Why You Should Stop Counting to Get Your Kids to Obey

September 30, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

There are some things that are so common that I begin to wonder if I am the one that has the problem rather than the rest of the world.  Am I the only sane person in a crazy world or the only crazy person in a sane world?  For example, when did pajama pants become acceptable as being pants to wear in public?  It happens so much now that I think that maybe I’m just old and cranky.  Perhaps I need to yell at kids to get off my lawn. (Side note: there are some teenagers that have decided that the hammocks in our yard are open to the public. They really need to get off my lawn.)

frustrated parentThere is a parenting tactic that falls into that category for me.  A parent is trying to get their kid to do something and they won’t.  They tell them a couple of times to no avail.  Then the parent starts to count, “1…2…”  The tactic theoretically is that when the parent gets to 3, the kid has to obey or something bad will happen.  Usually the kid responds by 2.  Sometimes the kid goes to 3 and and allows whatever to happen.  Since I only observe this in public, I can only speculate if anything actually happens to the kid that dares to disobey past 3.

Much like pajama pants, I believe this is a bad idea.  I don’t judge in the harshest sense of that word, because I recognize that many people who read this are using this tactic.  I certainly am not one of those single guys who is judging you at Wal-Mart who has no clue about what it’s like with small kids.  I have been there.  I went through that phase twice.  Wait, I’m back there again.  I have a 3 year old right now. I understand that it is hard with small children.  FYI: older kids are much the same just with a more extensive vocabulary.

I do, however, caution against doing this.  This can be frustrating for you and confusing to the child.  It also has the potential to reinforce the behavior that you are trying to prevent.  Typically you start the counting method because you are having a hard time getting your child to obey and you are frustrated because they aren’t listening and they don’t respect you.  So you start “laying down the law” by telling your kids that there will be serious consequences if they don’t obey.  They will know consequences are coming with the counting.

However, when you start counting, you are already frustrated.  When they don’t obey until the last possible second, you are still getting upset and feeling disrespected.  So it’s not helping you in that regard.  “But Cloften, at least they are obeying.”  Sure, at least sometimes, but is that really the only or even primary goal of what you are trying to teach your kids?  “As long as I get eventual obedience, then I’m being a successful parent.”  God is calling us to do much more in the lives of our kids than to receive eventual compliance.

This tactic is also confusing the kid.  They may not know that they are confused, but they are.  You are communicating to your child that they have a choice in obedience.  They get to decide when they are ready to obey.  They should not have that choice and you should not be giving them the impression that they do.  When they are asked to do something by a parent or an authority, they must comply, immediately.  When you don’t do this, you are also communicating to them that sometimes you don’t mean what you say.

(Kid in room)

“Time for dinner. Go wash your hands.”

(Kid continues to play in room)


(Kid continues to play)


(Kid continues to play)


(Kid goes to wash hands)

Your child moves when they believe that you are serious.  You didn’t really mean it until you started counting.  They learn this because there are no consequences for not listening at first and because there are times (You know there are) when you give up asking before you start counting.  If they can keep playing, they will.  When you are serious, they will obey.  Our kids need to know that what we say is what we mean.  Don’t say it if you don’t mean it.  If you mean it, enforce it.

So what I suggest instead is that the consequences begin when the first act of disobedience occurs.  They don’t have to be severe, but there needs to be a consequence for not listening.  Your children are under authority and it is your responsibility not to simply get them to comply eventually, but to discipline them.  They need to learn submission to authority and humility.  Their teachers will not count, their coaches will not count, and their bosses certainly will not.

I know that it is hard and kids are relentless.  “If I got them in trouble every time they didn’t listen, they would always be in trouble, and I would be exhausted.”  That would be true, at least for a while, until you establish the better pattern.  You are already exhausted, you might as well get the discipline and obedience as well.

Then with kids that are listening and obeying the first time, you can sit back and relax…in your pajama pants…but only at home.

Bad Relationships, Forgiveness and Walking Away

September 28, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

We are doing a relationship series  at The Grove Church.  We have been given people the opportunity to ask questions that they can post anonymously on the ask.fm website.  The hope has been that people would be open and honest about the issues that they are struggling with and these questions would shape the specific content of the series.  I have been overwhelmed by the number and types of questions, but in a good way.  I’m always encouraged when people open up and are willing to ask for help.

sadnessI was also surprised by what was far and away the most asked question.  Nothing else was even close.  The question was asked multiple times in different ways.  What am I supposed to do when a relationship is not working? Is it ever OK to just walk away?  People came at it from multiple angles and  you can feel the desire to honor God in broken relationships but also the hurt over the pain and disappointment.

This clearly is a complicated issue that doesn’t have easy answers.  Hard questions rarely have easy answers.  The simplest answer is “It depends, and it’s complicated.”  A 30 minute sermon was inadequate in covering the topic and a 1000 word blog post is even more so.  However, if the questions that we received as a church are any indication, then this is definitely a topic that we need to be talking about.  So let’s at least get the conversation started with a few questions and steps to consider when wrestling with a broken relationship.

1) Is the relationship a mandatory relationship or an optional one?  If the relationship is mandatory and one that you have made a lifelong commitment to, then the answer to if you can ever be done is no.  You are a parent, child, spouse, brother, no matter what.  These people are your family.  In some very difficult circumstances, you may have to set some boundaries with these relationships but you do not get to say that you are all done.  You stood before God and said that you would be a husband or wife forever, “for better or worse.”  You already pledged how you would handle “worse”, if you are facing “worse” right now.  You have freedom in your friendships, dating relationships, even in your work relationships if you’re willing to walk away from your job.  You do not have the freedom in your family.

This is assuming that we are not dealing with abuse.  Abuse is another matter.  If you believe that you are being abused, talk to a counselor or pastor immediately.  I’ve seen it both ways.  I’ve seen people in abusive relationships think everything is ok.  I’ve also seen the opposite.  People believe they are being abused and really they are just yelling at each other.  Regardless, seek help and counseling immediately.  Do not walk through that alone.

2) Have you talked to the person about the problem?  Sometimes we suffer in silence or passive-aggressive weirdness and never truly come to the person and say, “this isn’t working.  You’re hurting me.  Something needs to change.”  If you have not done that, then you have failed in what God has called each of us to, which is to confront someone who has sinned against us.  Go to them first and see how they respond.  You might be pleasantly surprised.

3) Have they asked for forgiveness and humbly asked for another chance?  Usually there are 3 responses.  One is to not be sorry and therefore you know that the behavior will continue.  The second is they are genuinely sorry and they want to change.  In this instance, the way forward is fairly clear, you need to forgive and give them another chance. (Exception is dating relationships.  You still need to forgive, but you can step out of these relationships at any time.  You are not obligated by forgiveness to keep dating someone that you know you don’t want to marry.)  The third option is a little more difficult to manage.  They say that they are sorry but not in a genuine humble way.  They say “sorry,” but you know that it’s going to continue. This leads to the next step.

4) Have you forgiven them?  This needs to be true regardless of how sorry they are.  Forgiveness is not optional and bitterness is never ok.  If you are holding onto resentment and unforgiveness, then you are in sin and are not in a place to make a good decision.  You have some spiritual work to do.  Do that first.  Then you will more clearly be able to determine what is the next best step for the relationship.

5) Is changing or ending the relationship best for both of you?  It should be.  If you are hurting each other, then a change is necessary.  Even if just one of you is the primary cause, you would still need to make a change.  This relationship is causing them to lash out and sin, and it is not good for them either.  They may not see it, but it’s true.

6) Have you asked God for wisdom? James 1:5 says that God will gladly give wisdom to anyone who asks.  If you are in a difficult situation, there is nothing better to have than God’s wisdom.  He’s offering, so take it.

7) Are you trying to do this alone?  If so, then don’t.  You need friends, counselors, pastors helping you make good decisions.  We rarely make good decisions in isolation.  Reach out to some trusted confidants and ask for help.

8) Finally, if you now believe that a change is necessary, are you trusting and asking God to restore the relationship in the future?  Even the worst of relationships can be restored at some point.  I have had some relationships that seemed that would be broken forever come back after five years.  God is in the miracle business.  Changing your relationships doesn’t change that.  Move slowly away but expect God to do the unexpected and bring healing and unity to you and to them.

Again, this is just a primer.  You need help and wisdom to walk through this and God has offered and your friends would love to be there as well, I’m sure.

What do you think? What have I left out? Is anything here oversimplified? How do we walk through broken relationships?

How Can I Know God’s Will?

September 24, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Bible, Church and Leadership

“How can you know if ___________ is God’s will for your life?”  This was the fear-gripped question that my friends and I would ask in college.  There were several books written on the topic and people found themselves in different “camps.”  This is what Christians do.  We ask a question, read a book and over-aggressively defend that viewpoint as if our mom wrote the book.  One camp was very regimented in their approach.  Pro/Con lists, seeking counsel, deliberate strategic thinking, etc.  The other camp was significantly more mystical in their approach.  God’s will can only be found in deep meditative prayer and it will be revealed to you in a mystical way.  God is not found through man’s deliberative processes.  Two different camps, but they both shared one thing in common: it was neither simple nor easy to determine what God’s will for you is.

We felt that somehow finding God’s will must be very hard.  It required a lot of stress and just the right technique and theological viewpoint.  If you failed to discern God’s will correctly, the consequences would be dreadful and perhaps irreversible.  Now mind you, we weren’t debating whether or not something bad was God’s will.  “I have been praying for a couple of days and I’m wrestling with whether or not God wants me to kill this dude or not.”  We also weren’t wrestling with obvious good things.  “I’m not sure if I should be praying or not.  I’d pray about it, but…you see my dilemma.”

We wrestled with choosing between multiple seemingly good or neutral options.  After I graduate, should I go to grad school or go on staff with this ministry? Should I ask this girl out or not?  What should I do this summer? Go home and get a job, go on a mission trip, what? It was easy to get yourself worked up in knots about whether or not what you were planning was right or not. The great fear was “being outside of God’s will.”

This struggle presupposes a few things.  One is that if you make a bad decision, and by bad we mean a good decision that we’re not sure was God’s best decision, that God would be mad, disappointed, judgmental, etc.  Another is that once you are down a secondarily good path (perhaps now apart from God or with him opposing you) is that you are destined down a wrong path for quite some time.  So the stakes are incredibly high.  You could think that you are making a good decision, and others may even agree with you, but if God disagrees and believes that you could have made a better (God-approving) decision, then you will find yourself in a bad place with God.

What this ignores is God’s sovereignty, omniscience and general good-hearted nature towards his adopted sons and daughters.  “I wanted you to go to grad school but you became a missionary instead.  You failed to determine my elusive will.  Prepare the smite button.”  God has made it clear that he is directing the path of the one who trusts in him.

One of the Best Far Side Comics Ever

One of the Best Far Side Comics Ever

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

He is also giving the desires of hearts to those who delight in him.

Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Psalm 37:4

God also says that he has created the path.  That’s the hard part.  We just need to trust and follow that path.

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Eph. 2:10

If we are following God and trusting him, then we can make a decision knowing that he is leading.  We can trust that God wants the best for us.  He is leading us, if we will let him.  We can trust him, not our decision making ability.  You will make some bad decisions.  You will zig when you should have zagged.  But we follow a God who will gladly use the zig to work the big picture plan that he has for your life.

This leads to another issue that we overlook: God is working a much bigger plan than we are.  We believe that there is no more greater pressing matter than what we will do the summer before we go to college or the next job that we will take or what house we should move into.  However, God is working a significantly bigger plan than that.  When we do long range planning, we think in terms of 5 years down the road, “How will this impact me?”  God is thinking about how this decision is going to affect your grandson, because he is going to live next door to a girl who is going to have a friend whose grandson is going to be a significant world leader.  He is thinking in 1000’s of years.  We think in terms of 5-10 on our best days.  God is working a big complicated, multi-generational plan.  He’s got this.  You can’t shipwreck God’s big picture plan.

You should still use a good process.  Wise counsel and prayer are always good ideas.  Pro and con lists are good as well.  Good decisions typically follow good processes.  However the foundational piece of any decision making process has to be a deep-rooted trust in God.

Delight in him. Follow him.  Trust him. Make a decision.

THE Reason Why Marriages Struggle

September 23, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

I hesitate to say that this is the ONLY reason why marriages struggle, because as a mathematician, it’s hard to say 100% of the time to situations.  I also hesitate because of course there are some extreme cases of abuse, neglect, etc. that are the central issue to marriages struggling and/or ending.  However, in every encounter they we have had with dozens of married couples over the last 15 years,  the problem between the couple came down to one issue.  The presenting problems have been vast, ranging from infidelity to pornography addiction to money problems.  We have seen a lot.  However, at the core of all of these presenting problems is a deeper rooted problem that is a part of all marriages that are struggling:

The husband is not loving his wife, the wife is not respecting her husband, and they lack the ability to communicate about it well.

However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.  Ephesians 5:33

This is Paul’s summary statement about what a marriage relationship needs to look like.  He is describing what wives’ and husbands’ greatest needs are in marriage and how the other spouse is supposed to meet them.  When we can understand what this verse is asking from each of us, learn to implement it well and begin to have healthy conversations with our spouse about it, then we will see God produce healthy marriages in our homes.

What you are about to get is a relatively brief summary of the piece of advice that Heidi, my wife, and I have given countless times to numerous couples.  One of the hardest things that people say to us when we are counseling them is “We’ve been married _____ years and no one ever told us that.”  This idea is what the Bible says is the key to marriages working, our experience has backed it up numerous times and people don’t know because they haven’t heard.  That is why we talk about this in premarriage counseling all the time and why we share it with you today.  We don’t want you to struggle because you don’t know.

1)      The husband is called to love his wife. This is an unconditional command and the primary responsibility that a husband has to his wife.  The key to success is understanding what does love mean in the context of a husband’s relationship with his wife.  We have found that it comes down to 2 things.  First, a wife needs to feel cherished and valuable to her husband.  She needs to know that more than anything he values her.  He values her more than work, sports, time alone, money, other relationships.  Everything.  When she believes that there are areas or people in his life that he values more, the relationship breaks down.  Second, a wife needs security, both relational and financial security.  She needs to know that no matter what, he is not leaving.  She also needs to know that the family is going to be OK financially.  He will do whatever it takes to make sure of that and won’t do anything stupid to wreck the family.

2)      The wife is called to respect her husband. This also is an unconditional command.  “Wait, wait, wait.  Love is unconditional, but respect is earned.”  False.  That is not what the passage says.  Both commands are given without condition.  Just as a wife would say that she needs love the most when she feels unlovable, a husband needs respect when he feels unrespectable.   This also breaks down into 2 parts.  First is words of affirmation.  He needs to hear from you that you think that he is a great man and a great husband.  He needs to know that you believe in him.  Second is sexual responsiveness.  (Yep, I just said that.)  You being into him physically like he is into you makes him believe that you fully trust and respect him.

3)      Learn to talk about this well. Understand yourself well enough to know why you are getting angry.  You aren’t angry with your husband because he is messy with his dirty laundry.  You are angry because he is showing you that he doesn’t value you or your time enough to pick up his stuff.  Who cares about socks on the floor? You care about how he values you.  You also aren’t angry with your wife for asking too many probing questions about your day.  You are upset because you feel like she doesn’t trust you and is checking up on you.   Knowing why you are upset and being able to communicate that makes a huge difference.  The same goes for understanding why your spouse is upset.

Again, this is just a primer.  There is much more that could be said.  You can anticipate a lot more in-depth analysis on how we can understand and live out these three principles well over the coming weeks and months.  I leave you with this to think about.  The issue that has you so upset right now—chores, money, golf, personal space—is that really why you are upset? If not, what is it really?  What is it about those specific problems that triggers such a big response from you and how can you communicate that better to your spouse?

Kim Davis, Marriage Licenses and Taking a Stand

September 22, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Bible, Church and Leadership

In case you are unfamiliar with who Kim Davis is and what the controversy is, here is a brief primer. She is a County Clerk in Kentucky.  One of her primary roles is issuing marriage licenses.  When the Supreme Court declared that gay marriage was legal, she refused to issue the licenses.  Ultimately she was sent to jail for not following the law and doing the job she was elected to do.  For more information, go anywhere on the internet and you will find an article about it.

A few interesting (to me) notes on this controversy before we get to the actual content of the post.

1) Kim Davis is a Democrat.  I don’t mention this to take a shot at Democrats. I mention it because it’s ironic. (Wait. Is that the right use for the word ironic? I’m not sure I know any more.)

2) Has there ever been a more bizarre use of the song Eye of the Tiger than for her post-jail rally?  I can’t imagine there is. The beach running scene from Rocky III is more awkward but they played the Rocky theme during that.

3) The fact that she has been married multiple times is essentially irrelevant from a Christian perspective.  She was not a Christian when she got divorced.  She became a Christian and her values changed.  That doesn’t make her a hypocrite.  It makes her someone who recognized her own sin, repented and wants to live differently. I suppose you can bring it up to be ironic. (???)  But it is irrelevant to her character now.  We have all changed and grown.  She has repented for what she was and wants to be something different.  The question becomes, is that different thing a good thing?

This leads to my larger point.   It would seem, that we, and by we I mean everyone, do not have the ability to process this well.  As with most issues, we are incredibly shallow in our reasoning.  This leads the two camps to dig their heels in even further and continue to not listen and understand one another.  You have Christians on the one hand who don’t know how to live well in a world that does not share their values and you have non-Christians who refuse to try and see the world through the lenses of an evangelical Christian.  Evangelicals are simply foes to be vanquished.  My role as a pastor, and the percentage of people that read this blog dictates that I address primarily the first group, but there is something for everyone.

The primary shallow way that we evaluate this is based on whether we agree with her on the issue of gay marriage.  If we agree, then anything she does to take a stand is good.  If I disagree with her, anything she does to take a stand is wrong.  We need to open ourselves up to the idea that you can do the right thing for the wrong cause, and you can do the wrong thing for the right cause.  Deciding that you agree/disagree with her on the issue of gay marriage only tells you what you believe about her motivation not whether or not what she did was right.

So then, how do you decide if what she did/is doing is the right thing?  She essentially had 3 basic options.

1) Continue to do her job. She puts her name on marriage licenses even though she does not believe that all of the marriages are honoring to God.

2) Resign from her job. She no longer believes that she can do her job without violating her deeply held convictions, so she resigns and lets someone else do it.

3) Take a stand (the option that she took). She refuses to issue the licenses because she believes that it is wrong, and tries to prevent anyone from being able to issue those licenses.

Are any of those necessarily wrong? Are any of them universally always right?  I believe the answer to both of those are no.  The situations that you will find yourself in are complex and there often are competing values in place.  It takes wisdom, discernment and prayer to determine what the right way to go is.

Sometimes it is #1.  You need to choose to unconditionally love the people who are doing something you disapprove of.  Cross-cultural missionaries do this all the time.  They are invited to a religious festival or service of a different religion.  They choose to go because they want to build a relationship and are willing to be a part because love for the person trumps the desire to not participate in something that is distasteful in some way.  I have participated in services for other religions and spent a lot of time praying for the people I was with.  I have a friend who photographed a wedding that he/she didn’t believe was honoring to God.  Again, because they valued the relationship with the people.  This is not compromising truth.  This is choosing to love someone rather than trying to tell non-Christians that they should behave like Christians.

Sometimes it is # 2.  You are being asked to do something at your work that you do not believe honors God.  So you quit.  You don’t really have any ability or desire to fight the system and so you quietly step aside.  This is not necessarily cowardly.  You work for a company that practices shady ethics and you tell your boss that you won’t do it and you quit before he fires you.  You are taking a stand but in a different way.

Sometimes it is #3.  Sometimes the right thing to do is to stand in the face of injustice, immorality or evil and say that this will not stand.  You would rather face significant consequences than let something go.  Most injustices in the world are resolved initially because someone took a stand and refused to let injustice stand.  The civil rights movement is full of such people like MLK Jr and Rosa Parks.  Choosing this doesn’t mean that you crave attention or fame or that you are simply a troublemaker.  You believe your cause is just so you will do anything to fight for it.

“Wait. Did you just compare Kim Davis to Rosa Parks?”  (Rereads last paragraph) Nope, I didn’t.  I just used it as an example of when taking a stand against the law is admirable.  Whether or not what she did is admirable or right is still the question. “It’s the law of the land! How can she do this?”  The law she is fighting became law, because people refused to accept the status quo.  What she is doing is the same, at least in her mind.  However, in choosing #3, you have to be ready to face the consequences.  If you’re going to, for what you believe to be a noble cause, break the law, then be prepared to go to jail, pay a fine or whatever.

Her going to jail doesn’t mean that Christianity is now illegal, a bit of hyperbole from some aspiring presidential candidates.  It means that to work in government, you will sometimes be put in situations where you will be asked to do something inconsistent with your values.  That’s not just true in government jobs but other jobs as well and with friends.  It can happen a lot.  We live in a world and a country that does not share Christian values. (I don’t believe that it ever did, but that is a controversial post for another day.)  We have to decide what kind of people we are going to be in that reality.  How will we show the world that we love them and also point them to the truth of who God is and his gospel?

It’s not always going to be clear cut and obvious.  It is far easier to judge someone else’s decision than to wrestle with the decisions that you face and will have to face. To answer the question you are wanting me to answer, I wouldn’t have done what she did.  First, I’d never be county clerk.  Second, if I were, I would have been putting my name on lots of marriage licenses for marriages that were not honoring to God before gay marriage became legal, what’s a few more?  I would either have done number #1 and just prayed for every person and couple that came into my office, or #2 and I would have quietly and, hopefully without fanfare, step aside.

Regardless, it’s not an easy answer to a simple question and when we make it that we oversimplify life and what it means to follow God.  When do we show grace and when do we take a stand?  This is an important, deep question that we need to wrestle with, one that makes a huge difference not only in our lives but in the lives of the people that God has called us to reach.

So, what would you have done?

It’s Not You, It’s Me

September 21, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

There was a time in my life when I believed that every boss that I had was terrible.  One boss might be too passive.  Another might be too aggressive.  They were all less qualified than me to lead.  I often found myself wondering why I wasn’t the leader.  These guys were not good leaders.  I, on the other hand, was a great leader, and I couldn’t understand why I was always getting stuck with sub-par leaders.

It wasn’t that these guys were all the same kind of leaders.  They were very different in their personalities, leadership styles, ages, well, everything.  The one characteristic that they had in common was that they weren’t very good leaders.  I didn’t feel like that they respected me enough and were not being the kind of leader that I needed.

Then it dawned on me one day.  There is one primary factor that all of these relationships had in common that I had not really considered.  That common factor was me.  They were all different with different personalities and approaches, but I was the one constant.  Then it hit me.  What if the reason why these work relationship weren’t great wasn’t their fault at all?  What if it were me?

That seems rather obvious in hindsight.  Of course it was me.  I was selfish, prideful and immature.  It was impossible to lead me well, because I was a terrible follower.  My pride prevented me from being led.  Great men tried a lot of different ways to lead me, but no matter what they tried, I was critical and prideful.  I thought that I had it all together and they didn’t, when the reality was the exact opposite.

But what is obvious in hindsight, I was incredibly blinded to at the time.  I couldn’t see outside myself.  I was unwilling and unable to see what I was doing to make this a problem.  My eyes could only see the faults in other people and I couldn’t see the glaring faults that I had.  Hmm, there’s a verse about that somewhere:

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Matthew 7:3-5

I couldn’t see them clearly because of the giant log in my own eye, but I couldn’t see or comprehend that there was a giant log in my own eye.  My thinking had gotten so crazy that I began to believe that there was some conspiracy against me, either created by God or people.  I didn’t know which.  I went to crazy lengths to justify and explain why it seemed everyone around me was wrong and I was right.

Sound familiar? I know that you don’t want it to sound familiar, but it is.  We find ourselves in situations where we believe that a large group of people are against us or failing us in some way.  We have our own conspiracy theories.  Why do I only attract jerks in dating relationships?  Why do none of my kids listen to me?  Why are all my friends so mean to me?  Why is everyone I know an idiot?  You begin to view yourself as a victim, the only sane person in a crazy world.

However, the common denominator in all your dysfunctional relationships is you.  That may sound overly harsh, but it is true.  If you always are attracting the wrong kind of person in dating relationships, there is something wrong with your sensors.  If none of your kids are listening, there’s a problem with your approach to your kids.

The last diagnosis (that it’s my fault) that we will consider in why our relationships aren’t going well needs to become our first.  What can I do differently?  Maybe I am the one who is unhealthy and needs to make some changes.  While I strongly encourage you to share this post on social media, please don’t tag anyone else.  Resist the urge to think about how someone that you love needs to read this so that they will change, but consider instead that this is for you.

So what do you need to do?  The primary action item for you is to get right with God spiritually.  Make sure that the most important relationship in your life is healthy.  When that relationship is healthy, we have the energy that we need to work on the other relationships in our lives.  When it isn’t healthy, we become demanding and prideful and began to ask more from other people than we are willing and able to give ourselves.

Then when that relationship is solid, ask God to help you become emotionally healthy.  Ask him to heal the hurts that you have and to make you whole again.  What he will do is heal you and then point out for you the areas in which you need to grow and develop.

You’ll then be pleasantly surprised how your attitude about the broken relationships in your life change and the energy that you have to love and serve people around you.  God will heal those relationships in your life, because you humbly allowed him to heal you first.  That begins with a humble admission that, “It’s not you, it’s me.”

The Questions You Wish They Would Stop Asking by Heidi Loften

September 18, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

“Hey Hon. How was your day?’

“Who did you meet with today?”

“What did you and the kids do today?”

“How was school?”

These are typical questions exchanged in a typical family on any typical day.

But our thoughts when we are posed these questions are frequently less than receptive.  Cue cartoon thought bubbles…

“Basically the same as every other day this week.”

“I didn’t want to have the meetings in the first place.  Much less rehash them now that I am home.”

“We bought groceries and cleaned house and did laundry and picked up the same 47 toys 47 times.”

“It was school.”

The questions may be different. The answers may vary.  But the sentiments are the same.

Q:  “Talk to me.  Invite me into your world.  Share your information with me so that I can connect with you.”

A:  “The information is unimportant and recounting it to you is tedious.  What do I have to say to get you to stop asking me questions?”

The problem with the daily question ritual is that it frequently frustrates both the asker and the asked because it requires the recounting of unimportant facts and does not lead to the true connection desired by the asker.  Depending on your personality and relational dynamics, you may find yourself usually the question asker, usually the asked, or occasionally both.  I am frequently the asker, pumping my husband and kids for information to give me a window into their lives and a taste of the outside world that most stay at home moms are starved for.  However, I am also guilty of rolling my eyes and gritting my teeth before answering inquiries of, “What did you and Laylah (3) do today?” from my well-meaning husband or kids.

Whether you are asking the questions or avoiding them, taking a closer look at what is really happening in this daily ritual, might help us all trade the Q & A dance for interactions that truly invite connection.  There are some things that both parties “need to know” and corresponding “to do’s.”

1. What you need to know:  The heart behind the questions is connection.

Viewing the person drilling you with unwelcome questions as a person who wants to emotionally connect with you, rather than the equivalent of a buzzing mosquito will radically change the tenor of you interaction.

What you need to do:

Look for ways to connect with the question askers in your life.  Offer them your eyes (rather than a view of the back of your phone).  Recognize the love they feel for you and how much they value you.

2. What you need to know:  Information is power.

Yes, the details of what you did today are unimportant.  However, sharing those details with a loved one invites that person into your world and communicates that you value him/her and want to connect.

What you need to do:

Answer the questions.  Place their desire to connect above your desire to avoid tedious questions.  Value others above yourself.

In humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. Philippians 2: 3-4

3. What you need to know:  Asking someone to rehash their day rarely leads to true connection.

You ask, “How was your day?” but you want to know “How are you?”  Invite people to talk about things they want to share about.  Questions they want to answer lead to answers you want to hear.

What you need to do:

Ask different questions.  Rather than asking for a play by play of the day’s happenings, ask for their color commentary.  “How did you feel about your meeting?”  “What are you looking forward to tomorrow?”  “You seem happy.  Did something good happen today?”

Let’s push outside of the easy and mundane questions to draw our family members into real conversation.  Better questions will lead to better answers.  And the next time someone you love asks, “How was your day?” resist the urge to eye roll and take a moment to be thankful you have someone who asks!

Do Something! It’s Better than Nothing!

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

What keeps someone on the diving board?  You see your friends diving off the diving board.  It doesn’t look that hard.  Everyone seems to be enjoying it.  It would also seem that no one ever cracked their skull diving into the water from a diving board 2 feet above the pool.  (Cue people going to Google: “cracked skull pool diving board”)  Lots of people are doing it without a problem, not getting hurt and having a great time.  Yet, there’s always that one friend who gets in line to jump and just won’t dive.  They act like they are going to, but then they don’t.  They either stay on the board or just jump in feet first refusing to dive.  “I’m going to do a pencil!”  (Pencil is not a thing.) Why? They think they are going to get hurt. They think they will look stupid.  It just seems scary.  They think that they just need a little bit more time.

Taking that time never helps. They think about it some more, they let their friends go one more time.  They get back in line and still they stay on the diving board.  They don’t move.  They can’t jump.  They are paralyzed in their own mind.  They won’t do a baby dive, a half dive, an accidental belly buster.  Instead they do nothing.  They have decided that doing nothing is better than doing something.

There are many of us standing on the diving board of serving.  We are convinced that if we were to jump off that diving board that we are going to get hurt or embarrassed.  We might do damage to someone that we are supposed to help.  We might be miserable.  We might be made to look foolish.  So instead, we walk past the diving board, maybe put a foot on it but then walk by.  However, unlike at the pool, you probably don’t have friends in the water screaming at you and calling you a big chicken.

Well, allow me to be in the pool and exhibit a little positive peer pressure on you.  “Get in the pool you big chicken.  God wants to use you and he can’t use you if you’re walking around doing nothing like a big old chicken.  Get in the pool.”  Some of us are too worried about what our first dive into ministry will look like, so we fill out all the preference forms and personality tests and we read books and we are trying to figure out how to do the perfect dive, how to find the perfect ministry for us to do.  Some of us aren’t even doing that.  Some of us are looking at the pool, shaking our heads and we just keep walking.

Again, similar to diving, you can’t really figure out how to serve in a book.  Just jump.  Make a bad dive.  It will feel awkward but you will at least get some feel for it.  The people in the pool will tell you what you did wrong and you get back up and you dive in again.  With practice and diligence you learn how to dive.  That same practice and diligence will show you where God wants you to serve.

Take my middlest daughter, Lauren.  She loves kid’s ministry but she kept having a hard time in different classrooms.  Being a PK, she will go where she is directed, but the kid’s director wants her to be happy.  At first the kids were too young, she liked hype and roughhousing, not potty visits and blank stares.  They needed care, and that’s not her thing. Then the kids were too old.  She was 14 and some of the kids in her class were 10.  They didn’t respect her and thought that they finally had a teacher that they could legally get mouthy with.  Lauren did not like that at all.

Finally, she ended up in the kindergarten class.  She loves these kids and they love her.  She’s young enough to be fun but old enough to command respect.  I walked past her classroom one morning and she was barefoot standing on chairs by the whiteboard drawing a complex diagram of how she had sprained her finger that week on a mission trip with a skateboard.  At the table were 10 enraptured kindergarteners who thought that she was the best thing ever.  (They assure me that she brings the same energy to teaching the actual lesson and keeps their attention the same way, not just for injury reports.) On the other side of the classroom is sweet Britt who quietly is the adult presence, keeps everyone on schedule and manages the details. Meanwhile the one and only Lauren Loften is holding court with her people. She was placed at first somewhere she didn’t want to be.  But it was only in doing that that she found exactly where she was meant to be.

What you need to do:

1)      Take all the opportunities that are available to you and just pick one.  PICK ONE! Don’t worry that you won’t pick the perfect or best one right away.  Doing something is better than nothing.  You won’t learn what is best until you start doing something.

2)      Serve long enough to figure out if it’s a good fit. I don’t want to put a time frame on it.  If I say do it for a month and it’s a monthly opportunity, that’s not enough.  If it’s a daily opportunity to serve and I say 3 months, that can be too long.  Just serve long enough where you can really know if it is a good fit.  Everything is awkward and uncomfortable at first.  Let the new and awkward wear off and then see.

3)      Ask yourself 2 very important questions.  Am I good at this? Do I like doing this? Those are the most important questions to ask in evaluating a serving role.  Ideally, you will be serving in a way that you love and you are skilled at it.  If you are not, then find something that you do love and can do well.

4)      Finally, if it’s not a good fit, ask yourself why. Was it too behind the scenes or not behind the scenes enough?  Were you being asked to use a skill you don’t have? Were you serving in a good way but with the wrong age group or people?  It could be any number of things.  If you are having a hard time evaluating, talk to the person leading the ministry or to a friend and ask for their help.  You find your best fit by knowing why other roles weren’t a good fit.

Bottom line.  Do something.  God has great plans for you.  He wants to use you in a big way.  Find what that big way is by doing something instead of nothing.  Get off the diving board and dive in.  A great adventure awaits.

One Simple Thing You Can Stop Doing That’s Stressing Out Your Kids

September 16, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

So there I was at McDonalds on a Sunday morning, doing what I do every Sunday morning–playing games on my iPad when I should be polishing up my sermon.  No, no, no.  I’m working on my sermon. Then a family comes and sits in the booth next to me.  The mom sets the dad and the kids down at the booth and before she goes and orders, she asks her 2-3 year old son a question.

“What would you like to drink?”


“Do you want milk?”








You might think that I’m exaggerating the number of times of this back and forth went down because I’m a curmudgeon.  However, I assure you that if this is not accurate, it is because that it is under-reported.

Disclaimers: I am not normally an eavesdropper.  I usually keep to myself in these situations and try not listen to other people’s conversations.  This was loud and right next to me. Also, I am not the kind of guy who judges someone’s parenting by their worst moment at Wal-Mart (What is it about Wal-Mart that makes kids throw fits? Something in the air?  Also, something in the air of malls sucks the life out of dads.) I’m sure this is a good family.  I’m simply making an observation about this situation and what it says about a troubling trend in parenting.

So what is the problem here at McDonalds?  The mom asked her son to make a choice when she didn’t really want him to have a choice.  She wanted him to have milk.  She was hoping that somehow her son would naturally choose against the sweet sugary caffeinated drink that energizes and hypes him up and instead would choose the healthy option so that his bones would be strong.  That is not a choice that a lot of kids are going to make, if they legitimately have a choice.

So now they have this altercation in public and the mom is stressed because the kid won’t choose milk.  The kid is stressed because someone asked him what he wanted and he told them.  Then they decided he wasn’t going to get what he wanted.  Not just that, he was being told that what he wanted.  She’s stressed.  He’s stressed.  I’m stressed. (Wait. That’s irrelevant.)

What should the mom have done?  Simple, yet potentially controversial, answer: stop giving your kid choices.  Give the kid milk.  The kid is too young for soda, and it would seem that you know that.  You don’t want him to have soda.  Don’t give the kid soda.  Don’t give him the choice for soda.

“Wait, wait, wait.  It’s important to teach kids how to make choices.  We don’t want to be controlling.  We want to foster healthy self-esteem.”  Fine, I’ll soften it a little bit.  Don’t give a kid a choice when he doesn’t really have a choice.  Only give choices when choices are actually available.  “You are having milk for breakfast.  Would you like to drink it out of the carton directly, do you want a straw or do you want me to put in a cup for you?”  Now you have given your child a choice they can make.

How do you know the difference?

1)       Don’t give them a choice if there is a wrong choice. This stresses kids out big-time.  You are giving them a false sense of control when they have none. You are telling them that they can make their own decision, but they can’t.

Mom works all afternoon making dinner. “We are having chicken for dinner. Would you like some?”  “No.” Gives kid chicken for dinner.

How frustrating is that?  You make the kid think they have a choice.  They don’t.  Better to teach your kids that there are some areas in our life where we don’t really have a choice.  There are boundaries to the decisions that we can make.  Their teachers do not ask them if they are ready for the test.  They place the test on the desk.  Their boss will not ask them if they are ready to come to work.  They tell them when work starts and fire them if they determine they are “not ready.”

You are the parent.  Teach and show them what they are supposed to do.  Teaching your kids right and wrong supersedes their need to make choices.  Show them right.  Point them away from wrong and when they later are in situations where there is a right and wrong choice, they will be equipped to make the right choice.

2)      Don’t give them a choice that they are not ready for. Do not ask your child at bed-time if they are ready for bed.  Do not ask them at dinner time if they are hungry.  Unless, they are rhetorical questions.  Even still, I advise against it.  Tell your child it is bed-time.  Tell them it is time to eat.  Who cares if they are ready? They don’t know how much sleep they need.  They don’t know when or what kind of food they need to eat.  You do, because you are the parent.

This does not end when your kids get older.  They become ready for some choices and are not ready for others.  My girls do not get to decide when they are ready to date or whom they are going to date. (I get a smug satisfaction from using whom correctly.)  My wife and I decide that. They don’t get to decide when they are ready to drive on their own.  Their parents decide that.  We want them to be a part of the process.  They can give input, but they don’t get to choose on their own.  Our oldest is a Senior and is making a decision about college.  Let me say that better.  She is a part of facilitated process where together we will make a decision.

Doesn’t it frustrate your kids that they can’t make their own decisions? Doesn’t it bother them that you don’t trust them?  Simple answer: yes.  However, I don’t believe that it is near the level of frustration that a kid has that has to make choices that they don’t know how to make or to be given false hope that they can make a decision when they can’t.

It is our job to train our girls.  We have to teach them to make good decisions.  We have to help them to get ready for decisions that they will face when they are away from us—school, with friends, etc.  That is hard work and it can be very stressful, but not near as stressful as dealing with a kid who is being asked to make decisions that they shouldn’t or can’t make.

Shellfish and Sexuality or How You’re Misusing the Old Testament

September 15, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Bible, Church and Leadership

I’ll start with the shocking statement.  Not all commands in Scripture apply to me.  You should actually not be too shocked by that regardless of what you believe about the Bible.  I’ll give a very simple example:

So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. Genesis 6:14

See, that wasn’t too controversial.  God commanded Noah to go make an ark, but when I read that command, I don’t panic because I can’t build, well, anything.  That command is not to me.  It is to Noah at a particular time for a particular reason.

This leads me to the current debate that seems to be happening all over the internet and social media in particular.  I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said debate.  How about current yelling over each other and zapping each other with “gotcha” posts?  A debate implies civility and engagement.  The era of civil debate is dead, though my heart is to see it come back from the dead.

There is a lot of noise out there about what the Bible says about sexuality.  It’s not limited to people who believe the Bible is God’s Word.  People who don’t believe that the Bible is relevant to the discussion make posts explaining that the Bible doesn’t say what people think it does.

If you haven’t seen it, one of the best zingers out there comes from a clip of the West Wing.  In this clip, the stereotypical uptight, self-righteous evangelical Christian tells President Bartlett that homosexuality is an abomination, quoting Leviticus.  (I would complain about the stereotype, but I really can’t.  Stereotypes become stereotypes for a reason.)  Bartlett (Martin Sheen) then eviscerates this lady by quoting chapter and verse of several other verses in Leviticus asking if he should follow those too.  These include selling his daughter, not touching pigs’ skin (football) and of course, the Old Testament prohibition against eating shellfish.

Sigh.  The number of posts I have read over the last couple of months that basically say if you think homosexual behavior is a sin then you can’t eat shrimp is exhausting.  It has become very clear to me that we do not understand the Old Testament law and how it applies to Christians today.  On the one hand, Christians throw Leviticus out there, without any real regard for the fact that Christians intentionally do not apply most of Leviticus. On the other hand, non-Christians or Christians who are more theologically and/or politically liberal throw shrimp back in their faces (metaphorically of course).

So here is the question: How does the Old Testament law apply to Christians today?

Well, here is the answer: It depends.

(For 2 brief but exciting seconds, I considered ending the post there, just to be that guy.)

Some of the Old Testament has direct application to Christians and some of it does not.  However, all of it is relevant.  Back to Noah.  I am not called to build an ark, so that command does not directly apply to me.  However, I learn that God hates sin from that passage.  I also learn that God speaks directly to his people.  I also know that God calls people to do ridiculous things based on faith.  I will likely never build an ark, barring an incident similar to Evan Almighty, but God has called me to build a handful of metaphorical ones.

What about the OT Law specifically?  Again, it depends.  The laws can typically be broken down into 3 different categories.

1)      Civil (governmental) commands. These are the commands that God gives his people in how to govern themselves.  These commands are relevant to the Jewish people.  For example, they are asked to cancel debts every seven years (Deuteronomy 15:1).  Some of these laws are good ideas, others are clearly limited to a more agrarian, nomadic society. Either way, we are not required to follow them, but we can learn from them.

2)      Ceremonial (tell them how to worship) commands. These are the commands that deal with how God wants them to worship him.  These include all the commands about the different festivals that they should celebrate and the specifics of the tabernacle.  Again, we can learn principles about God’s heart, but they aren’t directly applicable.

3)      Moral commands. These are the ones that express God’s heart for what is right and wrong.  They are timeless principles that should be followed regardless of time period or people.  Don’t lie. Don’t murder. Worship only God.

So, here is the question: How do we decide which is which?

Well, here is the answer: Carefully.

(Another 2 second pause, but I’ll continue)

For the most part, it’s pretty easy.  The law is broken down into sections and for the most part it is fairly clear.  When a law is referencing how they should worship, you can put those in the appropriate category.  When the topic is dealing with how the priests should test for leprosy, that is civil.  However, there are some commands that have always been debatable, most notably whether or not God still wants us to honor the Sabbath and take a day of complete rest.

Today we are debating sexuality.  Is what the Old Testament says about sexuality still applicable to Christians today?  How do we decide?

I believe that it is important to ask if the command is repeated in the New Testament.  If it is, then you can be certain that it is applicable.  All of the 10 commandments are repeated except for following the Sabbath. The New Testament does have a lot to say about sexuality.  In fact, like most moral commands, the New Testament makes them more challenging.  In the Old Testament, murder is prohibited.  Jesus says hate now is the standard.  Adultery changes to lust.  Loving your neighbor becomes loving your enemy.  The confusing nature of family and marriage in the Old Testament becomes clear in the New Testament and goes back to what God’s original design was in the Garden of Eden—one man and one woman in marriage for life.

If a command is not repeated in the New Testament, I would encourage you to be open-handed, and not so dogmatic about it.  I would also encourage you to not quote Leviticus if there is a more directly relevant New Testament command, because of all the confusion swirling around the use of the OT Law.

While we are on this subject, can I throw a couple of other thoughts out there?  First, that an action, and specifically sexual sin, is wrong is not the only thing the Bible has to say that is relevant.

John 3:16-17 is relevant (Jesus did not come to condemn the world but to save a world that is already condemned).

Ephesians 2:8-10 is relevant (We come to God by grace through faith, not by changing behavior. We don’t act like Christians first, we come to God in faith first.).

John 8 is relevant (Without sin cast the first stone.  Go and sin no more.).

Matthew 7 is relevant (Be sure there is no log in your own eye.).

The story of the Good Samaritan, the prodigal son, and numerous stories about the love of Jesus and how God has called us to bring love and light to people who are sinning are all incredibly relevant.  Don’t be so busy trying to win an argument that you lose the access to someone who needs to experience God’s love in a real way.

Next, what is the correlation between something being Biblically sinful and what should be legal or illegal in secular society?  No one agrees on this.  One verse says “give to everyone who asks” another says “If you don’t work, you can’t eat.”  God says we should care for the alien in our land.  God also hates divorce.  Which of those verses should our government apply and how?  The most common answer is the ones that back up my already established political convictions.  The Bible is relevant to government when I want it to be.  When I don’t want it to be, it’s just for individuals and/or churches.

There’s a great conversation to be had there, if we were still capable of having great conversations. Civil people discussing the relevance of Scripture to government and what is the basis of morality would be great conversations.  Again, we know longer have great conversations.

While I don’t expect everyone to agree with everything I have said, can we try and agree on a couple of things?

First, don’t misuse the Bible to make your point.  If you believe the Bible is God’s Word, misusing it is dangerous.  If you don’t, it’s just disrespectful to those that do. Second, could we try, just try, to talk to each other rather than at each other or over each other?  I’m pretty sure I could find a relevant verse for that one, in both Testaments.

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