21 years to drive this many miles. I drive about 2 miles to work. I don’t even want to think about how many years it would take me.

When we look at this number of miles we automatically think, but this wasn’t all in one race. In fact these miles were spread over 767 races over 24 years. When we look at ministry as a marathon it can be like looking at the miles Jeff Gordon has raced as if they were one long race.

So, how can this help me?

Jeff Gordon has a team. Jeff Gordon’s job is to drive. He doesn’t build motors. He doesn’t change tires. He doesn’t paint cars. He drives. He has a team that handles all the other stuff. While Jeff is preparing for one race, there are members of his team that are already preparing for the next one and the one after that. In fact there are already plans in place for the entire the season before Jeff has even finished the first race. In ministry we need a team, or teams. We cannot do it all. We need to be able to focus on what God has called us to and gifted us for. We need to bring other gifted and talented people onto the team to do those other things. I’m not saying that Jeff never turns a wrench or changes a tire, but that is not his PRIMARY job and not how he spends most of his time.

Jeff races one race at a time. Between races Jeff will be thinking about the races to come. He will be working with his team to make plans and set strategies. But, when he starts a race he is focused on THAT race only. In ministry there are times when we need to set other things aside and simply finish this one thing. Set aside the things you have coming up and get this one thing done.

Jeff and his team plan for the entire season. Once the race starts every member of the team is focused on that one race. BUT, they have a plan for the entire season. Likewise, when we plan we need to be planning for what’s coming up, not just what’s next. We need to consider how one thing relates to the next or how they can build on each other. We need to take a long view of the next several months or even the entire year.

Champions don’t always win. In 2013 Jimmie Johnson won the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. He did this while only winning 6 out of around 40 races. You see the person that wins the championship isn’t necessarily the person who wins the most races. There are lots of ways to get points in a NASCAR race, but for the sake of this post let’s just say that wining is nice, but finishing is a must.

The same is true for ministry. There are events or projects that we work on that will be wins. Then there will be times when we will just be happy finishing. At the end of the day, it’s not the number of wins we have that makes us a champion. It’s the points we gather along the way. It’s the fact that we finish each race. In ministry winning is nice, but finishing is a must.

Jeff drives one lap at a time. When Jeff is racing, it’s one lap at a time. Sure he’s thinking ahead and strategizing with his team to do what he can to get to the front, but each lap is individual. Each lap they see what they can learn about how the car is performing, track conditions and more. To get to the mile total we mentioned above Jeff raced a little over 220,000 laps.

Ministry is also one lap at a time. We can make plans for the future, but all we can really work on is the one thing that we are doing right now. In ministry a lap may be a Sunday or midweek service. A lap may be an event. A lap may be going to lunch at a local school. A lap may be a conversation you have with a parent, child or volunteer. Whatever it is that is a “lap” in your ministry the point is be completely present in that moment. As you can imagine at speeds that approach 200 miles per hour, if Jeff gets distracted it could be disastrous.

Bottom Line. In many ways ministry is a marathon. We need to have a long view of ministry so that we don’t build things that fail without us, or end when we are no longer around to make them run. But, like a NASCAR season, championships are won one lap at a time. For me it can be really easy to get distracted by things that don’t really matter. Things that don’t add to the ministry. Things that are not part of what God called me to do. This can prevent me from finishing stuff that really does matter. As a result my to do list grows and grows to the point where it becomes overwhelming and can seem impossible to get ANYTHING done.

Learn from Jeff Gordon. Build a team and let them do their job so you can do yours. Look ahead, make plans, but race one race at a time. Get big wins when you can, but be sure to finish every race, even if you don’t win. Think about the upcoming laps, but stay focused on the lap your racing right now. Learn from it so that you can be better on the next one. The things we work for in ministry are much bigger than simply a trophy or a paycheck. These lessons can help you reach more of the goals that you set for yourself and your ministry.

Matt Norman

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You Don’t Matter, and Neither Do I

I Don’t Matter. Neither Do You

A few weeks ago I was part of a rather heated online discussion over a very sensitive topic. I won’t bring the topic up because I don’t want to reignite the flames and this post is not about that topic. But, one thing that really struck out during the heat of this discussion is that the most heated responses all came from an egocentric mindset.

Egocentric: Merriam-Webster defines egocentric as “concerned with the individual rather than society.” In other word you place your own needs, desires, or perceived rights as more important than the wellbeing of others. As this discussion got more and more heated it was clear that some of the people were “concerned with the individual rather that society.” The main argument from these individuals was that it was the “right” of the person to do this thing that was being discussed, regardless of how it might affect others.

Is THIS the church? As I read the many comments on this discussion I became very saddened. It saddened me to think that people with so little concern for others were not only in our churches, but were leaders. In fact these were the very people teaching and leading in children’s ministries.

Before I go any further let me be clear that I hold no ill will or judgment for any of the people involved in this discussion. What is mentioned here are simply my observations based on a comparison of this discussion and scripture. With that in mind lets look at a some scripture.

Philippians 2:3. “Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves.” This passage seems pretty clear. If I do something simply because it is my right, without regard to how it might affect others, then am I doing as Paul instructed and “considering others as more important than myself?” It wouldn’t seem so. Now, I understand that this is a difficult thing that goes against our very nature. However, it does not go against the nature of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

Romans 14:15 “If your brother is hurt by what you eat, you are no longer walking according to love.” In this particular passage Paul is addressing those who have accused him because he ate meat that had been sacrificed to idols. Paul starts by making the point that since the idols are man made, then they are nothing and, therefore, cannot make the meat unclean. He then goes on to say that even though he knows the meat to be ok to eat that if someone around you has a conviction to not eat it, then you should not eat it. Paul later goes on to say, “It is a noble thing to not eat meat, or drink wine, OR DO ANYTHING THAT MAKES YOUR BROTHER STUMBLE.” Romans 14:21 (Emphases added by me.) This verse makes it clear that, while Paul was talking about eating meat in verse 15, this principle applies to ANYTHING that might cause a brother to stumble.

It’s my right. I have heard this argument so many times from Christians in defense of a certain action, regardless of how it might affect others. Apparently Paul had heard the same thing as he chose to address it in 1 Corinthians 8:9, “Be careful that this right of yours in no way becomes a stumbling block to the weak. Again Paul is specifically talking about eating meat sacrificed to idols, but as with the Romans passage the principle applies to anything that we might have the right to do, that might cause a brother to stumble. Just because it is your right does not mean it is right.

Would you protect your earthly brother from sin? I can’t say for sure if the people reading this have siblings for not. Personally, I have two brothers. As I think about the above verses from Romans, I can’t help but think about my biological brothers. I love my brothers. As such there is no way I would ever do anything that might cause one of them to sin. Certainly their sin would not be my fault and it is not my responsibility to police their behavior. At the same time, because I love them, I want to do what I can to protect them. I would imagine that most people would feel the same way about their biological siblings.

Are our Christian brothers more valuable than our biological? If this is true, then we have to ask, are our Christian brothers and sisters any different? Do we feel the same way about protecting our Christian siblings from sin? Should we? The New Testament is filled with examples of where fellow Christians are referred to as brothers and sisters. This being true should we place more value on our biological siblings than our spiritual ones? Let’s see what Jesus said. In Matthew 12:46-50 we see where Jesus is teaching when his mother and brothers arrive. They are unable to get into the room so someone calls out to Jesus letting Him know that they are outside waiting to speak with Him. In verse 48 Jesus replies, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” He the stretches out his hand and points towards his disciples and says, “Here are My mother and My brothers.” Was Jesus denying His biological mother and brothers? No. Rather He was pointing to the importance of the relationship with our spiritual brothers and sisters. Clearly Jesus placed a high value on spiritual brothers and sisters. This being true, shouldn’t we work to protect them even as we would our biological siblings?

If anyone reading this is familiar with the discussion that spawned this post, please understand that I hold no ill feelings towards anyone involved, on either side of the discussion. Rather, I have written this to encourage people to “consider others as more important than yourselves.” Even more important than that consider this; if you have a view point that you strongly defend, consider what scripture has to say about it. If your not sure, then look it up. Spend time studying the scriptures to see what they have to say about a given topic. We should all be open to changing our minds about certain things based on the counsel of scripture. If your view can not be defended with scripture, then maybe it shouldn’t be defended at all.

Matt Norman

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Cheap and Easy Empty Tomb

I posted some pics of the empty tomb I built for our children’s church Easter service and some wanted to know how I did it. I had planned to build a wooden frame and cover it with a canvas painter’s drop cloth, but decided to see what I could come up with using what we already had on hand. So, mine ended up costing us $O and took me about 3-3.5 hours.

 

Tomb pic 2 Here is the final product with the cool lighting effects. This is how the kids will see it.

 

 

 

 

 

Tomb pic 1This is the finished product with all the lights on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tomb pic 3This is the empty stage. Ah how I love an empty canvas. For reference sake the stage is 17.5 feet wide and 8 foot deep. The stage is 14 inches tall and it is around a little less than 8 feet from the floor of the stage to the ceiling.

 

 

Tomb pic 4To create the structure of the tomb, I made two stacks of chairs till I got the height I wanted. To the left of this picture you can see the round table that became the stone. I used it to help me decide how tall to make the tomb. I didn’t want the opening bigger than my stone.

 

Tomb pic 5 Next I ran two pool noodles between the two stacks to give shape to the opening for the tomb. This also gave me something to attache the black paper that I used for the inside of the tomb to.

 

 

 

Tomb pic 6 Here you can see that the gap was too big for one pool noodle. So, I used two and wrapped a rope around them to tie them together. You could also use packaging tape or masking tape. This is what I did when I added one to the back of the stack.

 

 

 

 

Tomb pic 7 This is just a top view showing the two pool noodles in the front and the two in the back (which I hadn’t taped yet).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tomb pic 8 I knew that I would need to black out the inside of the tomb and hide the chairs or the boys would really give me a hard time. We had an 8 foot wide roll of black paper. So, I cut of a strip of that and taped it to the pool noodles and chairs. The on thing I forgot to do here was to ball up the paper first. This gives it a more “rocky” look. This should be ok inside the tomb, but it would have been even better if I had.

 

Tomb pic 9 To black out the back I used a black twin sized flat sheet I had on hand. This was actually much easier to work with than the paper. I just taped it in place at the top.

 

 

 

 

 

Tomb pic 10

 

Now I covered the hole thing with brown paper. We had a roll that was 8 foot wide. It did not cover the entire stack, but remember, no one is going to see the back. To get a “rocky” texture ball up the paper first, then flatten it back out (some) before covering the stacks with it.

 

Tomb pic 11 After wrapping the chairs I was left with the ends open. So, I took a small table I had, covered it in paper and placed it at the end of the stack. This hid the end of the stack and added a little more interest to the shape.

You can see this at the left of the tomb in this picture.

 

 

 

Tomb pic 12 Now I crawled inside from the back, lifting up the sheet in the back to gain access to the inside. (this is another reason to use a sheet instead of paper if you can). From inside I cut the opening with a box cutter. Doing it from the inside insured that I didn’t cut it too big. Cutting this opening with a box cutter left a very crisp edge. This didn’t look very “rocky”. So, I rolled the edges in to make them look more rocky. This also added some depth to the opening.

 

Tomb pic 13 Here I added the stone. The stone is simply a large round table wrapped with the same paper that covers the tomb. Be sure to ball up the paper before using it to wrap the table.

 

 

 

 

Tomb pic 1 Not real easy to see in this picture, but the final step was to do some dry brushing with some brown and then some black, white and brown mixed. This highlights some of the wrinkles and gives the while thing a more natural, rocky appearance. If you click on the picture you can see a bigger version of it and the painting shows up better.

 

 

 

 

The one thing that I didn’t get a picture of is the back of the table. For safety sake I tied the table to the stack of chairs near the top. This should prevent it from falling over onto a kid.

 

I hope you find this helpful. If you have any questions feel free to leave them in the comment section below. If you decide to do something similar, I’d love to see your finished product.

 

 

 

 

Matt Norman

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