Stop Fighting Straw Men

Recently my brother introduced me to a new concept. As I shared with him some things I am struggling with in my search for what God has next for me in ministry and life, he said something about fighting straw men. Do you know what that means? Don’t worry, I didn’t either. So, I asked him to explain. He told me that the idea of fighting straw men is when we, in our minds, create a bunch of “what if” scenarios and proceed to attack these made up problems, as if they were real and here now. He went on to compare it to Don Quixote. If your not familiar with this story, Don Quixote fought a windmill thinking it was some sort of dangerous beast. He then declared victory over it. There was no beast and, therefore, no victory. This is how it is with fighting straw men. We create POSSIBLE issues in our minds and then proceed to dedicate time and energy to fighting something that isn’t even there, and may never be.

As ministry leaders we often do this. When trying to enlist new team members we have the conversation in our heads before hand. This exercise then leads to us convincing ourselves that the other person is too busy, not interested, or for whatever reason says no. So, we never actually have the conversation. Or, we have an idea for the ministry. But, we get so caught up in all the what ifs that we never even present the idea to our leadership.

As parents we do this as well. This can be in discussions we have with our kids, their coaches, or teachers. In our minds we can create an endless list of “what ifs”. We can spend a lot of time fighting these what ifs and never actually getting anything done.

For me personally it was in relation to my future in ministry. You see I am a problem solver. So, when I see a problem my goal is to find a way to fix it, or to work around it at least. And, I’m good at it. While this is a great skill to have when REAL problems arise, it can be detrimental when fighting Straw Men. My aptitude in dealing with problems means I am also good at seeing them, even when they are only just a potential problem. This can be paralyzing, and nearly was for me. You see, I became so concerned with a long list of what ifs that I lost track of what I really should be doing; FOLLOWING AND TRUSTING GOD.

We should strive to be prepared. However, worrying about a bunch of possibilities that haven’t even happened yet, and my not, is not how we get prepared. Consider the military. I remember in Marine Corp boot camp several exercises that were designed to prepare us for what might come. One time they put us in a box about 3 foot by 3 foot. There were two men in each box. They put boxing gloves on us, closed us in the box and then told us to go. Did they do this because they thought that we might end up in a 3 x 3 box with boxing gloves on facing an enemy? No. Another time we worked with pugil sticks. If your not familiar with that term, it is a pole about 6 feet long with padding on each end. You fight with them. In my favorite of the pugil stick exercises they put us on either end of a bridge. When the whistle blew we would approach each other at the middle of the bridge and commence to beating each other with the sticks. Dude, that was fun. But, it was not designed to represent a specific situation that we might face. Both of these exercises were designed to teach us concepts and principles that could help us in any situation we might face.

How do we prepare as parents or ministry leaders? Jesus did say that we should “count the cost”.(1) So, there is some value in considering what may come up, what a given endeavor might involve, what it might cost. But, there is a point at which even “counting the cost” can have us fighting straw men. You see, it is wise for us to consider what something might cost. But, God is our provider and, once we have considered the cost, we need to let God worry about providing for it. Sure there is work to do, but God will handle the provision.

After we have considered the cost there is more preparation to be done. The first thing I would recommend is Bible study. The Bible is our “manual” for life. Contained it in are the instructions for how we should behave in different situations. Sure there will be situations that we encounter that don’t match every detail of what is spelled out in scripture. BUT, just like with the pugil sticks, there are concepts and principles in the Bible for every situations that we will encounter in life. If we “hide His words in our heart” (2) then we will be prepared for what comes up.

So, stopped fighting straw men. Do what you can to be prepared for what might come, but then just move forward. Don’t worry about every little possible problem. There will plenty of times to worry about the WHAT IFS when they become WHAT NOWS.Even then we have to trust that if God led us to it He will lead us trough it.

What Straw Men have you been fighting?

How have you learned to avoid fighting Straw Men?
Footnote:
1.) Luke 14:28
2.) Psalm 119:11

Matt Norman

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Are You Living Life in the Rearview Mirror?

I remember one time the rear view mirror fell off of my car. You know the one that sticks to the inside of your windshield and allows you to see what is behind you. It’s just glued to the glass so sometimes they fall off. Anyways, the repair takes about 5 minutes, but for some reason I just couldn’t seem to find the time. At first it was really annoying. I was so used to glancing in that mirror to see what was going on behind me. After a while it actually became kinda nice. You see I got rear ended several years ago. Since then I tend to watch very closely the vehicles that are behind me. With no mirror to watch them in, I kinda forgot about them. I no longer worried about what was behind me. There were still those mirrors on the doors so I was still aware of what was behind me, but without that main mirror as a constant reminder I didn’t worry about it.

Sometimes our lives are like driving. We can get so focused on our past that we are barely able to move forward or to see what is in front of us. We all have mistakes and bad decisions in our past, but they are behind us. Like with the little mirrors on the doors we need to be aware of our past mistakes, but we can’t dwell on them. Romans 8:1 says, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” There is value in being aware of our past mistakes, but we can not focus on them.

Imagine driving your car looking only into that rearview mirror in the middle of your windshield. Only ever focusing on what is behind you. When you do this you are somewhat aware of what is in front of you, but only slightly. You can’t see the dangers that are in front of you. You can’t see the good things or the bad things that you are coming up on. You can’t see clearly where you are going and can’t, therefore, make wise decisions about direction and route. It’s not a safe way to drive and seems ridiculous when we think about it.

It’s the someway in life. We can become so focused on our past that we can’t see clearly where we are going. We are so busy thinking about the things that are behind us that we can’t see the dangers that are ahead of us. We can’t see the good things coming either. It seems ridiculous to think about driving only looking at the rearview mirror yet many of us live our lives that way. We must be aware of our past mistakes or we are in great danger to repeat them. But, we can not focus so much on them that we can not move forward.

“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Matt Norman

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You Should Just Know.

At my church we have a beach volleyball pit. As you can imagine this requires a fair amount of maintainence to keep grass and weeds from growing in it. This morning I noticed that there was very little stuff growing in it. Last time I looked at it I was talking with a man in my church about just that. He was expressing his frustration that nobody seemed willing to help. He was mad that no one else could see the problem and would show up to do something about it. As ministry leaders we often feel the same way.

  • “Don’t people know how important children’s ministry is?”
  • “Don’t people care about youth ministry?”
  • “Why wont anyone volunteer”
  • “Why can’t I get any help”

As I looked at the volleyball pit this morning I thought, “I wonder if he ever asked anyone to help him with this.” It seemed that he was taking the same approach my wife often takes in regards to dirty dishes or laundry, “You should just know.” Well, my wife is probably right (don’t tell her I said that). I SHOULD see the dirty dishes and know that something needs to be done about it. I should see the overflowing laundry hamper and know that SOMEBODY has to wash them and it can be me. BUT, the truth is that my mind is usually on a million other things and the thought of doing the dishes really doesn’t even cross my mind.

I think the same is true with many people in the church. They probably SHOULD be able to see the needs of the children’s or youth ministry and they probably SHOULD offer their services to help. BUT, just like you and me they have a million other things on their mind and they really don’t see the needs. It has been my experience that many people in the church are willing and even have a desire to help, but just need to be asked.

So, where does this leave us?

Ministry leaders: Ask them. Many are willing to help, but the old pulpit cattle call just isn’t that effective in getting most people to serve. Help them to see the needs. Show them your vision for addressing the needs. Then invite them to be a part of this exciting vision.

Church members: Ok, church people, I’m giving you a little break here. I am excusing you for not stepping up prior to now. But, now is the time. Look around you. Pray that God will help you see the needs that exist within the church. Talk with the leadership of different ministries. Talk with your pastor. Trust me, there are needs and the leaders do want and need you to help. But, be careful. As you look around for the needs that exist around you, remember that you are looking for YOUR part in addressing these needs. As you pray for God to help you see the needs around you know that when He does show them to you it will be for YOU to address them. Don’t take the needs that you see to the ministry leaders or your pastor and walk away expecting them to address these needs. After all God showed them to YOU.

Matt Norman

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No Such Thing as Just One

I used to smoke cigarettes. There I said it. Now, it has been many years since I quite. In fact I no longer have any desire to smoke and really don’t even think about it. However, that was not always the case. When I first quit there was a period of time when I thought about it quite often. If I was having a bad day at work, I would think about having a cigarette. If it was a slow day at work and I got bored, I would think about having a cigarette. If I was drinking a cup of coffee, I would think about having a cigarette. I think you get the picture. During this time there was one thought that kept me from going back:

“There is no such thing as one cigarette”

This thought successfully kept me from smoking long enough for me to leave the nasty, unhealthy habit behind. Now, years later I no longer even think about it. I often tell people that are trying to quit that this is one of the keys to success. Maybe this concept applies to more that just smoking. As I think about this I realize that there are many areas of our lives where we tell ourselves, “just one.” This is particularly true in areas of temptation, weakness and self discipline.

  • I’ll skip my quiet time, JUST ONE time.
  • Just one piece of cake.
  • Just one quick look.
  • I’ll sleep in and not exercise, JUST ONE time.
  • It’s just flirting, JUST ONE time.
  • JUST ONE drink.
  • JUST ONEā€¦

You get the idea. When I was smoking this truth helped me keep from smoking cause I knew how easy the one became more than one. It’s the same way with any sin or temptation in our lives. When we submit to “just one”, then we are taking the first step down a slippery slope. What starts as JUST ONE quickly becomes a problem, or even an addiction. Each time we give in to JUST ONE it becomes easier. Each time we give in to JUST ONE it becomes harder to resist.

Maybe you don’t struggle with smoking. Maybe you don’t struggle with drinking. Maybe you don’t struggle with porn or being unfaithful with your spouse. I don’t know what it is you struggle with, BUT, what I do know is that you have struggles. Whatever it is that you struggle with remember these words, there is no such thing as just one.

Matt Norman

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Wives, Be Easy to Love.

Yesterday I spoke to husbands about how they should LOVE their wives, sacrificially. I said that how a husband loves his wife is not dependent on how the wife behaves. I stand by this. The Bible says that we should love our wives sacrificially. It does not give us a free pass if our wives behave a certain way or if they do, or don’t do, certain things. While I firmly stand by what I’ve said, wives, you could help us out. Don’t be difficult to love. Here are a few things that he wants you to know that might just help you both.
Most of the time he really doesn’t notice the sink full of dirty dishes. It’s not that he is lazy, stupid or just doesn’t care. It just doesn’t register in his mind. We are different, we think differently, and we see different things.

No matter how attractive a woman may be no real man wants his wife to act like the real housewives of New Jersey. This idea that in order to be a strong woman means that you have be rude, crude, have a foul mouth or be generally disrespectful is not only wrong, but make you harder to love.

I’m not suggesting that you can’t speak your mind. I’m not saying that you have to become June Cleaver, or Carol Brady. Just remember that this is the man you love and chose to spend the rest of you life with. Remember that to be that man and husband that the Bible says he should be, he must love you UNCONDITIONALLY, and SACRIFICIALLY. Remember that he loves you and his desire is to be the man and husband that the Bible tells him to be. Remember all of this and help him out.

I have spent the last 17 years working in the hospital setting. This means that I have had mostly female coworkers for most of my adult life. I can’t tell you the number of times I have heard women talk about their husbands and thought that it was no wonder their husband failed in loving them as the Bible instructs them to. I am not saying that a wives behavior gives the husband a free pass. If you think that is what I am saying, then go back and read yesterday’s post. But, I am saying that the way that many wives behave and the way they treat their husbands do not line up with the kind of love they expect their husbands to give them.

Bottom Line

Husbands: There is no excuse for not loving your wife as Christ loved the church.

Wives: You can help your husband with this.

Matt Norman

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