Proud Dad

February 24, 2011 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

Would you be surprised if I told you that I don’t know how my posts are going to end when I start them?  What if I told you that I wasn’t even always sure what my “point” (funny, right?) is sometimes until I start writing? My guess is that’s not surprising.  If it is, I will introduce myself to you later.  We probably don’t know each other.

Anywho, as many of you know, my older daughter Maylee was in a play last week.  It was part of a community kid’s theater called Arts Live.  I was beyond impressed with the people there, the director of the play, the exec director of the group, the kids.  It was all very well done.

Obviously, I was most impressed with one of the actresses in particular.  I was so proud of her.  I was incredibly impressed with what a natural actress she was.  (You know, being dramatic at home is not the same as being a good actress.)  She did a great job.  You never would have known watching it that it was her first play, compared to some of the veterans that were there. (You may think I’m biased, and I am. If she hadn’t been good, I would have known, not told her and said nothing to you)

However, her acting ability is not what I think I’m the most proud of.  I have talked about her tenacity in continuing to audition after getting a couple of “no’s.”  That was both impressive and convicting.  In addition to that, I was impressed by the way she interacted with her fellow cast members (At first I put teammates.  That’s not right.  Playmates seemed weird).

Almost all of these other kids were in high school, which can very intimidating.  Also, some of them talked about things, that let’s say she’s not used to hearing.  That can be overwhelming.  However, she handled herself with a tremendous amount of confidence and grace.  She loved them and they loved her back.  I liked watching at a distance the way that they loved her and the confidence she showed.  She was the “nice one.”  Often in those kinds of environment, “nice one” can be weird one or too good for us one.

From all accounts, she loved them, was a good friend and shined as an example of sweet, godly character. (Is it just me or is the point developing now?)

“You are the light of the world,” Jesus said. To be the light of the world, you have to both shine and be in the world.  Too often, we avoid the world, letting our light shine on each other.  Or, we’re in the world and we don’t shine, because there is neither anything attractive or different about our lives.

As usual, my kids are teaching me as often as I teach them, and I’m very proud of that.

World Record for Sermon Application (Nehemiah 6 Follow-up)

February 21, 2011 by cloften  
Filed under Bible, Church and Leadership, Teaching

My normal sermon routine is this.  While I am prepping for a sermon, I put my points together that I want to make.  At some point during the  week, something happens to me that shows me that the someone needs to preach the message to me.  My sin seems to creep up on me during the week leading to a sermon.

This week was different.  Nothing in particular interesting happened.  Well, I take that back.  I got violently sick late Sunday night and spent most of the day on Monday and Tuesday in bed.  However, that would have been a great illustration for a completely different sermon.

Anywho, instead of a pre-sermon exposing of my sin, it was a post-sermon exposing.  It wasn’t long after the service was over, in fact.  I do believe that it may have been a world record for the amount of time it took for me to try and apply my own sermon.

You see, in Nehemiah 6, Nehemiah is dealing with critics.  What I said is that we need to brush aside critics and not let them distract us from what God has called to do.  The goal of the critic is to stop you.  When you obsess over their criticism, you have, in fact, stopped.  Easier said that done.

Enter the critic Sunday afternoon.  You know, I have grown accustomed over the years to people challenging something I said.  I have also grown accustomed to people not liking my style of ministry and teaching.  I can appreciate that my style is different and difficult for some.  That’s why I’m glad that there are so many churches.  However, this was not a sermon tweak or an “I don’t get you.”  This was..well it doesn’t really matter what it was.  I don’t want to talk about it, because I don’t want it to be interpreted as a pity party or a backhanded way of seeking attention or compliments.

Suffice to say, what the person said hurt, badly. I let it bother me, for quite a while in fact.  Part of it was exhaustion.  (Did I mention that I had been sick? Also, did you know this was play performance week for Maylee?  Long, tiring week.)  Regardless, I did the opposite of what I was encouraging others to do.

I ultimately shook it off, but I do find myself asking whether there were some practical things that I could have done differently to shake it off sooner or not let it bother me at all.

In no particular order:

1) Don’t beat yourself up that it hurt.  Hurtful things hurt.

2) Understand that most critical people are hurting and need compassion from us.

3) Ask yourself, “What is the truth from this that I could apply?”  There is probably a nugget of truth there, which is why it hurts.

4) Pray for them

5) Read verses that show you how much God loves you.

6) Call a friend/family member and ask for encouragement. (Don’t be afraid to act hurt and needy.  You know, since you are hurt and needy)

7) Did I mention pray for them?

I could list a whole bunch of don’ts, but you’re doing them already and you know you shouldn’t.  OK, I’ll put one.  Don’t play out “the next conversation” in your mind.  It’s not worth it.  It’s obsessive.

Why yes I am preaching to myself.  Why do you ask?

Honesty, Transparency and Other Things Christians Shouldn’t Do (Nehemiah 4)

February 7, 2011 by cloften  
Filed under Bible, Church and Leadership, Teaching

I heard from a handful of people yesterday that they appreciated me being honest and transparent during my sermon yesterday.  Yesterday, we talked about dealing with discouragement.  During that sermon, I admitted some particular struggles that I was having in that regard last week.  I had a high level of anxiety and frustration about the old house won’t sell thing.  I openly talked about it.

Apparently, honesty about struggles and being transparent while teaching is a rare thing.  It is rare enough that when it happens, we notice it. Unfortunately, it is quite rare.  Way too often, Pastors feel the need to put up a front that says, “While you people may struggle with this, I’m living ‘in victory.’” (Great churchy phrase, that one is)  Pastors should stop.  You’re not fooling many people, and those that you are, you are discouraging because they feel all alone.

I digress, because is not blog for pastors.  Seriously, what pastor in his right mind would read this blog?  “Hmmm, where can I get some 2nd class jokes, inane ramblings and pointless pop-culture references to use in my sermon.  I know…”

The problem is that when pastors and leaders pretend to have it all together, we take our cues from them whether we know it or not.  We don’t think that they’re perfect (we are smarter than that).  However, we do mimic the behavior of pretending.  “If he pretends, so should I.”

Then what happens is that we don’t admit to anyone when we are discouraged, anxious or fearful.  We won’t admit it to people who can help us.  We won’t admit it to ourselves.  We won’t admit it to God, who would gladly give us peace, if we were to ask.

The first step toward dealing with trials and discouragement in our lives is to admit that they are happening.  Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it?  However, if we never do that, we will never take the other steps we need to take–focusing on God, prayer, enlisting friends, etc.

If we fail to admit it, we could end up like this guy.  Come on.  Click it. You know you want to.

Grove Weather/Parking Update

February 5, 2011 by cloften  
Filed under Bible, Church and Leadership

Hey Everyone,

If you are reading this then you probably know that we are having both services at The Grove tomorrow.   Some people want to know if there is an official inclement weather policy.  If I were the kind of guy to have an official policy, it would be something like, “Unless it’s really bad, we are having church.  Even if it’s bad, we’ll probably still have one service.”  How’s that for official?

This is not our way of saying, “We don’t care how dangerous it is, you had better come to church.”  It’s more like, “Be safe out there.  If you can make it, we are here.”

If you haven’t been out, most of the main roads are doing great.  Some of the side roads still have gunk on them.  Drive slowly and you should be OK.  The Grove parking lot, on the other hand, is a bit of a mess.  We’ve been working this afternoon on it, and our pledge is that the walkways will be safe.  Outside of all 3 entrances will be clean.  We suggest that you drop your crew off at the front door and go park somewhere and be careful.  If you have kids, you can drop off kids at the back by the playground or the side door that we don’t typically use.  There will be guys in the parking lot to help you out. (If you want to be one of those guys, let me know)

Whatever you do, be careful.  We will be here at both services: 9:15 and 11.  Hope to see you there.

Sticks and Stones… (Nehemiah 4 Preview)

February 4, 2011 by cloften  
Filed under Bible, Church and Leadership, Teaching

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”  I’m not sure where that ranks on the all-time childhood taunts, but I have it pretty high.  However, it’s definitely behind, “Nanny, nanny, boo-boo,” and “I’m rubber and you’re glue…”

Actually thinking about it, it really isn’t that great of a taunt, because it’s not remotely true. (Well I guess neither is “I’m rubber…” but as always, I digress.)

I have fallen and hurt myself many times, including onto sticks and stones.  I have even broken a bone.  You know what?  I really don’t remember what it felt like.  If I think about it, it doesn’t hurt me again.  On the other hand, there are things that people said to me over 30 years ago (including a sob story that I will tell on Sunday), that I still remember and still hurts when I think about it.

Sticks and stones break bones.  However bones heal much faster than feelings.  We will spend the bulk of our time on Sunday talking about how we deal with discouragement.  I wanted to take a little time here to look at it from the other side.  Don’t be a discourager.  I think that there are way too many Christians who fancy themselves as having the gift of “prophecy” or “exhortation” which is really just Christian-ese for I like to line people out and rebuke them and tell them what I don’t like about them.  You can say that you have a “prophet’s heart,” but prophets spoke from God.  Often we speak out of being annoyed or bothered personally.

Ask yourself this question before you say something that will hurtful.  Hold on, a good first step is to stop and think about whether or not it will be hurtful.  Then think twice before you say it.  Then ask yourself this question, “Will this encourage them to get better or discourage them to even try?” Then ask, “Am I doing this because I care about them or because I care about me?”

God wants us to be involved in each others’ lives and help each other get better, but far too often we are motivated out of our own hurt and frustration and a neck-rolling “I’m gonna tell them something.”

What if the discouraging hurtful thing you were going to say would stick with them 33 years later and it still stuck in their gut and hurt, would you still say it? (seriously, it’s a great story)