Getting Ready for Easter Weekend

March 31, 2010 by cloften  
Filed under Bible, Church and Leadership

I will blog later this week about the spiritual preparation for Easter and how are hearts need to be ready for what God will do in our lives.  This post, however, is a little more pragamatic if you will and directed almost exclusively to Fellowship Cabotians.  If you find yourself reading this and you don’t go to Fellowship Cabot, there are some principles here that you could draw upon.

1) Go on mission by when you go to church.  We are having four services this weekend.  Saturday night at 5:30.  Sunday morning at 8, 9:30 and 11.  Lots of people who don’t go to church anywhere and are far from God will come to church this weekend.  Try to remember back to a time when you visited a church for the first time.  Do you remember how nervous you were?  Often people can feel nervous and overwhelmed.  We want to make sure that we have room for them and their families.  You can help do that by going to a service where a visitor would not

2) Park as far away from the front door as you possibly can.  For us, this is in the back of the building.  Do not block access to the playground, but park in the gravel in the back.  You can block me in if you would like.  I will most likely be there later than you.  This is especially necessary for those that get there early and those that will be there for multiple services.  When someone drives into the parking lot, even if the spots designated for visitors are full, we want them to find a spot that is easy for them and their family.  Besides the extra walking will allow you to eat a little bit more for Easter lunch.

3)  Serve in a service where you are not attending.  It is not too late.  It never is.  You could walk up that morning and say, “Hey can I help anywhere?”  I promise you that you will not here, “nah, go home.”  It takes a lot of people serving in a lot of different ministries to pull off the worship service, especially on Easter Sunday.  Your church needs you.

4) Say hello and introduce yourself to people that you do not know.  Second only, maybe, to taking good care of children, friendly people is the primary way that new people evaluate churches.  You may think that it is awkward sometimes.  It may be awkward sometimes.  However, people will always walk away encouraged when someone from a church they are visiting goes out of there way to introduce themselves and make the visitor feel welcomed.

5) Invite someone.  Let me say that again.  Invite someone.  People who almost never go to church will come on Easter Sunday.  How about they come with you?  Who wouldn’t rather go to a church with someone they know?  What is the worst case scenario if you invite someone?  “I hate you.  How dare you take enough interest in me personally to ask me to come to your church.  We are no longer friends.”  Not likely.  The likely worst case:  “Thank you,” and then they don’t come.

Easter Sunday is the biggest weekend of the year for most churches.  More than that, though, this will be the biggest day in the lives of some people.  Because this Sunday will be the day that for the first time they hear and receive the Easter message of life and salvation.  You can make that happen.

Diary of a Soul Inflicted with March Madness #2

The Appeal of the Underdog.

Thursday, March 18th, 2:15 pm–I pick Villanova to go to the Final Four in what is considered my “official bracket.”  I enter different brackets in different contests.  So, why was I rooting for Robert Morris?  Why? Because it is so cool watching these little, out of nowhere school beat the “elite” teams.

You might think that this is about to make a hard left turn and I’m going to talk about David and Goliath.  Maybe that they inspire us to believe that we can do anything.  “Anything is possible if you believe.”  Uh, no.  I am officially on vacation and it is unlikely that you will get anything on this week that you would call “significant content.”  (I know, I know.  How is that different?  I get it.)

I just don’t like the big teams from the big schools.  If you have ever won a championship, we don’t want you to win.  Not one game.  Go home.  The best part of the underdog win?  When the scrubby bench players lock arms on the bench during the freethrows and sway back and forth.  Do coaches recruit some players based on their ability to execute that well?

It’s hard to have too much animosity for Villanova, per se.  It’s not like it is Kansas, Duke or Kentucky.  Nonetheless, Robert Morris is a cool team to root for.  What is their mascot? TheCats? (dated reference) Scholars?  Is Robert Morris a cigarette brand? Did he sign the Declaration of Independence?  Is he the first architect to use the flying buttress?  I could look it up, but I don’t care.  It’s just cool.

I would like to formally apologize to the Robert Morris fan(s?) out there for writing this post too soon and jinxing it.  If it makes you feel any better, my final four picks are still in tact.

Diary of a Soul Inflicted with March Madness #1

This series (?) of posts will be what Simon would call indulgent nonsense.  Indulgent–only I care about what I’m writing.  Nonsense–just keep reading.

Thursday, March 18th, 9:30 am–For the 20th year, my brother and I are about to watch the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tourney together.  It is (almost) always the first weekend of the tourney.  Exceptions have been when we would have tickets to see games that were the second weekend, or once, wait for it, the Final Four itself.  Yes, I was there when Roy Williams broke his jinx and cut down the net for the first time in St. Louis.  In fact, Roy Williams coached teams are 6-0 in the tourney when I watch him live.  Twice w/ Kansas in STL, twice w/ UNC in STL and twice w/ UNC in Memphis.  Roy, if you’re listening and you ever make it back to the tourney again (hee hee) call me, I am available to be flown into your games and torturously watch you win.

Anywho, my brother and I have been doing this for quite a while and we love it.  We have several mini-traditions, IBC root beer, making fun of commercials, etc.

For me the most exciting part of the tourney is the anticipation leading up to it.  Right now my bracket is perfect.  By 2:00 it will destroyed and hope will have abandoned my house yet again.  My problem in the past is that I pick often what I want to happen.  I pick the Razorbacks to advance one round further than they do.  (Do you guys remember when the Razorbacks used to go to the tournament?  Those were great days.  UAPB over Duke!!!!!)  I pick teams I hate to get upset early.  It never happens and it is the double whammy.  Teams I hate win and my bracket is terrible.

This year I am hedging my bets.  (Not literal bets.  Settle down people).  I am picking teams I hate.  This way, either my bracket will do well or Kentucky, Duke and Kansas won’t.  I’m sure there is 3rd option out there somewhere.  We’ll see.  I’ll keep you (and by you I mean me and my mom.  Anyone else even still reading this?) updated.

Stuff Christians Need to Stop Saying #10

March 16, 2010 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

How do you wrap up a series?  You can kill off the main character and be done (Freddy, Jason).  The problem with that is, you can always figure out a way to bring him back.  “No, he didn’t really die.”  Lame.  You can wrap up the story, bring closure (Star Wars).  Then you still want to know what happens next and people write 7000 books about what happens next to the characters.  Most common?  Act like you’re closing down, and then see if does well and then bring it back anyway (Everything).

How does a math major do it?  Duh, don’t you have to stop at 10?

Set up:  Someone is struggling to figure out life’s purpose and meaning.  They are not sure what to do, where to go.

Response: When all else fails, reads the instructions.

I am going to start with the disclaimer here.  Read the Bible.  Reading the Bible is great.  God will speak to you.  You will be challenged, spurred toward growth, drawn closer to God, convicted of sin, inspired, many many things.  Don’t have a reading plan?  Use the Fellowship Journal.  Ok, are we settled? greatly supports daily, frequent Bible reading.

Moving on.  Read the instructions?  Really?  If the Bible is an instruction book, it is the worst instruction book, ever.  The table of contents is completely unhelpful.  It gives you names you don’t recognize and is not at all helpful in directing me toward the issues that I am having with life.  Regardless, if I start reading from the beginning, looking for instructions I am going to be confused and disappointed.  “Uhh, I want to know how to discipline my kids and what I read was a story about two naked people and a snake.”

Even the parts of the Bible that are instruction-heavy, Leviticus and Deuteronomy, have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ and don’t apply to us directly (Acts 15).  The Bible is not an instruction book.  (It also is not a love letter) While it may serve the purpose of providing us with instruction and guidance and does reflect God’s love for us, to say that the Bible is an instruction book or love letter is to greatly minimize and diminish the power and beauty and depth of the Bible.

It has incredible stories meant to inspire us and some to scare us, with great models, terrible models and mostly mixed ones.  The Bible has beautiful poetry that will inspire you into a deeper love for God.  There are prophetic works of judgment and hope that can move us to a deeper faith in troubled times. 

The Bible is deep and rich and when you read it you will be drawn closer to God and will walk closer with him.  As you read and pray, you will notice the Holy Spirit convicting you where you are failing and encouraging you where are doing well.

However, if you approach the Bible as if it were simply an instruction book, you will miss out on the depth of relationship with God that you will get from study and interaction with him.  You also will be highly frustrated, because the Bible, like life, is just not as simple as reading the instructions on assembling a computer desk (Though I will confess the instructions for desk assembly are quite confusing). 

On the other hand if you approach the Bible as God’s Word meant to inspire us, challenge us and deepen us, and draw us closer to him, you will never, never be disappointed.

When the Pastor Gives His Daughter Away

March 15, 2010 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

So, I am with a friend the other day and he says, “You start a lot of your posts with the word, ’so.’”  Hmm, didn’t notice that.

So, we as a family are at a wedding Friday night, Seth Latture and Rachel Stockdale.  They have just recently started coming to our church.  He plays keyboard for one of our worship bands.  The wedding was at New Life Church in Conway, great church BTW, where they had been going for years and where her dad is one of the pastors.

There I am with my wife and two daughters and I am watching this pastor/dad walk his daughter down the aisle.  (Jim Stockdale is a great man and pastor and has the privilege of being the dad to four girls.)  Before he gives her away, the officiating pastor gives him a mic and he gives a blessing to his daughter and future son-in-law.  He talks about what a blessing his daughter has been and how he has been praying for this day, that God would bring the right man.  He then looks at Seth and commends him for the man he is and how proud he is to give his daughter away to him. 

Then he did it.  He gave her away.  He sat down and watched his daughter marry this guy.  Then right before the pronouncement, he got up and prayed for them.  Wow.  I teared up then.  Tearing up now.  As a dad of daughters and a pastor myself, I found myself walking in Jim’s shoes.  I will walk in those shoes someday.

The question is what am I doing to prepare myself and my girls so that when that day comes,  I will be as encouraged and want to give a blessing the way he did? 

What do my girls see in the way that I love them and encourage them and value them that makes them have high expectations for a man?

What do they see in the way that I treat their mom that sets the expectations for what a husband should be?

How am I pointing them towards God so that they will learn to trust him and follow him and expect that their husband will do the same?

Do I pray?

Do I go and have lunch at their school on a regular basis and intimidate boys so that they will be scared of me, and consequently my girls, and we can delay this process for as long as we can?

Well, maybe we don’t need the last one.  Regardless, that day is coming.  I will walk my girls down the aisle.  I will give them away to somebody.  Who that somebody is depends on me.

Knowing Who You Are Not

So yesterday, the staff of Fellowship Cabot got away for a day and did some planning.  The process at Fellowship is planning in the spring for a ministry year that runs with the school year (sort of) from July to June.  During this time, we talked about things that went well the last 12 months, things we could improve upon and then began to look ahead to next year.  We did this for about 8 hours.

I am going to let you in on a secret (which is really no secret if you know me at all).  I don’t really care for meetings.  I am not what you would call a “planner.”  So “planning” + “meeting” *8 hours = long day.  I love our staff.  I love our church, but the all day planning meeting is tough.

Here is the thing though, I called the meeting.  This was my idea.  I looked at our staff a couple of weeks ago, told them why we needed to do this.  We put it on the calendar and had the meeting yesterday.  This is my responsibility, and we did it.

However, I know that this is not my strength.  I know that.  Furthermore, not only do I know that, but I am also able to admit it…out loud…to my staff…and to the world (and by world, of course, I mean the 8 people who read this).  I have no problem at all admiting to you that this is a weakness.  I do not want to pretend otherwise.  What good do I do myself or the church if I pretend that I am the total package?  The answer is none.  In fact, I can do a lot of harm.  Important things will not get done and if done, will not get done well.

So what do I do?  The first step is admiting the weakness.  Then I look to surround myself with other leaders who are good at the thing with which I struggle.  Then I let them lead me.  Milk-a-what?  That’s right I have people that are technically my staff, where I am “the boss” and I let them lead me.   Scott Monnahan is far and away a better organizational leader.  You should have seen the color coded charts.  You should have seen the pieces of paper that he had taped all over the room.  It was beautiful.  You could have given me a month and limitless resources and maybe I could have done what he did.  He did it out of his back pocket.  Why would I not let him lead out during the detailed portions of our day yesterday?

I tell you why not, because I am an insecure leader who is intimidated by other people’s strengths and feel the need to pretend to the world that I am excellent at everything.  News flash: I am not excellent at everything.  News flash:  neither are you.

Know who you are.  Know who you are not.  Surround yourself with great leaders who are better than you.  Then watch your team conquer all the challenges that are put before you.  If you’re lucky, you might even get to see something as cool as this:

Scott Monnahan and a color-coded flow chart.  Sweet!

Advice for Villains

March 10, 2010 by cloften  
Filed under General Insanity, Silliness and Rants

I have a new list going in my head.  Don’t know if I have 10 yet, and typically you guys have some great ideas, so help me out.

What advice would you give to movie/tv villains?  The most obvious one is just kill the hero when you capture him.  Don’t monologue.  Nothing elaborate.  Just do it.

What else you got?

Gimme That Fish

March 9, 2010 by cloften  
Filed under General Insanity, Silliness and Rants

Well, it was inevitable.  We have talked about it for a couple of weeks and it finally happened.  What you may ask?  First, let’s take a step back.

A couple of weekends ago, it was just Maylee, Lauren and I.  Heidi was on a women’s retreat.  Perhaps a step or two behind the curve, we discovered the Filet-o-fish commercial.  If it is not a pop culture phenomenon, it should be.  It is at least at our house. (If you haven’t seen it, watch it below.  It’s 30 seconds.  Without it there is a 0% chance you will understand the rest of this.  After watching the percent goes up at least to 7%)


We played that no fewer than 20-25 times over the course of the weekend.  Now we find random opportunities to say things like this to each other, “You know that fish is right, I wouldn’t be laughing at all” or “Seriously, are you going to give me back that fish or not?”  We have had a blast.  Mom is reluctantly in on it.  By reluctantly, I mean, she hates it.

Well, we had been threatening for a while to go into a McDonalds and play the commercial on my IPhone, via the Youtubes.  On Sunday, we went to the Drive-thru and through what I consider magic technology, we had my phone connected to my stereo system, blaring that song. 

Before we pulled up though, we had to have a comedy lesson.  Like the one guy on the commercial, we had to act like nothing was going on, as if it were just any song playing on the radio.  It was hard for them.  Lauren had the cheesiest grin on her face, mostly looking out the window in the opposite direction.  Maylee had eyes as big as saucers holding in a laugh staring at the workers.

Well at this McD we had to go through two windows.  One to pay and one to get the food.  We got the reaction that we wanted.  Nervous stares.  The thought bubble on these people’s heads had to be, “What dorks.”  If that was the case, then SUCCESS!

After we drove through, they both just laughed and are talking about that still.  Now, here is the question, can I steer this into a reasonable parenting lesson?  Sure, why not?  I’m just that creative.  Why did I do it?  One, I like to be funny and for them to think that I’m funny.  Furthermore, I want to teach them to be the same. 

Deeper than that though, I want to build memories for them.  Small memories.  Memories of a dad that loved them and had fun with them, that wasn’t too busy or serious to enjoy life with them.  Memories of a Dad, who would sit down with them and ponder the mysteries of life, such as what would it really be like if I were up on that wall.

Stuff Christians Need to Stop Saying #0

March 8, 2010 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

Ah, the prequel.  You can tell me that it is terrible and it will not matter (Hannibal Rising).  I will want to see it.  A good series makes you interested in the characters and you just want to know how things got started (X-Men Origins: Wolverine).  It can be over 15 years later (Star Wars) and I will be ready.  Many of them were disappointing but I would be first in line tomorrow, if they made one about Qui-Gon (Liam Neeson). 

Love the prequel.  Often it answers the question, why? 

Set-up:  Someone you know is going through a hard time, facing a challenge.  Perhaps you are trying to instruct your child or a protege in what it means to follow after God.  Perhaps you are one of the 3 people in the world that looks forward to church signs for reasons other than irony.  Who knows?

Response: Some overly-simplified Christian slogan that can fit on a bumper sticker.

Some (and by some I mean the 7 of you still reading) may be wondering why have I been blogging this series.  People who know me think they know the answer and that it’s simple.  This brings three of my favorite things together:  helping people grow in faith, ranting, and random pop-culture references.  Add in eating cheesy, salty snacks and this could have it all.

However, there is something deeper that compels me to do this.  Way too often, we as believers take overly simplified approaches to God and faith.  We want answers.  We want steps.  We want to easily put our mind around the what, why and how of our struggles.   We wish that everything were as simple as this:

“Hmm, this guy at my work is really annoying me.  Should I kill him?”

“Well in Exodus 20:13 it says you shall not murder.”

“Oh, really?  Thanks.”

Life is not always that simple.  In fact, it rarely is that simple.  God is bigger than our formulas and bumper sticker theology and life is very complicated.  In order to follow after God and be the men and women he has called us to be requires faith.  That faith needs to run deep and we need to be willing to put in the mental, emotional and spiritual work it takes.

Philippians 2:12-13

12Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

Slogans and quippy phrases may point us in the right direction, but they can only be the beginning point of a faith journey where we learn to follow Jesus deeply with continued reliance on the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us.  Always ask questions, always read, always pray.  Listen to God.  Let him challenge, deepen and strengthen you.

You will be amazed at what God will show you, and much of it will not fit on a bumper sticker.

I Always Feel Like Somebody’s Watching Me

So our Worship Pastor, Jason Merrick, AKA Dr. Worship, and I are having lunch at Quiznos yesterday.  (I call him Dr. Worship, because he leads worship at our church and is by profession a medical doctor).  Anywho, we are sitting there and “Somebody’s Watching Me” comes on, and of course, I stopped talking.  I had to take a moment.  So, I offer Merrick 2 points to name the artist.  How many points you get is based on difficulty.  I offer you the same points.  (Points can be redeemed for discounted blog posts on

That song at Quiznos reminded me of one of my favorite stories that happend to Merrick and I at Quiznos.  I have told this story before in sermons, so I apologize to those that have heard this.  (However, one of  the benefits of for me is that it becomes a repository for my favorite stories).

Merrick and I eat there almost every Thursday.  Whoever gets there first gets in line and orders the sandwiches.  (That’s right we eat at the same place every week and order the same sandwiches every week.  You have a problem with that?)  Typically it’s me, what with him being a doctor and all.  This time he was there first and there was a line.  I go to stand next to him and after a minute the dude behind us starts getting angry.  I won’t say that he was yelling, but suffice to say it was loud enough for everyone in the small Quiznos to hear it.  “Oh I guess you guys just get in line wherever you want, huh?”  Merrick tries to explain to him that he was there first, we order together, etc.  “Whatever you want to call it, (obnoxious noise like a phhhhh)”  Just as Merrick was about to explain it to him a little more forcefully, Rufus there mumbles something else at us.  I look at him and apologize and have him get in front of us.  He shoots us a smug look and orders. 

If you don’t know this, Merrick and I are both high justice and quite competitive.  That was hard for both of us.  I leaned into Merrick and said, “The people that work here know that we eat here all the time and that we plan worship services here.  They are watching.”  We calm down, order, get our food and sit down.

The guy in front took his sandwich to go.  After he left, the manager comes over to us and thanks us for how we handled that.  She explained that he is a regular and he gives people trouble all the time.  She appreciated the grace and humility that we showed and thanked us again.  She walks away and I look at Merrick.  He says, “OK, you win.”

If you are a follower of Christ and people know it, know this–people are watching you.  People want to see if you live the same way you talk at church.  I always feel like somebody’s watching me, and they are.  Unlike Rockwell (there’s your 2 pt answer), it is not paranoid.  It is reality.

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