Marriage is a Trust—Handle with Care

January 29, 2016 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

fragilePanicked cries rang out from the kitchen.  The kind that make a momma’s heart skip a beat!  “I broke it!  I broke it!  I am so sorry!  It was Maylee’s!” wailed my devastated 4 year old.  She had spent the morning playing with a china tea set which had been given to her 18 year old sister on her 3rd birthday.  (Experienced mother’s side note to well-intentioned gift givers—china tea sets are terrible gifts for anyone younger than 6.)  Maylee is headed to college in the fall and has been purging her closet of treasures such as these, making her baby sister the delighted beneficiary.

Although I had allowed her to enjoy playing with the tea set, I had also emphasized to her how breakable it is, and the need to treat it with care because it was special to her sister.  We are probably all familiar with the sense of extra-care and caution that comes when we drive a friend’s car, hold a neighbor’s baby or drink from Grandma’s crystal stemware at Thanksgiving dinner.  You listen closely to any special handling instructions, not wanting any harm to come to the valuable object while it is in your care.  Knowing that something is precious to someone else and has been entrusted to you affects the way you handle it.

You may not realize it, but if you are married, you have been entrusted with the heart of someone who is precious and valuable to God.  Furthermore, as a husband or wife, God is using the way you love your spouse to illustrate to the world Christ’s sacrificial love for His bride, the Church.  If that doesn’t feel heavy, you need to read it again because God Himself has given you a sacred trust, and that is absolutely as big a deal as it gets.

However, if we are honest we don’t view our marriages this way. On our best days we may view our marriage as a choice we made to share our life with someone we love.  And on our less than best days we can view our marriage as an agreement we made with a selfish, sinful person when we did not have all of the facts.

We doubt ourselves:  “Maybe I rushed into this.”  “What if I would have been happier with someone else?”

We doubt our spouse:  “He’s not even the same person I fell in love with.”  “If I had only known then what I know now.”

From that place “till death do us part” can feel like an arbitrary mandate to try to make something work that was a bad idea to begin with.

I doubt most of us spend time thinking on God’s stake in our marriage.  But what if marriage is God’s idea, designed to be a picture of the love Christ has for His bride, the Church.  If His interest in your marriage is not only cherishing the heart of your spouse, which is precious to Him, but also the reputation of His Son, He may have a bigger stake in our relationship than we realize.  Likewise, because our marriage is sacred to Him, He gave some instructions for it’s care.

21 And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. 22 For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23 For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. 24 As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything. 25 For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her 26 to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word.[b] 27 He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. 28 In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself. 29 No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church. 30 And we are members of his body. 31 As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.”[c] 32 This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. 33 So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. Ephesians 5:21-33

A good God, who does have all of the facts, created marriage to serve as a picture of self-sacrificing love to a selfish and sinful world, and planned to use regular ol’ sinners “whom God has joined together” to pull that off.  If that perspective on our spouse, on our marriage, sinks in a bit, it changes things.  The doubts, the character flaws, the “what ifs” and “why me’s” become opportunities to submit ourselves to God at work in us, and ask the Holy Spirit to love my spouse in a self-sacrificing, you-first, greater-than-human kind of way.  Rather than critiquing our spouse or evaluating his worthiness, our focus can turn to “feeding and caring for [him], just as Christ cares for the church.”

Just as we might give someone instructions before caring for our child or borrowing our car, God has given us instructions for carefully and lovingly handling our spouse.

  • Consider and value your spouse’s needs as you do your own.

Submit to one another. No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it.

  • Unite yourself to your spouse. There is no longer “me” and “you.” Just “us.”

For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself. Acting in the best interest of the unified team is also in the best interest of each party.

  • Treasure your marriage as a sacred trust from God

This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. God using imperfect people to love one another in a manner that exceeds their own capacities as an illustration of His perfect, self-sacrificing love.  A mystery indeed.  A treasure He has entrusted to us.

More than a bad idea you may have had once upon a time, marriage is a God idea.  And your spouse is a gift you have been entrusted to handle with love and care.  Feel the weight of that responsibility.  At the same time I hope you will feel overwhelmed by His grace and power which are most glorious in areas where we are messy and broken. This is bigger than you.  It is bigger than your spouse.  It is as big as a great God who is writing a beautiful love story and in His beautiful, mysterious, we can’t fully comprehend it way, wants to include your chapter.  His love story is one of self-sacrifice, undeserved kindness, and unending forgiveness.  My prayer is that I will take His instructions to heart and allow His Spirit to write such a beautiful love story in my marriage.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review

December 18, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under General Insanity, Silliness and Rants

Well, it has been a month since I blogged (Long story).  Sometimes when you have to take a break, you know you need to get back in, but it seems like you need to do something big when you start back.  What is bigger than reviewing the most anticipated movie since…hmm…Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, I suppose.  Made it to the Thursday night early opening.  9:30 show.  With about 30 minutes left the movie froze.  They couldn’t get it back going for about 20 minutes.  They finally moved us to another theater.  I was there a long time.  Now I’m charged up, might as well write it before I go to bed.  I will not be proofreading (”Do you ever?”  Shut up), I mean it’s 12:40.

star-wars-force-awakens-official-posterStar Wars: The Force Awakens AKA, Star Wars Episode VII: Don’t Disappoint Us J.J. stars a whole bunch of people you don’t know from anything.  Seriously, you don’t.  You think you recognize them, but you don’t.  It’s only because they have been running teaser trailers forever.  It also returns many from the original cast including Indiana Jones, Marie from When Harry Met Sally, the voice of Joker from Batman the Animated Series is billed as being in the movie, but was not in any of the trailers unless that mechanical hand on R2 was him.  Is he in this movie or not? Spoiler free!!!!!!  Also, Gollum is in this.  Andy Serkis is perhaps the most underrated actor of our time.  He is great.  He plays a character that I had no knowledge of before I saw it.  I tried really hard to not know anything about this movie.

Expectations:How do you even begin to answer this question?  My hopes were off the chart high.  I tried to keep them as low as I could, but I couldn’t help it, they were high.  I took a bathroom stop right before the previews and some guys dressed as Jedis were talking (they had seen it at 7).  They said they really liked it, so I was really confident.  The people who come dressed up are normally the hardest to please.

Reality: It was really good.  It really had the same spirit and feel as the original trilogy.  The new Star Trek reboot felt very different than the originals.  This felt the same in all the right ways.  It should cleanse the palate of all of those still sour from the second trilogy.  It was a great blend of the characters that we know and love but introducing some brand new characters, played by nobodies just like in the originals.  The effects were good, there were funny parts.  Everything that you would want from a Star Wars movie was there.

Appropriateness: It is a little violent but no more than any other Star Wars movie.  I would totally take a small kid to it that can take fantasy violence.  Way tamer than Lord of the Rings.  Even if I were uptight about these kinds of things, I still would recommend this movie for kids.

Rating System:

See it in the theater and will definitely own

See it in the theater and might own

See it in the theater and will likely Redbox it again

See it in the theater and be done

See it at the dollar theater


Bored in 2 years and  watch it on Netflix

Avoid it.

I rate it a  See it in the theater mutliple times and buy it as soon as it comes out. There was never any doubt was there.  Well, maybe a little.  I really loved it.  I’m supposed to see it with the extended fam at Christmas.  Maybe I can wait until then to see it again.  We will see.  Call me.  I’ll go see it with you.  After you see it, we can discuss all the things that I didn’t spoil here.

Mockingjay Part 2 Movie Review

November 20, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under General Insanity, Silliness and Rants

mockingjay part 2I have seen a lot of teenage post-apocalyptic dramas over the last few years.  It comes with the territory of being a dad of girls.  I have seen both Divergent series movies, Maze RunnerEnder’s Game,and more.  However, the best of all of them, by far, has been the Hunger Games movies.  The first movie was very good.  After I saw it, Lauren begged me to read the books so we could talk about it before the other movies came out.  Dad of the Year did just that.  They were great books.  Movie #4 comes out today and, as is usually the case, Maylee, Lauren and I were at the early premiere on Thursday night. (I’m so glad they are not at midnight any more)

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 AKA, How Can We Drag a 4th Movie Out of a 3 Book Series stars Young Mystique as Katniss and returns all the regulars: the boy from Bridge to Terabithia as Peeta (AKA Bad Luck Brian),  Woody from Cheers as Hamitch, the professor from Animal House as the best movie villain of the last 10 years, Thor’s younger brother as Gale, and the back-up Clarise Starling as Coin.

Expectations: High but not too high.  The first movie was great.  Jennifer Lawrence is great.  The movies have kept pretty well to the book and have been enjoyable.  I was worried about this one a little because books split into multiple movies can tend to drag a little bit (Read The Hobbit and Harry Potter Deathly Hallows Part 1. (Lord of the Rings could have been 10 movies I suppose.  What makes them awesome, in part is that they only did 1 per book.  If they came out now, I can’t imagine how many they would have made.  “Return of the King 7B is coming out in June! With 7C to follow in July #excited”)

Reality: It was really good. I wondered after reading the book, would the movies end the way that the books did.  I didn’t think that they would at first, but changed my mind some after watching the movies unfold.  (Is it a spoiler to reveal if the ending kept to the book? I’m going to say yes, it is a spoiler, so I won’t say.)  Jennifer Lawrence, even though I’m sure she’s tired of it, didn’t phone it in. The action sequences are thrilling.  Donald Sutherland is the best.  In a world, where I was in charge of the Oscars, he would have one.  The story that the author tells is compelling and the movie captures that.

Appropriateness: It’s scary in parts.  Lots of people die.  if you’ve seen any of the movies, this is the same.  It doesn’t take it to another level or anything.  There are some creepy sewer monsters.  That’s the worst part.

Rating System:

See it in the theater and will definitely own

See it in the theater and might own

See it in the theater and will likely Redbox it again

See it in the theater and be done

See it at the dollar theater


Bored in 2 years and  watch it on Netflix

Avoid it.

I rate it a  See it in the theater and likely Redbox it. If you’ve seen the other movies, go see it.  It’s really good.  If you haven’t, what is wrong with you?  Don’t see this one first, find a fangirl and borrow the other ones and then go see this.  It’s more than an action movie or teenage love triangle movie.  It is a very compelling story that has some interesting things to say about human nature, power and corruption.  I definitely am going to miss the series.

Why Men are Scared to Have Daughters

November 19, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

Being Daddy to a baby girl is the best

Being Daddy to a baby girl is the best

Most men would have to confess that when he first finds out his wife is pregnant, his first thought is that he hopes it’s a boy.  Men do not want to admit that and most feel quite guilty about it.  Most of us have a hard time articulating why we feel that way, but we do.  I believe that there are different reasons why men feel this way.  The first and most stereotypical reason has to do with sports.  A man imagines himself playing sports with his son, throwing a football around the yard, shooting hoops in the driveway, etc.  He wants to watch his son grow up and be the sports hero that he always wishes he had been.  The psychology of dads living vicariously through their sons is a topic for another day and another book though.  However, I believe that there is a deeper reason that men are afraid of being the father to a baby girl.

We are scared to death to have a daughter.  The very thought is terrifying.  First and foremost, we do not understand women.  I know that can seem like a stereotypical joke.  “We men sure don’t understand women, do we boys?  (canned laughter)  No way.  Women, am I right? (shrug shoulders)”  But it is more than a joke.  We have not understood any of the women in our lives up to this point—mom, sisters, friends, wives.   We do not understand them and these are grown up women.  If they are that complicated and mysterious, what must they be like growing up?  What does it take to raise one?  Who knows?  I do not know what to do when my wife cries, what do I do when my daughter cries?  The ups and downs of my mom’s emotions were too much for me.  What am I supposed to do with my daughter?  If we as men are going to be honest, we would admit that we believe that maybe we can handle one woman (our wife), but to add more is more than we can handle.

Furthermore, again if we can be honest with ourselves, we are scared because we fear that somehow we might “break” them.  We are scared to be entrusted with a daughter for the same reason we do not want to be the one carrying anything fragile and valuable.  This is not to say that we fear responsibility. Most men loved to be challenged.  Give us a big challenge.  Give us something heavy to carry.  We may not be able to lift it, but we will embrace the opportunity to try.  Heavy is fine; however, delicate is scary.  We will work as hard as we can to move or carry something heavy.  We will not give up.  We will not admit fear.    But if we are talking about something fragile, that is a different story.  What if I break it?  What if I drop it?  Please do not make me responsible for protecting something breakable.  I would rather you pile two more boxes on my load then make me carry something fragile with my index finger and thumb and my pinkie sticking out, tiptoeing around scared to death that someone will bump into me.  Whether you believe what I am about to say is insulting or chauvinistic or not, it does not matter.  This is how we feel.  We believe little girls are fragile and delicate.  We think that we can easily break them and that we will do irreparable damage.

Drop a boy on his head and it will make him tough.  Eventually the boy will learn to love it.  In fact, he may ask you to drop him on his head again.  Yell at a boy and if he cries, that’s his problem.  If you tell us that we might hurt our boy’s feelings, we will likely shrug our shoulders and say that it’s good for him.  “My dad hurt my feelings, his dad hurt his feelings, his dad hurt his.  I am just continuing a sacred circle and tradition.”  Perhaps someone with boys can write a book and tell us that we should not view boys that way, but we do.  We believe that boys are durable.  They can “take it.”  But what if I say something and my daughter cries?  How will I make her stop?  What if I hurt her feelings?  Will she forgive me?  Will she be mad at me and scarred for life?  What if I break her?  Is that possible?  Will I do any damage that cannot be undone?  I do not want to find this out.  As a man, I would rather avoid the conflict.  I would rather not risk it.

So, in our hearts we think that it would just be simpler and easier to just have boys.  I know what boys are like.  I used to be one.  We are not easy to deal with, but at least I understand us.  I do not believe that I can break a boy permanently.  I know what boys like and I know what we would do together.  We can go outside and play catch, go fishing, and wrestle— things that I know how to do.  I have never had tea parties before.  I have never played dress up and changing clothes on a Barbie doll makes me uncomfortable.  Seeing a little girl cry, because of something I did?  I do not even want to think about it.  Let’s just move on.  Let’s just have boys.

Then the moment comes.  You find out that you are having a girl.  Everything in a man’s life is turned upside down forever.  We have no idea how much at the time, but we instinctively know that we will never be the same once we become a daddy to a little girl.  We know deep in our hearts that we are finished.  We once were strong, independent men, but not any more.  Now, I am about to be the daddy to a little girl.  She is going to own me.

But what I know and many of you do not, is that I would never, ever go back.  I consider it a great honor and privilege to be the Daddy to 3 amazing girls. Many of the greatest joys of my life have come from this sometimes scary but always awesome role of raising girls.  I am the most important man in the world to 4 women.  I can’t imagine much greater than that. So if you find yourself a Daddy to girls, about to be or scared to death you might be, don’t run, don’t hide and don’t be scared.  Run full speed ahead to one of the greatest adventures and joys that God can give a man–a lifetime of being a girl’s dad.

Spectre Movie Review

November 18, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under General Insanity, Silliness and Rants

So it begins, the holiday movie season.  We have some great ones coming up.  I of course mean Hunger Games and Star Wars.  You can keep the Academy Award nominees and go read a more sophisticated blog.  Here you get blockbusters and an occasional date movie.  Warning: I was not in a great mood when I watched this movie.  That could have clouded my judgment.


Spectre AKA, James Bond XXVI.  stars James Bond (Normally I reference another famous role, but this dude really is only James Bond, with all respect to Girl in the Dragon Tattoo and Cowboys and Aliens) in the lead role.  Co-stars include The Red Dragon as M.,  Drax the Destroyer as the bad guy henchman,  Mary Magdalene from The Passion of the Christ as the secondary Bond girl, the French Assassin from Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol as the primary Bond girl and everyone’s new favorite villain from Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained as the bad guy.

Expectations: Moderate.  I have enjoyed this iteration of Bond movies more than the older ones (I’ve seen all of them).  I like that these take themselves more seriously.  I like that they are telling a continuous story instead of individual isolated movies.  However, I was in a bad mood and I wasn’t expecting much.

Reality: It was OK.  I guess that means it met my expectations.  It was satisfactory for a rainy day-off kill a couple of hours afternoon, but I didn’t love it.  I would have loved to love it.  There weren’t enough great action/fighting scenes to make it awesome.  The plot was  little hard to follow, like they are now trying too hard to connect all of them.  I didn’t really buy the Bond girl as a love interest.  I also feel that after some great bad guy performances that he defined for himself, Christoph Waltz tried to be too much of a stereotypical Bond villain.  However, Bautista in his limited role as OddJob 2.0 was really good and it’s a Bond movie with chases and improbable escapes so it was good.  It just wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be.

Appropriateness: It’s a James Bond movie, OK?  He hooks up a couple of times but you don’t really see anything.  There are a few bad words and some violence.  The one torture scene is kinda “Yikes!” but nothing like Casino Royale.

Rating System:

See it in the theater and will definitely own

See it in the theater and might own

See it in the theater and will likely Redbox it again

See it in the theater and be done

See it at the dollar theater


Bored in 2 years and  watch it on Netflix

Avoid it.

I rate it a  Redbox. Unless you are a true Bond fan and need to see it in the theater, just get it on Redbox.  It will be fun for a couple of hours and is worth $1.50 or whatever. You spend real money and you might think you wasted it.  Casino Royale was great. Quantum of Solace and Skyfall were good.  This is just OK.

Stop Whining and Start Winning

November 17, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Bible, Church and Leadership

I can still feel Colorado when I think about what it was like to live there.  Unfortunately, I don’t mean how I felt seeing how beautiful it was or the cold moutain air or anything awesome like that.  When people ask me how was it living in Colorado, I tell them that I wouldn’t know.  I lived at seminary, the Chick-Fil-A where I worked and the church where we attended and volunteered.  Those things happened to be in Colorado, but I was way too busy to notice.

be strong and courageousWhen I say I feel Colorado, I mean the pain that I felt in how hard that season was.  It started bad and got worse.  The reason I was there was to finish seminary, but I had hoped to do that remotely with my new small groups pastor job at my church in Conway.  I didn’t get the job.  I actually didn’t even get interviewed.  It was hard and hurtful.  The first real disappointment in my life.  Then we moved…in with my in-laws.  They were great and generous to do that, but it’s a shot at the manhood regardless.  I was delivering pizzas for a boss 10 years younger than me.  My car broke down and couldn’t be fixed.  The car we replaced it with stranded me 6 times in a year.  Right before we were about to sell it, it literally blew up.

How did I respond to this? Short answer: poorly.  Another short answer: whining.  I was so good at having a pity party.  I cried a lot and I yelled a lot.  At 28, I was unprepared for this level of disappointment.  I lacked the courage that was needed to face adversity and learn from it.  Rather than allowing God to use it in my life, at least for a season, I allowed it to wreck me.

I take comfort that I can say that I was like Joshua, one of the greatest leaders in the Bible.  Unfortunately, I comparing myself to his worst moment, but at least I can say that I am like him.

Joshua and the Israelites had just seen God do an incredible miracle at Jericho.  Now they were on to Ai.  Unknown to Joshua, Achan had stolen some of the treasures that God had forbidden.  As such, when they attacked Ai, God wasn’t with them.  (A fact that Joshua could have known, if he had consulted God before the attack on Ai.  Instead, he rushed in and attacked, forgetting that it was God that had brought them victory, not their soldiers or his military acumen. Another great lesson for another day.)

After their defeat at Ai, Joshua goes straight to whining and complaining mode.  He tells God that it would have been better if they had never come to the promised land at all.  He questions God’s integrity and wonders why God brought them all this way just for them to be wiped out.  Questioning God’s integrity is never a great option.  God, however, is gracious with Joshua and explains Achan’s sin and the solution for Joshua.

What should Joshua have done? Said another way, what should we do?  When a plan we are convinced is God’s plan goes wrong, what is the right response? When severe disappointment comes, what do we do?

1) Remember what God has already done. One disappointment does not negate what God has already done in your life.  God had just brought down the wall of Jericho.  He is still the same God.  The same God that has brought you to where you are and loved you and served you is the same God that is with you now.  You may not understand the what or the why of what’s happening now, but the character of God is the same.

2) Stop and ask God what’s going on.  The question is always asked, “Why do bad things happen to good people?’  The answer is both simple and complicated.  The simple answer, as with most deep questions, is that it depends.  The complicated answer:

  1. It could be sin.  That was the problem for Joshua.  This is where the phrase “sin in the camp” comes from.  God was opposing them because of sin. The drunk driver should not complain to God about why he is jail.  The man who neglects his wife should not complain about her affair.  God shows us tremendous grace but that doesn’t mean that the trial isn’t a result of sin.
  2. It was never God’s plan. We become convinced that God wants us to do something, but we never really asked him.  We confuse what we want with what God wants.  This is also in play here.  Joshua never asked God if it was time to attack or how.  Why didn’t I get the job at my church? Because, for a lot of reasons, it wasn’t right for me.  What I took as disappointment and a trial was God protecting me from what would not have been a good situation for me.
  3. Your plan is off. I firmly believe that God is calling me to reach people in NWA through The Grove Church.  We have seen some success.  We also have had some things we’ve tried go wrong.  Why? They weren’t good ideas.  The solution is stop doing that and start doing something different. Why was God not with us? It was a bad idea.
  4. You live in a fallen world. Sometimes the answer is bad things happen to good people because those good people live in a bad place.  Don’t let the overwhelming blessing you live under blind you to the fact that we live in a broken world where bad things happen.

3. Listen to God and trust him. Too often we can pray and ask God a question but we fail in the obvious next step–listening.  God will answer you.  I can make no guarantees on his timing, means, or favorability, but I can guarantee an answer.  When faced with disappointment or a trial, reach out and then listen.  Then trust whatever he says.  Don’t go where Joshua went.  He led with a distrust of God.  He believed the worst first.  Even in that, God met him and gave an answer.  Then we see Joshua choosing to trust and follow again.

I am walking through a lot of trials with different people right now.  Some are doing well and some are not.  The difference between them is simple–they have the courage to trust and follow God.

Red Cups, Xmas, Happy Holidays and the Culture of Outrage

November 10, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Bible, Church and Leadership

I would never say that I have been persecuted for my faith.  I have been harassed, shamed, embarrassed, intimidated. Maybe that rises to the level of persecution for you but I would not use that word.  I have been inconvenienced and had my feelings hurt.  As long as people are being tortured, imprisoned and killed around the world, I will not say that I have been persecuted.  This is the same reasoning that I used in not complaining about the major stomach issues I had when my wife was in labor.  I never brought it up to her, the doctor, anybody.  It didn’t seem appropriate.  I also didn’t want to get mocked or punched.

red cupFor the same reasons, I would not say that there is a war on Christmas.  War is a strong word.  There is a war on Christians in the Middle East being waged by ISIS.  Hyperbolic language trivializes real war.  There are real Christians facing real war and real attacks.  Let’s not minimize what is happening to them by describing what is happening here as war.

What is happening here?  American society is becoming more secular.  Fewer people identify themselves as Christian and people feel more emotional permission to not have to say that they are Christian or behave like Christians.  People who are not followers of Christ are being more honest about their faith or lack thereof.  This is actually an incredible opportunity for Christians.  People are more open and transparent about what they believe and it is a great opportunity for genuine dialog.

When I was growing up, everyone was a Christian.  Allow me to rephrase, everyone felt they had to say they were and that they went to church, even if they didn’t.  This makes sharing your faith and engaging with someone who is far from God incredibly difficult.  Because they feel pressure to look and talk like a Christian, they will fail to be honest about their lack of faith or their struggles.

Now people will openly tell you what they believe and their reservations about faith in Christ or their lack of faith in God at all.  It’s an incredible opportunity for dialog and engaging people and telling them about life with God through Christ.  But this is not what we choose to do.  We choose outrage.  “How dare you attack Christmas!  This is a Christian nation! As such, we require everyone, whether they are Christian or not to talk and act like one!”

So, let’s look at a few of the battles in the war on Christmas:

Xmas–You understand that is simply shorthand for Christmas, where X represents the first letter in the Greek word for Christ, right?

Happy Holidays–You understand that expression has been around for over 150 years and represents an entire holiday season starting with Thanksgiving and going through New Years, right?

Starbucks doesn’t put Merry Christmas or Christmas decorations on their holiday cups–Well, this one is serious.  Let’s tackle this.

Alternate headline: Secular Company Chooses to not Overtly Celebrate Christian, Religious Holiday, Christians Outraged!

What difference does this make? Starbucks doesn’t want to celebrate a religious holiday.  They shouldn’t have to and you shouldn’t care.  To the degree that you do care, you should care and pray for the people whose hearts are far from God.  Instead, we harass hourly employees who had nothing to do with the decision.  “I told them my name was Merry Christmas, so they had to say it!”  That is not a victory.  It is either nothing, or a loss.

It’s a loss because we show ourselves to be thin-skinned and unwillingly to lovingly engage people who desperately need the hope and life that comes from Jesus.  Instead, we act entitled and whine about how non-Christians behave and talk like non-Christians instead of accommodating me and my spiritual (?) preference for religious greetings on my beverage containers.

Let’s say the protest over cups worked.  Now when you go to pay $5-$10 for a cup of coffee, you will be able to read “Merry Christmas.”  Is your faith strengthened now? Are you closer to God now?

“Hey, it’s for the people who aren’t Christians!”  Ok, a non-Christian reads “Merry Christmas” and is reminded that it’s Christmas season, and then this person thinks to themselves, “I need to get right with God.”  Seems unlikely, especially since we have just shown ourselves to be entitled and whiny.  My guess is that the way we are conducting ourselves about these cups is making us less attractive, and no amount of caffeinated Christmas greetings will overcome that.

What if we made a different decision?  Every time a nativity scene is taken down or someone says “Happy Holidays” or you receive a Christmas-wish-free coffee cup, every Christian did three things.  First, we prayed for the people.  “Dear God.  I pray for the executives at Starbucks/greeter at Wal-Mart/ACLU lawyers.  I pray that they would come to know you and follow you. Amen.”  What would the cumulative effect be of those prayers in the lives of people who are far from God?

Second, we pray for an opportunity to show the love of Christ to someone who isn’t experiencing that love.  We ask God to make us more aware of the hurting and needy around us and give us chances to engage with people.

Third, we actually took those opportunities.  What if we channeled all the outrage about our society becoming more secular into a concerted effort to engage the hopeless, the poor and the lost? What if instead of being outraged by a cup we chose to invite out for coffee (non-Starbucks of course) a friend or co-worker who is going through a divorce or loss?  What if we took what we spent on coffee and dropped it in the Salvation Army bucket?

What if the world this Christmas began to believe that Christians were an overwhelming force for good, love and hope to people who desperately need those things?  Rather than fighting against the “War on Christmas,” we fight for the hearts and minds and lives of people who need the message of the Prince of Peace.

A Healthy Sex Life Begins with Dishes and Laundry

November 9, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

I don’t want to be too provocative or racy on the blog today, but I need to tell you something.  I unloaded and loaded the dishwasher this morning.  In addition to that, I was the one to get up when Laylah got up this morning.  (She is definitely the first one up every morning since time change.)  After I got her breakfast, I remembered that I had run the dishwasher last night.  I unloaded it and put the remaining dishes in.  I went around the house and gathered up other dishes.  In the meantime, I also noticed some stuff of mine that needed to be put away.  I also saw a basket of laundry in our room that needed to be folded.  I’ll work on that tonight.

man dishesAgain, I hope that story wasn’t too racy for you but romance is in bloom at the Loften house today.  It actually started last night with the original loading of the dishwasher and watching one of our shows on Hulu last night.  We were next to each other and holding hands and just being tired next to each other.  Can you feel the heat?

This, my friends, is what romance actually looks like in your typical marriage.  Sometimes when we are watching a TV show or movie that supposedly is “romantic,” I’ll notice how suddenly, aggressively and awkwardly these people start having sex.  I wonder out loud to my wife, “Does that happen in real life?’  If it does, there is a completely different magical world out there where people aren’t exhausted from kids and life and sex is on the front of everyone’s mind all the time.

In the world in which I live, a healthy sexual relationship is a slow build over time.  It begins with the husband serving his wife all day or for a couple of days.  He communicates to his wife how much he loves her and is thinking of her, not simply with physical flirtation, but also with domestic service flirtation.  He is going out of his way to communicate love for his wife in the way that she receives it, not simply in the way that he is feeling it.  A guy gets a lot more mileage out of folding socks than a random physical grab or a sexual comment (shocking, but true).

In the world in which most guys live, a sexual relationship starts at night, in bed when he thinks, “We’re both here.  We are already laying down.  What do you say?”  Then that same guy gets frustrated that his wife isn’t into it and rejects him or begrudgingly goes along.  He gets frustrated that she is distracted by her day or tired or overwhelmed.  He is shocked that she didn’t have the same thought, you know, what with them both being in the bed and all.

Too many men do not do the hard work to recognize how differently the mind and sex drive of their wife is.  They assume that women are just like them and get frustrated with them when they discover repeatedly that is simply not true.

I’ll never forget the day it fully hit me.  I was watching TV in the living room by myself and there was a basket of unfolded clothes in front of me.  I simply started folding the clothes while I was watching.  Heidi comes by and says, “What are you doing? Trying to romance me.”  I think, “Ummm, nope. But I am now.”

It was then that I had finally noticed after more than 10 years of marriage, that it wasn’t simply being nice to my wife and what I would call flirty, that romanced my wife.  I realized just how much serving her and trying to eliminate the things that distract her makes a huge difference in how she views me and our intimacy.

This may sound weird or even manipulative.  It’s not, it’s how romance works.  I show her love in the way that she wants to be loved and my wife responds to me by showing me love in the way that I want to be loved.  It might become manipulative if I bang a dish loudly, thinking she may not know that I’m doing dishes or I yell from the living room that I am folding clothes.  But even in that, it’s just fun flirting.  Honestly, I wouldn’t even be sure who would be manipulating whom.  Am I folding laundry to get sex? Or is she giving sex to get the laundry folded?  It doesn’t matter.  We are both loving each other the way that we need and want to be loved.

A healthy marriage means each person is giving and receiving love.  That means that I need to know the way that she wants to be loved.  She wants to be pursued and served and she hates folding laundry.

Arkansas Razorbacks Men’s Basketball Preview

90% of this pastor blog is stuff that you would find on a pastor blog.  The other 10% is the stuff you would expect on my blog–fun things that I love to talk about–Disney World, Movies, 80’s Music and Razorback Basketball.

coach AI have been a huge Razorback basketball fan for as long as I have memories, which for me dates back to Eddie Sutton.  I was at the first basketball camp that Nolan Richardson had at the U of A and loved him and his style.  This is part of the reason why it was very easy to say yes to the call of God to move to Fayetteville, where they just happen to play most of their games.  I have been a season ticket holder for the last couple of years.  It’s great.  I love taking one of my girls or hanging with guys.  I just love being in the building watching the hogs.

So far, I’ve been to the Red-White scrimmage with Heidi and Laylah and met some folks from the Grove there.  Last night was the first exhibition game and I was there with the one and only Gregg Post. We’ve probably been to 50 games together.  He has tickets as well.  He drives and we use my parking pass–the perfect arrangement. You should put it on your bucket list to go to a bball game with Gregg and me.  It’s quite entertaining.

So after an inter-squad scrimmage and an exhibition game, what can we say about the 2015-16 Razorback Men’s Basketball team?  Not much, it’s too early, but that won’t keep me from throwing down about 1000 words.

Returning players: Unless last year’s starting point guard, Anton Beard, can resolve his legal troubles, we (yes we!) will not have any returning starters.  That obviously is a challenge if you want to build on last year’s NCAA tournament appearance and first round win (Yes, first round.  Those first games are play-in games.  The first round happens on Thursday.  I don’t care what they call it.).

Because of early departures, graduates and 2 alleged counterfeiters, we only have 4 players returning who saw any real minutes last year.

Anthlon Bell–One of the best 3 point shooters I’ve seen when hot, but in the past has gone through extended cold streaks.  Looks great so far.  Looks mature, calm and like a leader.  Optimistic about his senior year.

Moses Kingsley–The big man.  Huge defensive presence.  Trying to be more assertive in scoring and so far it’s not working great.  Needs to let the game come to him, but love the aggressiveness and his defensive presence.

Manny Watkins–The kind of guy that people who use the phrase “emotional leader” would call an emotional leader.  I’m not sure what that’s supposed to mean.  Anyway, one of the top hustle players I’ve seen in a hog uniform.  Does whatever it takes and works hard.  He know the limitations of his game and doesn’t try to do more than he can do

Jabril Durham–He didn’t see that many minutes.  More times than not he was the 3rd string point guard.  However, due to the mass exodus and legal issues, he has been thrust into the starting lineup.  He’s a pass first, pass second, pass third, I suppose I’ll shoot 4th point guard.  That’s good for a guy without a great shot.  Seems improved.  Better court awareness and not pressing it too much.

Technically also returning:

Trey Thompson–A sophomore who rarely played last year.  He seems slimmer and more athletic and more comfortable on the court now.  Gave some solid minutes off the bench and I can only see him improving.  Very excited about his junior and senior years.  Should be solid this year but with growing pains.

Miles Keaton–Senior forward who played sparingly last year and now finds himself in the starting line-up.  I haven’t been impressed in either game, but then I look at his stat sheet and it looks better than I remember.  Maybe my evaluator is off. Needs to play within himself a little bit more, i.e. the 15 footer is not his shot.  However, great hustle guy.

New players this year:

Jimmy Whitt: I couldn’t be more excited about this guy.  I’m always hesitant when someone comes with big scoring numbers from high school.  Often, it is a reflection of low level competition in high school (read: Cannon Whitby and Darnell Robinson) However, he looks amazing.  Doesn’t seem like a freshman at all.  Reminds me a lot of BJ Young, but without the attitude.  Shot looks ugly, but he scores.  Doesn’t shoot 3 pointers but crashes the basket like crazy.  He’ll have some freshman moments but should be a great player.  He will likely lead us in scoring this year.

Dusty Hannahs–I was skeptical, but now a believer.  In last year’s red-white scrimmage, it didn’t look like he was very quick and his shot looked flat.  However, either that was an anomaly or something has happened in 12 months.  He has Pat Bradley and Rotnei Clark written all over him.  He can take people to the basket and has a decent floater in addition to Al Dillard-ish range.  He will score 40 in at least one game this year.

Willie Kouassi–(How big a hog fan am I?  I didn’t have to look up the spelling of that name.)  Big guy, tough on the boards.  Potentially great defender.  Will score almost all of his points on put backs.  Will give solid minutes off the bench but won’t supply much offense.

Lorenzo Jenkins–Small forward freshman.  This year’s Trey Thompson.  Will see limited minutes, more of a project.  Showed confidence but not much else.

We will do well:

When both 3 point specialists are hitting their shots.  It’s great to have 2 guys (Bell and Hannahs) that you know can light it up at any time.  When they both are on, we will be hard to contain.

When we can find a 4th scorer behind Bell, Hannahs and Whitt.  It can be a different guy each game, but when there is a 4th guy who can score, we will be hard to stop.  Otherwise, we will struggle with points.

When (as always) our press and defense are at their best.  Haven’t seen much in that regard yet, but it’s Coach Anderson, so it’s coming.

We will struggle:

When one or both of the 3 point guys are cold.

When we are on the road and play timidly.

When Whitt plays like a freshman.

When our post players can’t score at all.


I am more optimistic than a lot of fans are. Not “Bo I think we have a shot at the final 4.  I’ll hang up and listen.” optimistic.  However, we will exceed expectations.  We have a lot of inexperience and youth.  This is probably the least talented team Coach A has had, but it has the potential to be one of the hardest working.  The lack of a superstar will make them play team ball.


9-4 in non-conference and 10-8 in conference. 19-12 going into SEC tournament.  Win a game or 2 in the SEC tourney and make a good run in the NIT.  That’s down from last year, but will be a solid year.  These guys will be fun to watch and will set us up for a great year next year, especially if Malik Monk comes to the U of A.

Go Hogs!

Attention Dads: Be the Good Cop and the Bad Cop

November 5, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

The two parents in our home have different titles. (FYI: my wife came up with these.) We have the utility parent (Heidi) and the novelty parent (Me).  The utility parent is the grinder.  The one who makes sure that there is food and clothes and is getting kids places on time.  She is the one who is always there doing the bulk of the work with the kids.  In what can sometimes be a thankless job, I publicly give thanks to the utility parent in our home. You are the best!

Fun--taking the girls to CFA.  Look closely you'll see also that the little one has met not fun dad.

Fun--taking the girls to CFA. Look closely you'll see also that the little one has met not fun dad.

The novelty parent isn’t typically around during the day.  I’m typically around from dinner to bed time during the week.  The girls have been with the utility parent all day.  They’ve been told no a few times.  They’ve been leaned on to do chores and get their stuff done.  It’s not unusual for there to have been a dust-up or a kerfuffle or a brouhaha or some falderal (I love all these words).  This happens in homes to moms all over the world.  Parenting is relentless.  Mom is tired and the kids are getting frustrated.

Enter the novelty parent. (While this post may be most applicable to families with a stay at home mom.  Even when both parents work outside the home, it is still very common for the mom to be the utility parent–the one who gets it done with the kids.)  The novelty parent comes home and what does he do?

A typical dad will choose one of two roles.  Dads either become the mean one or the fun one.  The mean one is the one who comes in and cleans house (metaphorically of course, though literally would never be a bad idea either, but that’s for a post called Chores: Your Wife’s Real Love Language or A Healthy Sex Life Begins with Dishes and Laundry)  By cleaning house , I mean that he comes in and starts fussing and disciplining the kids for making their mom upset, for not doing homework, for whining, for whatever.  Dad comes in with the big stick.

The fun one comes in and starts handing out candy and playing video games with the kids.  He tells his wife that she needs to relax and says that chores and homework can wait. Let’s have fun!

What do I suggest, you may be asking?

The worst option is to choose neither.  The worst thing that you can do is come home and not engage with your family.  You cannot come home and be off the clock, especially if your expectation is that your wife is still on the clock.

The best option, and the one that I try to choose is both.  I want to be both the fun one and the mean one.  I can bring a fun calming influence when it is called for and I can bring the thunder when it is called for.

When you pick just the mean one, you have a warped relationship with your kids.  They begin to dread you coming home.  They believe fathers are angry and judgmental.  Not only does that damage your relationship with them, but it gives them a picture of God as Father that is unhealthy as well.

When you pick just the fun one, you undermine your utility parent.  You make it where she has to enforce all the rules and you get to break them.  Now instead of you being the ogre, she is.  Neither of those options is good.

Because of my role as novelty parent, I have more energy to play the extremes.  Heidi may be too exhausted to have fun or too exhausted to bring strength.  I can do both, depending on what is needed.  I can buy Laylah a sucker because, why not? I can also tell her that she can’t have any treat of any kind because of the way that she has treated her mom.  I may have spent work energy all day, but I still have parenting energy.  I haven’t used any of that.

If you come home and you feel you don’t have any parenting energy, allow me to give you a piece of advice, man to man.  Suck it up and find some.  Your wife needs you, your kids need you and you need them and you need to be a great husband and dad.  Said differently, you get to be a great dad and husband.  Don’t waste the opportunity by telling yourself that you are too tired.

I find great joy in being a dad.  I find great joy in being the novelty parent.  Not only do I get to serve and love my kids by playing and giving and serving.  I get to serve and love my wife by being the heavy hand when her hand is just too tired.

Now Dads! Go out there and give your kids treats and play games and have fun!

Now Dads! Go out there and put your kids in time out and take away their stuff!

You win both ways.

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