It’s Time To Push Back

“…and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail overcome it.” Matthew 16:18
Last week my brother invited me to a special prayer meeting at his church. While many in our country were getting ready for family cookouts, we were gathering to pray. You see there were people in my brother’s church that were going through spiritual warfare and he wanted to do something about it. As we gathered he spoke briefly in way of introduction. He told of the various spiritual attacks that were happening to the people of his church. Then he said that he felt it was time to “push back”. As he said this I was reminded of the verse that is quoted above.
Many people in the church read this verse and take great comfort in it. They are comforted by the fact that the hell can not win against Jesus’ church. However, I think that many miss the point with this verse. We use this verse to make ourselves feel comfortable within our walls. We use them to feel comfortable within lives lived separate from the world. That is not what Jesus is saying in this verse.
Gates are DEFENSIVE.
 
This passage is not talking about Jesus taking care of us as we huddle together in our safe little church buildings. When it talks about gates it is not talking about US being safe from THEIR attacks. Gates are defensive. They are designed to either keep something out, or to keep something in. In many cases it’s both. Think about a pen housing thoroughbred horses. The fence and the gate around that pen. It is certainly designed to keep the horses from wondering off. However, it is also designed to keep people that would seek to steal or harm the horses. THAT is what this verse is talking about. The GATES of hell will not prevail against the Church. This doesn’t mean that their attacks against the church will not be successful. Rather it means that Jesus is promising US an advantage.
Defending against what?
 
If a gate is a for defense, then it implies that there is a pending attack. At the very least it means that there is the possible of an attack. If hell has defensive gates, then what are they defending against? The words of Jesus tell us that the thing that hell is defending agains it US, the Church. When was the last time you knew of a church that posed a significant threat to the gates of hell. We claim to hold the words of the Bible as both sacred and true. We hold the words of Jesus to be even more so. Yet we act as if these gates are impenetrable.
It’s time to push back.
 
If we believe the words of Jesus to be true, then we, as the church, represent a power that the very gates of hell CANNOT prevail against. These are not my words. These are the words of Jesus. In preparation for this post I took some time to look up the original meanings of the words used intros verse. When I looked up when it says that the “gates of hell” it means… “the gates of hell.” When it says “will not prevail against it” it means “will not prevail against it.” Jesus is telling us that we have the power, through Him, to take on hell.
For far too long the church has been satisfied simply sitting in our comfortable, or even not so comfortable, seats in our comfortable buildings and refusing to take the battle to the enemy. We have been satisfied defending our home base. This is NOT what Jesus prescribed in this verse. What Jesus is telling us is that we should be attacking the gates of hell, not hiding from them. I’m not saying that the things we are doing at the church building are wrong. There may be some practices that need to change, but many of these things are good. However, we DO need to get out of the building and into the community. The enemy is attack people all around us and it is happening within the community.
So, what can you do as a Christian, as a church leader or even as a church member to attack the gates of hell? I once heard Perry Noble talk about when he was asked, “What would you do tomorrow if you knew you couldn’t fail?” His answer is that he would start a church. Jesus has promised us that when we attack the gates of hell, we can not fail. My question you is KNOWING that you can not fail, what will you do?
Matt Norman

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Do You REALLY Believe In Prayer?

We often talk about and teach the importance of prayer. If you went back and read my old posts you would see prayer and it’s importance in many of my writings. Still I have to ask the question, do I REALLY believe in the power and importance of prayer?

Is prayer important? Throughout the New Testament we read about Jesus taking time to pray. In fact, the night before He was arrested He spent hours in prayer. Clearly the example of Jesus shows that prayer is important.

Is prayer powerful? In Joshua chapter 10 we read where Joshua prays and the sun stops moving in the sky, giving them  the time they needed to defeat their enemy. Clearly prayer is powerful?

Why do we forsake it? I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, if I’m not careful, my tendency is to depend on my own abilities as I plan programs, events, and work to lead the ministry God has called me to. So, why do I forsake prayer? The truth is, I never plan to. God has gifted me in certain ways, as He has all whom He calls to lead. Because of this gifting there is a certain amount of leading, planning, etc that I can do without ever having to pray. BUT, what am I missing when I do this?

Can God do more than me? This seems like a dumb question, but when we try to do ministry without prayer the message we are sending is that we can do it without God. Sure, we are gifted and there is a certain amount that we can do without Him. But, how much more could God do in our ministry if we prayed?

Pain is coming. Ministry is hard and, often frustrating. As I write this I find myself somewhat buried under the weight of ministry. As I have thought about the many facets of my ministry and where they are, where they need to go and how we get them there the burden seems to get heavier by the day. It is while I thought through some of this stuff that I realized that prayer is not a regular part of my ministry. HOW ARROGANT have I become that I think I can do this without God? To say that sounds like pure lunacy, but when we work without prayer this is what we are doing. The weight that I have carried lately is a direct result of my lack of prayer. By not spending the time in prayer that I need to I have chosen to carry a burden that was never mine to carry.

Are you building in vain? Psalm 127:1 says, “Unless the Lord builds a house, it’s builders labor in vain.” When we exclude prayer as a regular part of our routine, of how we plan and lead our ministry, then we are building this house that we call ministry in VAIN. Merriam-Webster defines vain as, “having no real value” or “marked by futility or ineffectualness.” It also uses words like idle, worthless, unsuccessful, and useless to describe what vain means. None of these are words I want used to describe the ministry I lead. Without prayer this is exactly the words that will ultimately describe our ministry.

So what? I have often thought and felt that I needed to spend more time in prayer. However, it has never really struck me that without prayer, everything I do is in VAIN. Wow! That’s a punch in the gut. Prayer will certainly not remove all the difficulties or ministry. Ministry is still hard work, but if it simply removed the frustrations that come as a result of my lack of prayer, how great would that be?

So what will I be doing differently? I have been working, for the past few weeks, on getting into a weekly routine. An intentional plan for how I spend my time each week, from day to day. This started as a way to help ensure that I got my daily exercise each morning. Now, I will build on what I have already started and add an intentional time of prayer to this daily routine.

How do you ensure that prayer is a regular part of your life and ministry?

 

Matt Norman

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The Kids in Your Church Need You to Become a Student of Pop Culture

Ok, I’ll be straight up. There are things that my kids enjoy, are into or watch that I simply am not into. In fact some of it I don’t get and am completely not interested in. But, my kids and the kids in my church need me to do what I can become a student of pop culture.

What is pop culture? Merriam-Webster, surprisingly, doesn’t show a definition for pop culture, but this is what Wikipedia.org says: “pop culture is the entirety of ideas, perspectives, attitudes, images, and other phenomena that are within the mainstream of a given culture.” (I know. It’s not a reliable source, but it’s the best I have. LOL) Basically the “pop” in pop culture is short for popular. So, it is everything that is popular in a given culture. As a parent and children’s minister that means everything that is popular in the culture of children.

Ok, but why should I care? There are a number of reasons why we should make ourselves a student of pop culture. Let’s take a look at some of them.

To connect with kids. When a missionary moves to a new area he or she seeks to learn the culture of that area. This allows them to better connect with the people they are trying to reach. The same is true when we learn the culture of children. It will allow us to better connect with them so that we can have the opportunity to speak into their lives.

To better be able to speak into the lives of children. Connecting with them gives us the opportunity to speak into their lives. Becoming a student of pop culture can help us do that even better. When you use an example from a game or show that your kids are into when teaching, you will be amazed at how quickly they plug in.

Equip parents. Parents are busy. Perhaps busier than ever before. There are also many more threats in pop culture than ever before in our society. These two facts combine to mean that many parents are painfully unaware of what these threats are and what they can or should do about them. As parents I believe we all have a responsibility to learn what we can about these potential threats. As a children’s ministry leader we can help parents by doing some of the research for them. Learn what you can and then help the parents in your church learn it to.

Pop culture changes quickly. My kids are 7 years apart. The things that my 13-year-old son was into when he was little barely even exist any more and the things that my 6-year-old daughter is into didn’t exist when my son was little. Pop culture changes quickly. For this reason we must constantly be seeking to learn about what is popular now. It’s a never-ending process, but the results of doing it are worth it. Likewise, the possible consequences of NOT doing it are more than I’m willing to risk.

 

 

 

Matt Norman

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Are You Planning to Give Mickey Mouse Your Tithe?

Recently I was listening to Perry Noble’s leadership podcast. In this particular episode he talked about people giving their tithe to Mickey Mouse during the summer. So, I ask you;

Are you making plans to give your tithe to Mickey Mouse this summer?

Ok, I hear you. You have no plans to go to Disney this summer. The question is not specifically about Disney. Here’s the truth in nearly every church. Giving goes down during the summer months. Unfortunately many people will not give when they are not present. So, when they are traveling for vacation during the summer they don’t give to their church. If you do this you are, in essence, giving your tithe to Disney, or to the beach, or the lake house, or whatever other thing you do for vacation.

Is disobedience ok when your not there? My kids know what I expect in my home. They know that I expect them to obey me whether they are home or not. In fact, I expect and even greater degree of obedience and respect when they are NOT at home. Tithing is an act of obedience. As such, does it matter if you are physically at your home church or not? NO! Just like my kids are expected to obey me, even when they are not home, we should obey God even when we are not in his house.

Does generosity take the summer off? Some would argue that tithing is an Old Testament command and no longer applies for those of us under the new covenant through Jesus Christ. That’s a topic for another day. However, suppose for a moment that tithing is no longer EXPECTED. It would still represent an act of generosity. This being the case do we just set aside our generosity for 3 months every year? Consider these examples:

  • Fitness: Suppose you exercised regularly and were very careful with what you ate, but only for 9 months out of the year. When summer came you stopped exercising and ate whatever was available. Could you still call yourself a fit person at the end of the three months? Could you really say that fitness was important to you if you took 3 months off each year?
  • Money: Suppose for 9 months out of the year you counted every penny. You clipped coupons. You squirrelled away money in savings. You never charged anything, even paying cash for cars. But, the other 3 months you spent money as if you were a millionaire. You quickly blew through your savings and ran up large credit card bills. Would you consider yourself a financially responsible person with this pattern?
  • Attitude: Ok, one more. Suppose you were a really nice person. You helped cats out of trees. You helped old ladies cross the street. You opened doors for ladies. You worked in a soup kitchen, feeding the homeless. You played games in the park with neighborhood kids. BUT, for 3 months of the year you did none of this. Instead you treated people poorly. You threw rocks at the cat stuck in the tree. You laughed at the old lady trying to cross the street. You slammed doors in the ladies faces. You made fun of homeless people. You yelled at the kids playing in the park and popped their ball.

These examples may be extreme, but can we really consider ourselves generous if we only give to the church when we happen to be there?

Are you not grateful? The Bible tells us that God is our provider. We often think that the things we work for we have EARNED. But, it is God who gives us the ability to work. So, even what we work for was given to us by God. For this reason giving is an act of gratitude. Returning a portion of what God has given us back to Him, through the local church, shows that we are grateful for his provision. Are you only grateful when you are in that building?

It’s not about guilt. My goal with this post is not to make anyone feel guilty. That is never my intent. If this post did make you fee guilty I am sincerely sorry. Rather my goal is to make all of us reflect on why we give, when we give and how we give. We also need to reflect on why we DON’T give and when we DON’T give.

Matt Norman

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What Is Your Slow Fade?

Casting Crowns has a great song called “Slow Fade”. This song is about how we slowly drift into sin. Seldom does a husband decide to have an affair; rather it is a series of small decisions that slowly lead to the eventual failure. Seldom does a father decide to abandon his children. Rather he makes a series of small decisions; to work late, to go out with his friends, missing his child’s game or performance, etc. As with so many of Casting Crowns songs, there is such truth in this and I find myself convicted when I hear it and thinking, “what am I fading away from or into?”

Where are you now? As this song points out, there are a great many things that we can slowly fade into or away from. Before we can begin to work on this we have to identify where we are now. Are you exactly where you need to be in your relationship with God? What about with your spouse? Your kids? Not sure? Try this: sit down with your Bible. Pray and ask God to reveal to you where you are at in this respect. Spend time reading and continue to pray, asking God to reveal the truth in this. As you read, when you feel like something stands out, write it down. Be careful when you do this, as God will reveal what you ask and it might be uncomfortable, or even painful.

What are you fading FROM? I believe the beginning of a slow fade INTO sin is a slow fade AWAY from God. You see sin cannot exist in the presence of God. As we draw closer to God we move further from our sin. As we lean into the leading of the Holy Spirit we lean away from our sinful nature. This is not to say that temptation never comes or that drawing close to God will make us SIN PROOF. But, it will make the avoidance of sin easier and the temptation less.

What are you fading towards? There are things mentioned in this song that we can fade towards; sexual immorality, child abandonment and more. However, this is just a small sampling of the many things that we can drift towards. The enemy will do all he can to pull you towards the things that represent your greatest weaknesses. Take a moment to look at your life and consider what you might be fading towards. Not where you are, but what direction you are going in and the possible result it could have. Struggling to identify it? Do like we talk about earlier. Ask God to show you.

One step back. The amazing truth of God is that no matter how far we fade away from Him, it is only one step back to Him. Think of it like this: Imagine you are walking. Behind you a close friend is walking. As you walk, with your back to your friend, you are constantly moving away from him (or her). No matter how far or how fast you walk you are never going to get any CLOSER to that friend. However, if you simply stop walking away and turn around you will find that your friend is but one step away. God is that friend. Sometimes we run from Him as fast as we can. Other times it is more of a casual walk. But, no matter how fast, how hard or how far we run, God is still only one step back.

I would encourage you today to go through some of the activities mentioned above. Evaluate where you are, what you are fading from and what you might be fading towards. Then, turn around that take that one step that will bring you back into the arms of God.

Matt Norman

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