Jack of No Trades, Master of All

February 9, 2010 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

So I’m watching a little TLC the other day, and by watching I mean, I love my girls and I will stay in the room with them when they watch it because I love them.  (Side note, my family is hooked on TLC–the Duggar show, Cake Boss, Ultimate Cake Off, Hey Look Another Show About Cakes, People Crying for No Good Reason, I Think I Want to Buy a Wedding Dress.  The list goes on and on.) 

The long time show around here is What Not to Wear.  I have seen more episodes of this than I care to recount (Don’t judge me.  I love my family).  Clinton and Stacy the style experts are explaining what clothes would work best for this lady (that’s kind of like saying the Bewitched episode where Endora casts a spell on Darren and everything turns wacky.  There is your dated reference of the week.).  She then in her interview starts crying because she is mad that they think they know more about fashion than her.  Really?  You are mad that two paid professional style and fashion experts know more about fashion than you?  Similarly, I get really mad when those newscasters think they more about “what’s going on in the world” than me.

This got me thinking about a certain leadership style that some leaders can have.  They believe that leader means that you have to be the expert on everything.  Their idea always has to be the best.  They have to know the most about everything than everybody. 

We hired a new children’s pastor a couple of months ago.  He has been doing children’s ministry for years.  I have been a children’s minister for exactly zero years.  I have served in a kid’s ministry.  I have led a church that has kid’s ministry.  I have kids.  That’s it.  Who is the expert?  He is.  I don’t tell him what curriculum to use.  He tells me.  I don’t tell him the number of workers  he needs he tells me.  I provide vision, communicate values and I do everything I can to support him.  I don’t feel any pressure to know more about kid’s ministry than him, because I don’t.

I feel sorry for the leader that feels that they have to know everything and be an expert on everything.  I would imagine it is quite stressful.  How about you?  Do you empower the leaders around you?  Do you make them better? Or does you being the leader mean you are the best at everything, you know everything and “your people” exist to make “you” better?  “They” are just implementers of “your” ideas. 

It’s OK that Clinton and Stacy know more about fashion, that Buddy knows more about cakes, and the Duggars know more about having 19 kids, and it’s OK that the people you lead know more than you in their areas of expertise as well.

Stuff Christians Need to Stop Saying #2

Can the sequel ever match the enthusiasm of the original?  Godfather II was really good as was Empire Strikes Back, and The Two Towers.  However, for every Dark Knight, there is a Teen Wolf II, so we’ll see.

Setup:  Someone is having a hard time overcoming an obstacle of some kind.  They are wanting to have victory over sin, make a change in their life, but they can’t.

Response:  “Well, you just need to let go and let God.”

First of all, I am not a huge fan of quippy.  None of my sermon points ever all start with the letter C, and they certainly do not spell a word.  (In order to blog you need to Believe, Love, Obfuscate and Google.)  That by itself is enough to make me want to punt “Let go and let God.”  I prefer “Go heavy or go home.” 

Secondly, what does that mean anyway?  That is the problem with the overly quippy expressions, to make it short and cute, you sacrifice depth and meaning.  I can only assume that what is being encouraged is some level of passivity and release.  I need to stop working, and let God do the work. 

Let’s break this down.  God is the one that changes people’s hearts and gives the strength to overcome obstacles.  God brings healing in your marriage, restores relationships with your kids, breaks you free from addictions, etc.  Galatians 5 makes it clear that we need the power of the Holy Spirit to live the lives that God has called us to.  There is a battle going on inside of us and we are often on the wrong side.  So, we need to “let God” change us and lead us.

There is even a smidge (love that word) of truth to “let go.”  Luke 9:23 says we need to deny ourselves.  However, what is said next is “take up your cross and follow me.”  “Let go” is completely passive, but there is nothing passive about taking up your cross and following God.  Being totally dependent on God still means that we need to pray and read his word so he can speak into our lives. 

There are specific commands that God gives us, choices that we have to make.  I can just walk away from temptation.  I can stop yelling at my kids, putting down my wife, gossiping at work, looking at inappropriate websites.  I have my part.  When “letting go” encourages helplessness, we have gone too far in believing that everything depends on God.  This can be convenient blame-shifting.  (Before you get to0 mad, know that “God helps those who help themselves” will be coming at some point.)

Make no mistake, you desperately need God in your life.  If you do not let God change your heart and learn to depend on him, you will struggle.  However, if you think that you can just sit there and your life will change, you will struggle just the same.

We have to trust in a God that gives us the strength, courage, and motivation to make the changes in our lives we so desperately need to make, but we have to make the right choices to pursue God and do what is right if we want to have real victory.  (See, that’s not quippy at all.)

A Nervewracking Lunch at Cabot Middle School North

February 6, 2010 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

If you told me right now that I had to speak to a group, it would be no big deal.  If you told me that group numbered in the 1000’s, I would be OK.  I would be a little nervous, because I want my talks/sermons to go well, but large group even super large group speaking doesn’t make me nervous.  (You always hear people talking about the fear of public speaking like it is what people fear most.  For real? Over death, long-term illness?)

I bring this up because yesterday afternoon, I am walking into my older daughter’s middle school with a Zaxby’s lunch for Maylee and me.  Suddenly as I am getting to the front door, I am overwhelmed with being nervous.  “I want this to go well.”  “I want her friends to like me.”  “I don’t want to embarass her.”  “I want her to really enjoy the time.”  “I want her to want me to come back.”

Some of this pressure is unique to me.  When you (and others, at least a couple of others) think of yourself as the funny one, there is some added pressure to that.  However, all of us should feel some pressure and be a little bit nervous.  You interacting with their friends matters to them.  You not embarassing them is important to them.  You want them to be proud of you, don’t you?

It’s easy for parents, especially dads, to adopt the attitude of, “I don’t care what his/her friends think about me.  My dad embarassed me and I’m passing it on.”  However, what would it be like if we put the same amount of energy and effort into these seemingly small events (that are big to them) that we put into big (big to us) events?  What would our kids think if they saw us doing our best to make these encounters the best they could be?  They would experience and feel and know what we want them to–they are incredibly loved and incredibly valuable to us.

(BTW, she came home saying, “My friends like you.”  Victory!)

Stuff Christians Need to Stop Saying #1

I am hesitant to label this #1.  This means that I will do more.  However, if this doesn’t go well, I won’t.  But since it didn’t go well, you won’t remember, so we’re good.  As this (possibly) turns into a list over time, some of them will be funny, some will not.  Christians have a lot of expressions that we use.  Some of them have terrible theology in them.  Some are just weird.  Some are old and need a makeover.  Enough intro, here is #1.

Lesson Learned Theory of Facing Trials

Set-up: A Christian is going through some sort of difficult circumstance and is trying to process it.

So the person going through the trial is talking to a friend about the trial and one of them (could be either one) will say, “God is trying to teach you something.  You need to learn it, so this will pass.”  “Yeah, I know.  I thought I had learned this lesson already, but apparently I didn’t.  The trial came back.”

That seems harmless enough, and my guess is that it seems common.  However, there is a danger to that kind of thinking, to believe that trials happen so that God can teach us.  He then will not remove the trial until you learn the lesson.  He then reserves the right to bring more suffering into your life if you did not learn the lesson completely.

There are a couple of problems here.  First, it means we misunderstand the source of trials and suffering.  God is not the source.  A cursed and sinful world is the source.  We sin and suffering results.  Someone else sins, and suffering results.  The world that is cursed where sickness and death are the norm brings suffering.  God does use suffering to refine our character, but that job is never finished and that lesson will never be over.  God will use suffering to teach perseverence which develops character which produces hope, a hope that does not disappoint (Rom 5:1-5).  He will work for your good in all things (Rom 8:28).  Nowhere in that does it say or even suggest that God is throwing suffering on you simply to teach you or that he is holding on to the end of suffering like cheese on a string, waiting for you to learn something, but jerking it back if you haven’t learned enough yet.

God is a good God that loves you and wants you to have peace and hope in your life.  When trials come he is always going to be leading you in that direction, deepening your character.  However, do not believe that that means you are at fault for the suffering because he thought you needed to learn something.  Furthermore, (trying to avoid full blown rant) this kind of thinking is very dangerous for those that are in the middle of a trial that is irreversable, i.e. the death of a loved one or infertility.  We learn to cope, have hope and peace, trust God, but those things do not go away.

By all means, we need to find God in the middle of difficult circumstances.  However, in these situations God is not the strict 3rd grade teacher with the ruler ready to swat your knuckles, but a compassionate Father with you on his lap wanting you to find hope and life in him and to find comfort in the eternal life he offers.

Do You Want to Have Great Kids or Raise Great Kids?

February 4, 2010 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

One of my all-time favorite stories in our family history didn’t happen to me and I wasn’t even there.  15 years later, despite my tendency to exaggerate stories, I have yet to tell this story as if it happened to me or I was there.  That’s remarkable for me.

Anywho, it was the summer of 1995 and Heidi and I, who had been married one year, led a group of college students on a 6 week trip to Ukraine.  We had a great time and felt a connection with the Ukranian students that we met there.  One afternoon, after we had been there a couple of weeks, Heidi was with her translator.  Her translator Anya was about 18 years old.  They were walking together and Heidi said, “I want to learn Russian.”  Without missing a beat, Anya said, “No you don’t.”  Heidi argued with her.  Then Anya said, “You don’t want to learn Russian.  You want to speak Russian.”

What a statement.  Heidi and I use that when talking to people all the time.  So often what we want is the result but we are unwilling to do the work.  We don’t want to lose weight, we want to be thin.   This most recently came up in my mind as I was dealing with one of my girls.  One of them had a friend over and her dad pulled into the driveway.  As I tried to call my daughter and her friend, they ignored me, again and again and again . . .  You’ve been there right?

I’m trying to be cool.  I don’t want to embarass her in front of her friend.  On attempt number 6, she finally comes out loaded with mediocre excuses as to why she didn’t come and couldn’t even acknowledge me.  I held off for the 60 seconds or so until her friend was gone.  Then I gave the talk about respect (again) and how we act the same with our friends here as when they are not (again) and about making excuses instead of apologizing (again).  (Anyone ever tempted to record the speeches and play them back while they sleep so maybe it will soak in subliminally?)

After putting her to bed, I walked away thinking (again) how hard this is.  How constant this is.  There are no breaks from parenting.  You always have to be attentive.  You are constantly shaping behavior, molding a heart, encouraging, rebuking, consoling.  It can be emotionally exhausting sometimes.

I want to have great kids.  I want them to be awesome young ladies that go into the world and become incredible women.  However, if I want to have great kids, that means I have to raise great kids. There’s not even a Rosetta Stone shortcut.

Don’t Lie. We Can Tell.

One of my first posts on here was about the show Lie to Me, which is really cool (the show, not the post).  The post itself was really more filler that I wanted to have on there for when we launched publicly.  You could read it here, but don’t.

Anywho, this morning in our men’s leadership study, we were talking about having friends that can call us up and make us better, not buddies that always agree with us and don’t genuinely help us.  We need to have friends that we can be honest with and we can tell them that we are not doing well when in fact we are not doing well. 

I told them that if someone asks you how you are, you should only say good if you are good.  I also told them that I know when you’re lying from watching the show Lie to Me.  I am certainly no expert, but I am learning to read people better.  Here is what we do.  First, we make this face:

Or you can scrunch your nose and/or raise an eyebrow.
Or you can scrunch your nose and/or raise an eyebrow.

Then we say with a high pitched voice, “good, I’m good.”  Wrong, that is a lie.  Some of us will go to the next tell of touching/rubbing the face or fidgeting with our hair.  Again, lie.

I said all of that this morning in part to be funny, but there was an unintended consequence.  When we broke up into small groups, guys didn’t know how to answer each other’s questions.  All we know sometimes is to scrunch our face and squeak out a good.  When asked how work is we have to rub our face and show stress before we lie and say that we are “fine.” 
I now pass this on to you.  Hopefully, now you will be aware of your own “tells” that expose your dishonesty.  This perhaps can encourage you to trust your friends more, go deeper in your relationships, and tell the truth about how we feel.  We need each other to make it, but to do that we need each other to be honest.

How to deal with mold on your wall

Clearly I am not a handy-man.  If you don’t know that, know it now.  Don’t call me for repair projects at your house.  I can’t help.  I’m no good.  I’m willing mind you.  I will happily hold the board that you cut.  If this is true, then the title of this must be a metaphor for something.  Yes, it is.

This is one of my new favorite illustrations that I use when talking to people.  I say that I came up with it myself, but then you will tell me that you read it in a book 20 years ago. (Every good illustration that I think I made up, I later read somewhere else that predates my use of it.  Some day I will have something original to say, unless this verse is true.)

There is mold on the wall.  How do you fix that?  There are 3 basic ways.  One is to paint over the mold.  Ta-da! No more mold.  The second is better.  You can cut out the piece of sheetrock that has the mold and replace it and repaint.  Ta-da!  No more mold.  The third is the best.  Figure out what is causing the mold.  Fix that.  Then replace the sheetrock.  Then paint.

How are you dealing with the problems in your life?  The sin issues?  Addictions?  Pain?  Are you painting over them?  “Problem, what problem?”  Are you just fixing the wall?  This is where we deal with each instance as it comes.  We need to find the source.  Why do you struggle with fear?  Why are you so angry with your spouse?  Why do do that thing you do when no one else is around?  Spend some time in prayer and reflection.  Ask God to show you what is going on in your heart.  Seek advice and help from a pastor or mentor. 

Otherwise the “mold” will just keep coming back.

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