Who Is Asking You Tough Questions?

October 21, 2010 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

I am about to go head to week 2 of a group of men, accidentally named Men of the North.  That was the title of an email I sent to all the men of the church, specifically directed to guys that work in the northern part of NWA.  You know, those fancy guys that work at Wal-Mart and J.B. Hunt.  If that is you, and somehow the invite has missed you, holla at me and I’ll get you the details.

The first week, devolved into a pretty good conversation about Pro Wrestling, sorry ‘rasslin.’  That’s what happens if you get a group of guys together, sports talk and insane ramblings.  We like it, that’s what we do.  Unless we go and do something, like play golf or go to a game for several hours.  Then, we don’t talk at all.  Then your wife asks, “What did you guys talk about?”  “Nothing.”  “What? You were together for 4 hours?”  “Yeah, and?”  Then she gives you the look.  I do not have to describe it.  You know the look.

Anyway, we don’t want this to be a group of guys that devolves into just talking about “fun stuff”  (Keyword: just)  We want to also be a group of men that are encouraging each other to be better.  We want to talk about the challenges that we face, problems we’re having and celebrating victories.  You know, something deeper than, “How was I supposed to take the American Dream Dusty Rhodes seriously when he was so fat?”

So here is the question.  Is there anyone in your life asking you tough questions?  Do you have anyone that you know, trust and love enough that they are helping you get better?  Or are you someone who is suffering and struggling alone, sinning in secret and hurting in private?

If so, find a group of people, or one close friend that can help you, someone who is not afraid to ask you tough questions and help you when you’re not doing well.  Tip:  Pick someone that you wouldn’t lie to.  You would lie to your spouse about struggling in some areas, you would lie to your boss in others.  Bonus Tip:  Pick someone, though, that you would be embarrassed a little to tell the truth to, not some buddy that would laugh along with you.  Pick someone that being around them makes you want to be better.

Then you will be a great team, like the Road Warriors or the Rock ‘n Roll Express.

Some Wins for the Home Team

October 18, 2010 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

It has been a wild couple of months in the lives of the Loften family.  Moving is never easy.  Leaving friends is never easy.  Getting adjusted to a new town, new school, etc. is never easy.

In some ways it has been easiest on me.  I’m the one who instantly has something to do, a base of people and relationships.  I go to work, meet with people from the church, etc.  The girls on the other hand have a had a more difficult time.  Being the new girl in school is not a role that either a 4th or a 7th grader wants (Clearly, I must be speaking hypothetically now, because there is no way that my two baby girls are that old.)

So sweet.

So sweet.

It has also been rough what with the house not selling and all.  Two bedroom apartment with said 4th and 7th grader sharing a room and also an apartment so full of allergens that I’m pretty sure stock in Zyrtec has gone up in just the last couple of months.

But more than that it has just felt like we can’t catch a break.  We want our house to sell.  We want to be in “our place,” but we can’t get there yet.  It just feels like we’re taking a lot of losses and we’re ready for the big win.

Well, I wouldn’t say last week we had huge victories, but we had some small ones.  Maylee and a friend of hers entered a lip-synch competition at Ozone, a local para-church youth ministry.  They won!  It was really cool.  They practiced for weeks and did a great job.  Her prize was a $5 Chick-Fil-A gift card.  (Her response:  Dad, if I give this to you, would you just give me five bucks?  Sad and proud at the same time)  She and her friend were very excited and we were excited with her.  There is a next stage in the competition next week where she and her friend could win $50 each.  So we are still rehearsing and refining.  Girls Just Want to Have Fun haunts my dreams.

Introducing the Radical Chix

Introducing the Radical Chix

The next day Lauren won a Trailblazer award for her grades, attitude and citizenship in class.  About 3 kids from each class got one.  She was very excited and as you can see, her circle of goofy friends were excited for her as well.  We celebrated that together as a family as well.

She has found her new peeps

She has found her new peeps

There are a couple of things that I’ve discovered over the last couple of weeks.  First is that you cannot celebrate these small victories with your kids enough.  In fact, small victories may not be the right way to describe them, because I assure you they are not small to them. (Although Lauren was unimpressed with the magnitude of the button she received)  They are huge to them.  They need to be huge to you as well.

Also, for you dad types out there, I cannot emphasize enough how important your strength and stability are to your family and your kids.  Transitions and difficult times may be tough on you, but they are tougher on them.  That gets multiplied if you are not engaged and focused and loving and serving them.  Celebrating their wins, and hugging them when they hurt.  They need you, more than you think, a lot more.

Because “Daddy dear, you know you’re still number one, but girls they want to have fun.”

(Sorry for that)

Apartment Living

I am not a snob.  I am not too cool, rich, awesome, etc. to live in an apartment.  By that, I mean that I don’t want you to think that I am.

It has been quite an experience over the last couple of months.  We’ve had a lot of fun/difficulty with the maintenance department especially.  Department might be strong of a word, 3-Stoogian Group perhaps.  When we first moved in, we told them that the fan in our room was broken.  It makes a whack-whack-whack sound.  Someone came by and said, “That’s not good. That would make it hard to sleep.”  “Yes, thank you.”  “We need to replace that.”  “Thanks, again.”

2 1/2 months and many promises later, I come home with the girls after school and we hear someone in the apartment (scared us just a little bit).  I walk around and there is a maintenance guy replacing the fan…in the girls’ room.  That fan was not broken, had no problems, but it was now being replaced.

I try to tell him that it was the wrong fan, but it is clear that he doesn’t speak English.  That’s cool though.  While I don’t know enough Spanish to say, “We need you to fix the fan in the other room,” I am convinced that I will be to explain to him well enough in Spanish the situation when he is done.

As he is leaving, I try to get his attention, this time in Spanish.  It doesn’t work; he is out the door.  I ask him to wait in English and in Spanish, no good.  I finally just get his attention and bring him to our room and turn on the fan.  It starts making the noise, which I imitate in the international language of onomatopoeia.  He gets the message, gets his stuff and tightens up the fan.  It no longer makes that noise.  Victory.  It was hard work, but we got there.  (Seriously though, I really do wonder what language that dude spoke)

Oh, btw, did I mention that we discovered last night, when going to bed, that the new fan (You know the one that replaced the fan that worked fine), doesn’t work?

Moral of the Story: Someone please by our house.

Editorial Disclaimer:  We are not mad at anyone.  We believe that the people that run the apartment complex and the maintenance crew are good-hearted people doing their best.  While the facts of this story are not exaggerated, the snarky tone is added for comedic effect and do not reflect the heart of the author or his family.

Why Do People HATE Megachurches?

October 13, 2010 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

You know what I hate?  Tomatoes.  Sure, if you process them enough and add plenty of salt, you can turn it into ketchup (I prefer the more phonetical spelling as opposed to the “I wonder it this comes from cats-up”) or pizza sauce.  However, even in pizza sauce, if you drop a tomato chunk in there, my response will be, shall we say, unpleasant.  I really do hate tomatoes (-es both times. Take that Dan Quayle.  Boom! Dated reference.  Yes I know it was potatoes.  Good grief).

Even though I hate them, it doesn’t really bother me that you don’t.  It doesn’t bother me that you love them.  The only thing that might bother me would be if I saw you bite into one as if it were an apple.  It would be both disgusting and dishonoring to apples.  But, as always, I digress.  My hatred for tomatoes does not move me to speak of the general evilness of them.  In fact, hate is way too strong of a word.  Hyperbole aside, I don’t like the taste of tomatoes.  It is a personal preference. (sudden transition)

People HATE megachurches, and I am going to have to confess that I don’t get it. I understand, “I don’t like the feel of a big church” and “I prefer smaller churches.”  When that extends to a general hatred and/or actively campaigning against them, I don’t get that.   I’ve worked for a megachurch and a small church and a medium sized church for that matter.  They all have strengths and weaknesses.

However, there is a sense in which it seems that a large church is by definition bad.  I felt that in seminary.  Churches with large congregations were sell-outs of some kind.  Small churches by definition were godly.  There was an inverse correlation between churches growing and whether or not those churches were pleasing to God.  Mind you, I’m not suggesting the opposite.  If I’m suggesting anything it is go to a small, medium, large, or extra-large church.  Makes no difference to me.

Is the church teaching God’s word?  Is it healthy?  Obviously, you can ask more questions than that, but most if not all boil down to those two.

So here’s the question.  Why the strong anger and disdain?  I know some reasons.  I read stuff and heard a lot of profs talk about it.  But I want you to go first.  What have you experienced?  Are you distrustful of megachurches? Do you think they are too _______? If so, I want to hear from you and get a good discussion going.  So, go!

No Weak Men!

October 11, 2010 by cloften  
Filed under Bible, Church and Leadership

Well, just got back from the Men’s Retreat.  Learned something very important.  Don’t play football with guys 10-15 yrs younger than you when you are out of shape.  Two days later you can barely walk.  Write that down.  It may be the best thing you ever learn on cloften.com.

I thought that the retreat was great.  It has been a long time since I’ve gotten away for a time like that.  Very glad that is already part of the Grove culture.  I also enjoyed speaking.  I definitely want to get to know the men in our church better.  (For example, I now know with whom I should never play football. Just kidding. Not really.)  I also believe that is very important for men to get away and talk about how we can be better men.  I know my small group had some great discussion and I heard that the others did as well.

Over the next couple of weeks, I want to put some of the info that we talked about on the ol’ blog to get it to more men, both in the church and outside and to keep it fresh in our heads for those of us who were there.

The overarching theme of what we talked about is how too often men fall into one of two categories, both of them bad.  The first is the passive man who is just watching life happen.  He is not taking any leadership in his own life or his family.  For a husband it looks like a man who has a wife that is in charge of the finances, the house, the kids, big picture decisions, spiritual direction and the husband is in charge of making sure his chair is pointed at the TV, remote control management and snack consumption.  He lives life avoiding responsibility and conflict.

Then there is the man who would read that paragraph and say, “You’re right.  I don’t want to be a puddin’! It’s time to be a man!”  Then he becomes an obnoxious wrecking ball.  Overbearing, insensitive, bully kind of leader.  He makes unilateral decisions, typically not based on what is best, but what he deems best, often for himself.  He calls aggression discipline and dictatorship leadership.  From puddin’ to jerk.  Actually this jerk is just a puddin’ in a halloween mask.  He is still a man without the courage to lead and love appropriately.

Unfortunately most men, only know avoiding responsibility and being a punk.  Doesn’t there have to be a better option?  Jesus gave his disciples (and us) one in Matthew 20.

25Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

A servant leader.  We will look at this passage more in depth over the next couple of weeks.  For now, I leave you with this profound thought:

Stop being a puddin’.

Random Parenting Tips or What I Do While at Chick-Fil-A

October 6, 2010 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

Wellpst, I’m hanging out in my office away from office (Chick-Fil-A) on Monday morning, and there is a family with a little girl, probably around 3.  She was uber-cute, but let’s say she was active(?), no that’s not it, loud(?), nope that’s not it, hmmm, belligerent, defiant, uh you get the point.


1) I judge no one or their parenting, I mean no one based on an incident in public.  We’ve all been there.

2) I also will not judge based on what your 2 or 3 year old does.  We’ve all been there too.  If you haven’t yet, please don’t ever look at a 2 yr old acting like Taz and say to someone, “My child will never…”  Seriously, it just keeps you from eating one more set of words.

3) There is no verse to go along with this post.  Maybe there is a verse in Proverbs I could use to justify some of this.  More than anything these are just some thoughts I have on parenting.  Since I’m the only one who has the password to post stuff on here, I write the stuff.

Anywho, this little girl, again that is very cute, is not maintaing good public decorum.  Her mom then says, “You are in big trouble, when we get home.”  Not good.  Maybe for a 10 year old.  In an hour, that kid is not going to remember at all the infamous “flinging of the chicken nuggets” or “screaming of the banshee.”  She will have moved on. There will be no connection in her mind.  Punish her then or just don’t.  If you feel like you can’t, because of where you are, then forget it.  The punishment at home will make you feel better, relieve some tension and anger (not good motivators for discipline FYI), but it will not change behavior.

Simyalarly, if the kid is acting out in public, you need to take some action.  You do not want to get into a situation where your child knows that they have the upper hand in public.  They will destroy you with that knowledge.  I know, I know, not your precious angel, but, you know, other kids do that.  Kids that age are trying to determine what the boundaries are, and in their way are trying to figure out who’s in charge.  They want it to be them.  (They are no different than any of us in that way.)  Kids need to know that you are in charge.  They need your help.  They need appropriate boundaries.  Help them by communicating to them in a healthy and firm way that they will hear and get the message.

Right after that, the kid begins running around the table screaming trying to get attention.  Then she starts saying this, “Mommy, I’m talking.”  She said this over and over and over and over with a sarcastic tone that said, “Excuse me, I’m talking.  You are interrupting.  You have to stop and focus only on me.”

Let’s forget for a second the disrespect of a kid interrupting to tell you that you shouldn’t speak when she speaks.  (After you forget, remember and don’t let your kids do that.)  Why is this kid saying that?  Why does a kid lash out like that?  I wonder if she feels like she is ever getting the full attention of her parents.  Many kids that scream, literally or figuratively, “notice me. notice me!” don’t ever feel like they get your full attention.  Ask yourself, does my kid ever get my whole attention, my face, my eyes, my heart?  If she can’t get your attention in healthy ways, expect that your kid will try in unhealthy ways.  “Sweetie, I know you are talking.  Don’t interrupt.  I will talk to you in just a second.”  Then, in just a second, do, in fact, give your undivided attention.

There is kind of a vicious cycle going here.  The kid has no boundaries, so she acts wild.  The parent doesn’t do anything about it and ignores it.  Parents start tuning out the kid.  Now the kid can’t get parents’ attention no matter what she does, and needs to lash out in incredible ways just in the hope of getting some attention.  Sometimes even then, they can’t.  If they do, it’s bad.

Break the cycle.  Give your kids boundaries.  Give them attention.

Give them what they need without giving in.

It’s That Simple, But Not Really. Wait? What?

October 4, 2010 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

I am not by nature a highly critical person.  Hmmm. Let me rephrase, I am not by nature a publicly critical person.  I will neither affirm or deny the depths of the sin that goes on in my heart.  Suffice to say, I’m glad that we don’t live in a world with those “thought bubbles” that are in newspaper comics.

However, being a teacher/pastor, I can be highly critical of the way that God’s word is taught.  It is almost impossible for me to listen to sermons anymore.  People ask me all the time if I listed to podcasts of other pastors.  I don’t very often.  I find myself too often analyzing the presentation, looking for ways I can improve or things I should avoid.  (I know. I know. That’s not good.  Noted.)

There are two things that I see, read, hear a lot–the overcomplicating of the Bible and conversely the oversimplification.  We all know what overcomplicating sounds like.  You hear a pastor or read something and you find yourself very impressed with his vocabulary, knowledge of original languages and the depth of his understanding of Thomas Aquinas.  You walk out of there thinking two things. “Hmm. I didn’t understand any of that” and  “What’s for lunch?”  This is a rant for a different day.

Today’s is about oversimplification.  This is spurred by our community group discussion last night and an email I received from someone else not in our group on another topic.

I’ll start with the email.  The basic premise was that the reason that marriages struggle is that husbands need to love their wives like Christ loves the church (Eph. 5).  They don’t because of sin.  They sin because of Satan.  Solution: don’t focus on Satan, stop sinning, start loving your wives, marriages healed. (The email also mentioned wives submitting to husbands, but the mentioning of that would derail this blog post but good.)

That approach to marriages made me think I made our Community Group lesson way too complicated.  In group, we talked about the Great Commandments.  Jesus said that the greatest commandments were loving God with all that you are, and to love others the way you love yourself.  He says that all of scripture fall under these two categories.  I could’ve shortened our discussion this way:  Whatever you’re struggling with, stop it and love God and people more.  We wouldn’t even have had to take prayer requests.  “God help us love you and others more. Amen.”

Is it really that simple? Could all marriages be saved if husbands loved more?  Are all of life’s problems solved by the Great Commandments?  Well, yes and no.  Jesus said this sums up all commands.  However, if this was all God needed to tell us, then why is the Bible so long?

Because easily stated is not the same as easily explained is not the same as easily understood is not the same as easily done.  When in reply to the Great Commandments, Jesus was asked “Who is my neighbor?” he didn’t reply by restating the two commands.  He told the parable of the Good Samaritan.  He actually spent a lot of time teaching and explaining the what and how of those two truths.

The simplest of truths are overwhelming profound and deep, and while they are easily understood on a surface level, they are limitless in their depth and application.  Teach them simply, attempt to understand and apply them deeply.