Most Often Abused Bible Verses #3

October 29, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Bible, Church and Leadership

It’s one of the most coveted cards in the Monopoly game.  The “Get Out of Jail Free” card.  It’s very annoying to get stuck in jail, although if you are losing, it’s a nice break from having to deal with your opponents row of hotels.

getoutofjailNo such card exists in real life.  There is no card that you can show that can get you out of jail, certainly not literally.  There also is no metaphorical “get out of jail free” card either.  By that, I mean ways to get out of trouble for the stupid things we do or say.  We try to invent them.  Most of the cards that we create start with the phrase, “I was just…”  “I was just tired,”  “I was just hungry,”  etc.

However, the biggest, most often used “get out of jail free” card that we try to use is found in the Bible.

The Verse:

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

3 “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? 4 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? 5 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 7:1-5

What we think that it means:

There are a lot of different ways to describe what we mean when we quote this verse. You’re not the boss of me.  You can’t tell me what to do.  How dare you? Who do you think you are?

Basically, what we think this verse means is that no one can tell us what we are doing is wrong.  If someone tells you that what you are doing is sinful or wrong, then that is judging.  Bible says don’t judge.  Again, we play it like a “get out of jail free” card.  You do something wrong, someone calls you on it, play this card and you are out of trouble.

Why that is a bad interpretation:

First, there are multiple verses that say this it is our responsibility to confront or rebuke people’s sin.  I Timothy 5:20, James 5:19-20, Galatians 6:1, Matthew 18:15.  That’s just a few.  God is calling us to be involved in each other’s lives and help and confront each other when in sin.  It can’t mean that we can’t tell someone that what they are doing is wrong.

This leads to the second issue.  What does the word judge mean?  As always, words have a lot of different meanings.  The context determines the meaning.  Judge can mean determine right from wrong or it can mean determine someone’s value or it could mean to determine the consequence or punishment.  Just because something feels judgmental to you doesn’t mean that it falls into the category of this prohibition against judgment.  It depends on what judging means, and you have to look at the context.

Finally, it is self-refuting.  You are judging someone when you say they are judging you.

What this verse means:

When Jesus says don’t judge, what he says next is that the measure by which you judge someone will be used against you.  The word “measure” almost certainly is a reference to a scale that you would use to determine the value and weight of something that you were going to buy.  So what Jesus is prohibiting is determining someone’s value.  That’s not your role.  He says that if you do that, you will judged by that same measure.   This is by no means a prohibition against determining whether or not an action is sinful or telling us that we are not to be involved in correcting people or being corrected.

However, even though Matthew 7:1 is not a “get out of jail free card,” there also are no licenses in the Bible for you to be a jerk to somebody.

If you see someone in sin and determine because of that sin, that they are less valuable to God or are going to Hell, you should be careful, because you do not want that same measure applied to you.  Not only that, but this passage makes it clear that when you do that, you are a hypocrite.  He uses an outrageous and hilarious metaphor.  Someone is walking around with a log in their eye.  Then even though they are blinded by the log, they believe that they have the vision to point out a speck of dust in someone else’s eye.  That makes you both an idiot and hypocrite.

This is especially important to the church today in the way that we treat people with what I will call “unusual” sins.  Most guys struggle with porn, so that’s normal and understandable.  You get grace.  Being gay is unusual and therefore worse and worthy of condemnation.  Most Americans are greedy and terrible with money, that’s OK.  Homeless people though are lazy and unworthy of compassion.

We compartmentalize sin and determine some sins are worse than others because they are foreign to us or repulsive in some way.  Therefore, even though I am a sinner, those sinners deserve condemnation.  That is not a measure by which you want to be judged, so don’t judge.  In fact arrogant condemnation might be the log that you are carrying around with you that makes it where you can’t see the specks in another’s eye.

What we all need is someone who loves us to come to us gently and tell us what we are doing is hurting us and others.  We need those people to then help us get better.  I’ll do that for you and you can do it for me.  That is a measure of judgment that I will gladly live by.

Become a Student of Your Wife

October 28, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

Men spend a lot of time whining.  I feel like I could make that an application point for every post that I write that is directed toward men—Stop whining about it already and do something about it!

studying-man-9596702Nowhere is this more evident than in our inability to understand our wives.  We do not understand how they think or why they do the things that they do.  Our response to that is whining.  We whine to each other.

Idiot 1:  “Man can you believe my wife?  She asked me if she looked good in that dress and I told her what I thought.  She then started crying for no reason.  Don’t ask the question, if you don’t want the answer, I always say.  Am I right?

Idiot 2: “Yeah man, I know.  My wife asked me about my day and I told her that I didn’t want to talk about it.  She asked again later and I told her not to ask me again.  Now she’s mad at me for no reason at all.”

Idiocy chased by whining is a disastrous combination.

Instead of whining, allow me to suggest what I will call becoming a student of your wife.  We have told ourselves that women are impossible to understand.  They make no sense.  Even if that is true,  instead of complaining about it what we need to do is make a conscious decision to do everything that we can to learn everything that we can about our wives.

Trying to understand “women” is not what men should be trying to do anyway.  Instead what  a husband needs to do is understand his woman.  Those are two very different things.  One is a theoretical idea about similarities among women and what, if any, stereotypes are true and how they can inform us about the way relationships can best work in general.  The other is a husband figuring out what his particular woman needs and wants and how he can best love and serve her.

The illustration that I use to describe this is a complicated mental spreadsheet.  (Disclaimer: my wife does not like this illustration.  Your wife might not either. ) A complicated mental spreadsheet is my mental, not physical (WARNING: do not write this stuff down!), list that I have of what Heidi likes and doesn’t like.  It’s how she responds in certain situations.  She responds differently at different times, in different moods, at certain (gulp) times of the month.  I can say something in one context and it is received well, and in another it is received poorly.  Her attitude, my attitude, the circumstances  can all dictate different responses.  All of those responses and situations go into the mental spreadsheet.

I grew up with only a brother and my parents so the only woman I really knew was my mom.  My mom loved (loves) having knickknacks and little decorative things in her house.  She also loved being given those as a gift.  So, I start dating Heidi and I give her a ceramic cat.  She liked cats, and girls like things like that, so I knew it would be a win.  Guess what? It wasn’t a win.  She thinks stuff like that is a waste of money.  After years of calculated study, I have determined that she values practical gifts more.  One of her favorite gifts that I have ever given her was a vacuum cleaner…on Valentine’s Day.  Every stereotype in the world says that is wrong, perhaps the worst thing that a husband can do.  My complicated mental spreadsheet tells me something very different.

But that is over simplified.  Sometimes she wants an impractical gift.  Sometimes she wants emotional permission to buy something for herself.  Sometimes she wants a getaway without the kids.  Who knows?  Answer is I do, or at least I’m trying to.

My awesome wife is constantly changing, in part because we are older and our season of life is changing.  The spreadsheet is always being updated and corrected, and just when I think something is solid, I learn that it isn’t.  This doesn’t frustrate me, it actually makes her more intriguing.  I’m boring and simple.  She asks me what I want for my birthday.  I tell her there is only one thing I ever really want on my birthday(makes awkward face).  Heidi rolls her eyes. (If you don’t understand that ask your husband or anyone’s husband.)  I eat the same thing at restaurants.  I’m boring.  My wife is a beautiful mystery.  Rather than wasting all my time being frustrated that “I don’t understand her,” I channel that energy into learning everything that I can.

The reason why Heidi doesn’t like this illustration is that it seems to her that I am trying to “figure her out.”  She doesn’t want to be figured out.  However, she does want to be known.  She wants a husband who will go to great effort to learn about her and her intricacies.  Someone who will love her the way that she wants and needs to be loved.  She is complicated and to love her means that I will do all the work necessary to love her and lead her in what can seem to me complicated ways.  I’m not trying to win or put her in a box.  I am trying to admire and learn about the beautiful awesome woman that she is.

Top 10 80’s Songs

October 27, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under General Insanity, Silliness and Rants

First, you need to understand that when I say the best what I mean are songs that I think are the best.  If you are looking for a list of the most impactful or meaningful or blah blah blah songs, go somewhere else.  If you are looking for commentary that uses phrases like “guitar riff” or “vocalization” go somewhere else.  The social status of these songs or their musical genius is irrelevant.

i love the 80sWhat is relevant then? General awesomeness.  I’ll evaluate these in 4 categories.  How I liked the song then, the music video then, how I like the song now, and how I like the video now. The video was an important part of the song in the 80s.  This was hard.  Limiting to 10 was challenging.  I may create a post at some point with the 100 best songs from the 80’s and not put any commentary.  I would feel better about that.  I feel like I am hurting someone’s feelings.  It would be like a list of my top 2 favorite daughters (I have 3).

10. Caught up in You by .38 Special

The song then—I remember the song and kinda liking it, but I don’t remember loving it.

The video then—No memories

The song now—Love it! It may now be my number 1, crank it up, don’t get out of the car until it’s over song.  I have been known to play it on repeat online.

The video now—Oh my goodness! You have to watch this.  It was trying to be funny then, I’m sure.  It succeeded.  However, the level of unintentional comedy of the video now is off the charts.  Must watch!

You’re Welcome!

9. Total Eclipse of the Heart by Bonnie Tyler

The song then—Epic.  Wailing female vocalists are my thing and this song may be the best of all of that category.  Has an awesome haunting quality about it and I loved it.

The video then—Confession (don’t judge me). I thought she was very good.  That is essentially all I remembered from that video.  Good looking girl wearing white walking around in some mansion or something.  It was a little creepy, but her being cute made up for it.

The song now—Still love it for all the same reasons  It is definitely one of the top songs in the  “if I hear it, I will be singing it for days” category.

The video now—A) She’s not that attractive. B) That video is creepy.  Way creepier than I remember.

8. Come on Eileen by Dexy’s Midnight Runners

The song then—Great song.  Very catchy.  I’d say it’s easy to sing along too, but it would be more accurate to say that it is easy to mumble along with except for when he says “Come on Eileen.” No one knew the words to that song.

The video then—Hmmm, is it them walking around the street? Don’t remember.  I’ll let you know in a second.  Obviously, I don’t remember the video.

The song now—Still great.  Also, in the era of Google, you can finally know what they are singing.

The video now—Oh yeah! The blue overalls.  Completely unremarkable video.  I’ll still put it in here, just in case you don’t know the song and you can hear it.

7. The Reflex by Duran Duran

The song then—The best of Duran Duran as far as I am concerned.  Though Rio seems to be the song they play the most on 80s on 8 on SiriusXM.  Hungry Like the Wolf seems to be most people’s favorite.  Super catchy and fun song.

The video then—Perhaps one of the best videos of all time. (Cue Kanye)  Again, not because of artistic reasons, but for weirdness and unintentional comedy.  Watching it now may make it seem dated, but it was kind of ridiculous then too, but in great ways.

The song now—What is this song about?  I almost hesitated to put this on here because I don’t know what the song is about and there is a theory that it is dirty.  (My wife believes this and is calling for the song to be banished from the list) However, the band is quoted as saying that they don’t even know what it is about.  I’m going with that and keeping it on the list.

The video now—Watch it for the hair.  Watch it again for the awesome special effects waterfall.

6. Against All Odds by Phil Collins

The song then—I’ve been surprised by how many people don’t know this song when I mention it among my favorite 80’s songs.  Big fan of the power ballad love song genre.  While you may not put this is in the category of “power ballad,” that makes little difference to me, since this is my list.

The video then—I never saw the movie that this came from.  It was rated R and I was 12 and from a very conservative home.  However, there was enough in that video to pique the interest of a 12 year old boy. (I apologize if that it TMI). I remember liking the video for sure.

The song now—Still awesome.  Love to belt this one out in the car.

The video now—Now that I am 43 and can do what I want, I don’t want to see the movie.  It looks absolutely ridiculous.  I also judge the 12 year old me.

5. Jesse’s Girl by Rick Springfield

The song then—Loved this song then.  I was only 10, but I loved it.  Had no idea who Jessie was or even the concept of a love triangle.  Just knew that this song was great.

The video then—Here I go again.  Was there a video for this? I’m not sure.  If I had to guess, I would imagine it is just him singing with his band.  We will see.

The song now—One of my 2 go to karaoke songs.  First song I ever sang at a karaoke party.  Love it.  If this song isn’t on your list, you either didn’t experience the 80’s or we may not be able to be friends.  Great song.

The video now—I was mostly right.  90% is just him singing with or without his band.  Toss in a few poorly acted angsty scenes of him pining over the girl and a super-angsty crashing his bathroom mirror scene and you’ve got the video.  Only good in an ironic way.  He also smoulders a lot into the camera.  He was a heartthrob.

4. Eye of the Tiger by Survivor

The song then—How is this not #1? What is wrong with me?  This is one of the most popular songs of all time!  Rocky III was an amazing movie and this was an incredible song.  You hear this song and you just know that you can knock out anybody, including Mr. T.

The video then—Was there a video? (Recurring theme)  This song comes on and I remember the movie.  That means, most likely that the video was probably just movie clips.  If so, I loved it.  If not, that’s why I don’t remember.

The song now—My other go to karaoke song.  I even sang this song in a mullet wig at a church event once.  There may or not be video evidence.  The band intentionally raised the key of the song so I would almost be able to hit the high note, but not quite.  Very entertaining.  This song was and is one of the greatest.  The 80’s song that sold the most copies that was not also a fundraising song (Like We are the World).

The video now—Nope, not a video from Rocky III at all.  The band trying to be tough.  It is ridiculous.  I watch this and I have to tell myself that they couldn’t have been serious.  Watch it and decide for yourself.

3. The Power of Love by Huey Lewis and the News

The song then—Another great song from another great movie.  This seems appropriate to honor this song the week after Back to the Future day.  Huey Lewis dominated the pop charts for a couple of years and this is far and away the best one.  The fact that it was part of one of the best movies is just bonus.

The video then—Mostly just the band performing the song in a bar environment.  I always was disappointed by the video.  I wanted Marty and Doc to be in the video.  There is a moment at the beginning with the DeLorean and another at the end.  Other than that, it ignores the movie altogether.  Not a great video. The fact that the video is just blah and is this high on the list, speaks to how great a song this is.

The song now—Still great.  This song might be the one that gets stuck in my head the most after putting this list together.

The video now—Still awful

2. Borderline by Madonna

The song then—I’m not trying to get 80’s hipster on you, but I think Madonna’s best stuff was from this album. Borderline and Lucky Star and Holiday.  The Like a Virgin album made her number one in the mainstream, but this song was always the best.  The closest she ever came to recapturing this was Crazy for You which I believe was from the movie Vision Quest.  Great ballad, great song!

The video then—Most videos were just artsy and weird, this was one of the first I remember to try and tell a story.  She is getting discovered and  photographed by this creepy dude and there is jealous also creepy boyfriend or something.  This was her maximum cuteness in my mind, even though I didn’t understand her outfits.

The song now—Still the best.  The girls know for sure that there will be no changing the station if this song comes on.

The video now—Still cute.  I’m judging 1984 Charlie a little less.

1. Call Me by Blondie

The song then—What does an 8 year old know about music or anything?  Nothing.  However this is a great song.  I would call the radio station every day to request it in the hopes that it would stay number one even longer (as if requests and plays in El Dorado Arkansas were moving the needle)  This was all the manipulation of my 14 year old brother, but nonetheless, I loved this song, the intro comes on and you are ready to go.  Blondie had some great stuff in the early 80’s.

The video then—I was 8 and by the time videos were mainstream, this song wasn’t popular.  I have no memories at all of this.  The best standard guess is her singing in front of some psychedelic background.

The song now—It was number one then and is still number one.  I hesitated for a while when putting this list together.  I considered all the songs in the top 4, but not for long.  This is the one.

The video now—The definitive 80’s music expert (My brother Brad) says he doesn’t remember this video though it is the one that Blondie says is official on their website. *shrug* She’s prettier than I remember.  I remember being scared of her, probably because she had two colors of hair, blonde and black.  I thought that was creepy.  (I was 8).

There you go THE list.  I guess this is the part where I ask for your inferior list.  So, what you got?  What are your top 80’s songs?

I Couldn’t Choose Adoption

October 26, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Bible, Church and Leadership

laylah9I will never bungee jump.  I have ridden thrilling roller coasters and climbed tall mountains, but I will never jump.  I am terrified of heights, and although roller coasters and mountain climbing touch on that nerve, they are gradual, or I am strapped in and unable to do anything but hold on with my eyes shut and scream while the roller coaster creeps its way upward in infinite “click, click, clicks” to its summit.  Bungee jumping, however, is different.  Not only are you at some unholy height above the earth, but as you peer down to the ground “miles” below you, you must choose to leave the platform.  They don’t push you.  You have to jump.

It’s the jumping I have a problem with.  Given the choice, I choose the platform…safety…certainty…over the probably exhilarating experience of freefalling.  My desire to protect myself from the possible pain of splatting on the ground prevents me from experiencing the thrill of reaching the end of my rope just short of the splat and having it spring me back into the air for another gleeful descent.

So for years I stood on the “platform” peering off the edge at the freefall that was adoption.  We wanted more children; we knew there were children who needed families, and we felt certain that there was, as my husband would say, “another Loften out there somewhere.”  But I could not jump.  I filled out paperwork.  I looked at waiting children websites.  I prayed.  I talked to adoptive moms about their experiences.  I talked myself into it.  I talked myself out of it.

There were too many horror stories.  The “splats” at the bottom of the jump.  Costly international adoptions fruitlessly pursued for years.  Heartbreaking domestic adoptions interrupted by unforeseen biological relatives.  Plus the timing was never right for our family.  We were going to move.  We had just moved.  Our biological daughters were too young.  Now they were too old.  Our family was no longer in that season.

What if there was a “splat?”  That would mean devastation for our daughters too.  For years I had coped with the pain of infertility, wanting more children, planning for more children, but being heartbroken month after month, year after year.  My heart was scarred and bruised, no longer bleeding, but still fragile.  I couldn’t choose to throw it off the platform.  I feared it could not endure a splat.

For years my husband and I had seesawed, each taking turns being the one who was “pursuing adoption” and the one who was making con lists.  During one of his “pro list” phases, we went to a meeting.  We filled out paperwork.  But we were still safely on the platform because we were currently living in an apartment and would not be able to have a home study until we moved into a house.  Then we moved into a house.  Then we had a therapist friend over for dinner who worked with some boys who were eligible for adoption.  And she asked if we would consider trying to adopt them.  And my heart screamed, “YES!” And God pulled up next to that bungee jump platform in a roller coaster car and harnessed me and my fragile heart in.  We “click, clicked” up higher and higher as God carried me through the adoption process.  I no longer felt like I was peering off the edge of a platform trying to muster the courage to jump, but as if I was strapped in, being taken somewhere that I wanted to go although I was not brave enough to get there.  Friends and family pointed out to me that I was leaving the safety of the platform—“Are you sure you want to do this?” “It’s been a long time since you had little ones.” “Aren’t some of those foster kids really messed up?”  “What if you fall in love with a child and then they go back home?”

All I could do was agree with them.  These were valid concerns, and I could see the safe platform becoming smaller and smaller in my rearview mirror.  But I was strapped in, and God was driving.  He did not wait for my weak and wounded heart to become strong enough to risk being hurt again.  He knew I could not and would probably never be able to jump into the uncertainty of adoption.  But I could trust My God enough to strap myself into His roller coaster.  He didn’t ask me to trust the process, or the agency, or the circumstances, or the people.  He asked me to trust Him.  God and I had a lot of history together.  He had proven His love for my weak and wounded heart time and time again.  I could trust Him.

Four years later, I look back at the roller coaster ride that was the adoption process, and I cannot believe I survived it.  If I had been able to see the death falls and inverted spirals from the platform, I know my fear would have kept me from climbing aboard and buckling up.  By the time our home was open for adoption the 2 boys who lit a fire in my heart had been adopted–the first roller coaster loop.  But when my beautiful, blue-eyed 4 year old daughter wraps her precious arms around my neck and squeezes, “Mom, I love you a million billion one hundred and thirties,” my eyes well with gratitude and humility.

Thank you, Lord that you chose this broken, fearful mama for adoption and carried me onto a ride more awesome and rewarding than any I could ever have the courage to choose for myself.

6 Ways to Get the Most out of Personality Tests

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

I’m a D-I.

I also am a Lion.

I also am a choleric.

I’m an achiever.

I could keep going, but I’ll end with I’m an ENTJ.

The real question isn’t what am I on all these personality tests, but does it really matter?

personality testThere seems to be competing ideas filling up my Facebook feed lately.  One is from people taking the Myers-Briggs personality test (that’s the one that declared me an ENTJ).  The other is full of links and videos saying that the Myers-Briggs is no good.  Stop using it.  As with most issues such as this, the truth lies somewhere between “personality tests are the best! They tell you everything there is to know about you!” and “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.”

A personality test taken well can give you a lot of insights about you and help you understand some ways that you think and approach life that maybe you didn’t know before.  On the other hand, it can’t tell you everything about you and not everything it says about your type will be true about you.  Use them wisely and they will give you wisdom.  Here are some tips.

1) Be honest with your answers. I know that seems pretty obvious, but you would be surprised the number of people that take personality tests or spiritual gift tests and don’t answer based on what is currently true about them.  They answer the questions based on who they wish that they were.

Q: On a scale of 1-5, how manipulative are you?

A: 1  How dare you, personality test?

On the other hand, don’t bring your low self-esteem or fake humility.

Q: On a scale of 1-5, how patient are you?

A: 1 There was that one time 3 years ago when I honked my horn at someone at a stoplight.

2. Trust the tests more that have the most categories. I’m not just a lion.  I may be more like a lion than the others but I have some otter and golden retriever as well.  Mostly I feel like I’m a platypus.  “A little of this, a little of that, a little of what is that?”  DISC can have as many as 24 categories, Myers-Briggs has 16.  The more categories the more specific and insightful the descriptions can be.

3. Share your results with a trusted friend who knows you. You may read your results and not be sure if it accurately describes you or not.  Bring someone else in and read them the results and they will be able to help you.  It may also be helpful to have someone you trust near you when you take the test for some questions that are challenging, like for me if I’m trying to decide if patient or not opinionated describes me the least.  A trusted friend can help you figure out what’s true and what isn’t.

4. Check other profiles if there is an area where you are on the borderline. I always test out at about 55% extrovert.  So I don’t really exhibit all the characteristics of an extrovert.  So, I also look at the characteristics of an introvert.  I’m an ENTJ, but I also have a lot in common with an INTJ.  Everything is the same except the second profile is for an introvert.  16 categories aren’t really enough to classify everyone.  Many of us will be some mix of a couple of different profiles.  That doesn’t make the test bad or wrong.  It just simply shows how you need to be smart in how you understand and apply your results.

5. Accept the “bad” results but don’t let them define you. I remember sharing my Myers-Briggs with some guys that were very knowledgeable about the test.  They told me that I was impossible to work for.  Right before your team is about to achieve the goal, you move the goal post and so you never celebrate victories.  I thought, “Man, that’s sweet.  Thanks for sharing that with me…at this social dinner.  Can you pass me a fork so I can stab your hand with it?”  The problem is that what they said was true.  That is something that I deal with.  However, that doesn’t mean that is who I have to continue to be.

6. Embrace your strengths and manage your weaknesses. I now make conscious decisions to celebrate with my team.  We evaluate the details of how something went, less intensely.  We celebrate before we evaluate.  That doesn’t necessarily come naturally to me, but I do it, because it is right.  I have to manage myself to make that happen.  Some weaknesses you can’t really fix.  I cannot become more detail oriented.  I can, however, surround myself with people who are.  I can try to not place myself in situations that call for that.

Also, believe in your strengths.  Don’t let unhealthy thinking keep you from believing that you have great qualities.  Believe in your strengths and use them.  I’m a D-I in the Disc and that means that I want to lead, but I also am relational.  I describe it as “I’m right, but I want everyone to be happy about that I’m right.”  I embrace that as who I am and it helps me lead people effectively as a pastor.

I am a big believer in these tests, taken and understood appropriately.  If you can be honest with yourself and the test, you can learn a lot about yourself.  Learning about yourself can take you a long way in knowing who God has called you to be and how he wants to use you.

You know I’m right and you’re happy about that, aren’t you?

Myers-Briggs test

Disc Test

Most Often Abused Bible Verses #2

October 21, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Bible, Church and Leadership

It was the summer of 1993 and I was in Dallas for a discipleship project before my senior year of college.  That summer the 4th of July was on a Sunday and I had never experienced before what happened that day.  I had never been a part of a patriotic themed church service.  Instead of the traditional hymns that you usually sing, you sing the sort of patriotic/sort of Christian songs like, of course, the Battle Hymn of the Republic.  I wasn’t exactly sure how I felt about it.  I loved America but at the same time, I was in this very intense discipleship project and I was wondering why we seemingly had abandoned Jesus as our primary topic for the day.

ii chron 714There was a theme verse for the day.  It was on the bulletin cover and prominently a part of the service and ultimately was also the primary passage of the sermon.  It was after the sermon that I knew for sure that I was not a fan of what was happening.

The Verse:

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. II Chronicles 7:14

What we think that it means:

If Christians in America will simply follow the clear pattern in this verse, humble yourselves, pray, seek God’s face and turn from wickedness, then God will bring healing to America.  This is not a call for all of America to repent, just those who are called by his name–the believers.  America is under judgment from God because we have turned from God.  If the church repents and turns to God, then God will forgive and heal America.

Why that is a bad interpretation:

It is abundantly clear to me that we have no idea how to interpret the Old Testament and so we wing it.  We take verses that we like completely out of context and apply them to whatever context we want to apply them.  We are not sure which OT commands apply to Christians, so we all, and I mean ALL, pick and choose based on what happens to fit our current desires best.  (Read about that more here.) When God makes a specific promise to Israel, we ask how do we apply it?  The answer is we don’t know but we like what it says, and so we wing it.

So what is going on in II Chronicles 7?  King Solomon has just dedicated the temple and God appears to him and tells the king that he has heard his prayer.  He then gives Solomon a warning and tells him that there will come a time when God will bring a plague or drought to the land, the literal land that God had long promised them and in which they now lived.  When such a thing happens, the people need to pray and humble themselves and repent.  Then God will bring literal healing to a cursed literal land.

So what does this have to do with America? Nothing. Israel was God’s chosen people with whom God made a covenant that involved land.  He promised this land to them, but some of his blessing is conditional on their obedience.  If they fail, they will be punished.  If they repent, God will bless them again.

America has no such arrangement with God.  America did not make a covenant with God and Americans are not his chosen people in any sense of any of those words.  America began in rebellion against Romans 13:1-6 and has no divine origin.  While it is true that some of the founders wanted to establish Christian ethics and devotion to God into the founding, that is a far cry from being God’s chosen people who were promised a land.

Israel never means America.  It is more likely to mean the church, but not America.  That’s what some people are trying to make this verse mean, in part, when they say that “those called by my name” isn’t talking to all Americans but the American church.  Ok, then let’s follow that through.  If God’s church will humble themselves and pray, then God will heal the church’s land that has been cursed.  What literal or metaphorical land does the church have that has been cursed and needs healing?  Whatever land may mean, the church has not been promised American land or any country.  God’s promises to the church are in the spiritual realm not in physical land.

What this verse means:

By all means, pray for your country.  Pray for your country’s leaders.  Pray that repentance and revival will break out in your country.  Pray that God will heal people, both individually and collectively, both physically and spiritually.  All of those are great things, but do not need to be confused with the bad theology of placing America as God’s replacement for his covenant people.  That is neither helpful nor true.

There are times in the New Testament where it would seem that because of sin, people are cursed in some way.  The passage in Corinthians about the Lord’s Supper indicates that.  If you believe that you or a group you are a part of is under judgment from God, then there are some amazing principles here for us to apply.

We need to be humble not proud.

We need to pray to God.

We need to seek his face, a relational connection with him.

We need to confess sin.

If we do those things, our relational connection with God will be restored.  For the individual and the church it is fellowship and blessing.  For the country of America, there are no promises of blessing that God has made to that country or any country apart from his chosen people, Israel.  Be excited about what God has promised you and the church.

Don’t get distracted by a false narrative about what your home country is or it’s special placement in the heart of God.  Be proud of where you are from but don’t allow it to cause you to study the Bible poorly or worse yet, divide your loyalty.

The Power of Offering

October 20, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

by Heidi Loften

My dear friend Kay(name changed) was a colorful character.  She taught me how to lift weights and “sew” curtains with a glue gun.  Her time on earth was too short but full of love and passion.  Kay left an impression on me in so many ways, but one of the things that has stuck with me most is the fierce way in which she loved her husband.  He travelled for his job, but before he left home she always made sure his “love tank was full.” (Her colorful terminology)  She saw a vulnerability and knew that she had the power to help bring strength and health to her husband and her marriage.

fuel gaugeRecognizing sexual temptation as an area of vulnerability in any marriage is not a matter of blame or accusation.  Creating a marriage that can stand strong against the constant bombardment of opportunity for sexual impurity is the responsibility of both husband and wife.

Kay was gorgeous and vivacious and everything a husband could want in the way of physical attractiveness, but these were not her greatest strengths as a wife.  Her greatest strength was her awareness.  Her eyes were open to the temptation that her visually oriented husband faced every day.  Rather than judging him for being more easily enticed than she was as a woman, she put herself in his shoes.  She imagined what it would be like to be a man away from his family, lonely, in a hotel room with easy access to sexual comfort and excitement.  She accurately assessed that a man whose “love tank was full” would likely be less vulnerable to temptation in that situation.

The decisions in the hotel room still belonged to her husband.  He was still responsible for running towards or away from temptation.  But his marriage teammate had done what she could to set him up for success.  Rather than viewing this as his issue to battle alone, she saw an opportunity to stand with him and strengthen him in the fight for the purity of their marriage.  If you don’t feel the constancy and intensity of the battle against your husband and your marriage, ask him, ladies.  Walk a mile in his shoes by beginning to see the world through his eyes.

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

Many of us battle our own insecurities in this area.  No longer looking like we did on our wedding day, we feel that “what we have to offer” is not worth having.  Aging and child bearing take their tolls on our bods, ladies, but the truth of the matter is, your bod is the only one he has legal access to and that is probably good enough for him!  Most husbands would choose to have you using your fluff and flab to love them and affirm your attraction to them rather than a Swedish swimsuit model.  Intimacy is physical, but it is so much more than that.  Shave your legs and jump in the game, girls.  You aren’t perfect, but you are his!  Love your man with all you’ve got.

Even when you are tired, not in the mood, or the timing doesn’t seem quite right, you have the power to offer.  Even if he chooses to wait for “the mood” to strike you too, your willingness to offer yourself to him will affirm your love and respect for him in a way that few other things can.  Our men are very physical creatures but our sexual responsiveness to and interest in them affirms and encourages them in ways that go far beyond physical satisfaction.  Our physical availability strengthens their confidence and builds them up in a way that pours into all aspects of their lives.

It’s not “just sex.”  It’s so much more than that. Your choice to “fill his love tank” has the power to do your marriage a world of good.

Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.

Proverbs 3:27

[Allow me to say that I would certainly never want to add blame to the pain of infidelity.  Infidelity and sexual addictions are complex issues with tangled roots.  If these are issues in your marriage, I encourage seeking professional help.]

I Don’t Want Normal Relationships

October 19, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

There is a striving that so many of us have to be normal, to fit in.  You see this mostly in teenagers, but many of us never grow out of it.  We don’t want anyone to think that we are weird.  We don’t want to stand out and have people judge us.  We want to be thought of as “regular”, and sometimes following God’s plan for our lives or having his standards for dating and marriage are just too weird.  We just want to be normal.

Why-Be-NormalI have had versions of this conversation with one or both of my daughters many times.

“You must/can’t do blah blah blah”

“But Dad everyone/no one  is doing blah blah blah. I’ll be weird. Well, even more weird than everyone already thinks I am.”

This is where a parent is supposed to consult the parenting cliche manual, page 34 and say, “If everyone jumped off a cliff, would you?”  However, I am weird, so I say something completely different.  I ask them if there is someone that you know that you would rather trade with?  Not just on this issue, but in every way.  Is there someone who has a relationship with a boy that you envy? Is there someone’s whose lifestyle that you want?  How is being “normal” working for everyone else?

(Disclaimer, this sentiment is found in the outstanding book Weird by Craig Groeschel.  Most content that I have that is worth anything I borrowed/stole from him or Andy Stanley. Thanks guys!)

I have made the challenge to my daughters that when you find a teenage dating relationship that is better than the one that you have, then I will modify all my weird dating rules.  Until then, enjoy the fact that you have the best relationship of any of your friends.

What do you think? Are normal relationships working?  How would you characterize a typical/normal marriage?  Normal dating relationships? Normal parents?  Unless you live someplace radically different than the rest of us, you will likely acknowledge that normal families and dating relationships are not healthy or enviable.  Divorce rates have never been higher.  More people are rejecting even the thought of marriage.  They look around and see that marriage doesn’t work.  Kids are rejecting their parents and God.  The world is struggling to make relationships work and if we want to “fit in” then we should expect the same struggles.

If we want our relationships to be extraordinary, then we are going to have behave in extraordinary (read: weird) ways.

Date only people who are passionate about pursuing Christ.

Refuse to experiment with sexual intimacy until marriage.

You’ll have a weird dating life, but it will be an extraordinary one.

Choose to forgive your spouse and not keep a list or wrongs.

Serve your spouse unconditionally not based on how they are serving you.

Stop lusting after other people and looking at porn.

Make an unconditional commitment to your spouse and never, ever leave–don’t even talk like you might.

Proactively date your spouse and consistently share your heart.

Stop making jokes at your spouse’s expense.

You’ll have a weird marriage, but it will be an extraordinary one.

Be humble with your kids and apologize when you are at fault.

Be honest with your kids and completely and fully answer all their questions, especially the uncomfortable ones.

Be gracious with your kids AND hold them to high standards rather than just choosing one or the other.

Be patient with them as they are navigating new seasons of life and maturity.

Set boundaries for your kids and consistently enforce them.

You’ll have weird kids, but they will be extraordinary.

It is time for us to stop trying to fit in and be normal.  Everywhere we look, marriages and families are falling apart.  Dating relationships are unhealthy and produce even worse marriages.  Kids are rejecting their parents values and the cycle of struggling families intensifies.  If what you are doing isn’t working, do something different.  Try weird instead of normal.

Talk to someone and get some help.  Sit down with your family and ask them what they wish were different about your family.  Choose God’s plan for marriage, for singleness, for parenting.  God’s plan may, at times, be weird. However, if it is God’s plan, you can know for certain that it is better than whatever idea you have about how to be a husband, wife, friend, etc.  Different is good and God’s weird works!

Embrace Groeschel’s book title, Be Weird: Because Normal Isn’t Working

10 More Steps to Winning at Disney World

October 16, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under General Insanity, Silliness and Rants

I was hanging out with my mom yesterday and we are now 80 days away from our 5th trip to Disney with our kids. (We go about every 3 years which is a great rhythm for us.)  So, she and I spent a lot of time looking over plans for our trip and it’s on my brain, and once a week I like to put something on my blog that I love that is fun and not so serious.  (Sorry, I take that back.  Winning at Disney World is quite serious)  If you missed the first 10, check them out here.  If you are planning a trip you definitely need to read that one first.

My Girls and the First Lady of Disney World

My Girls and the First Lady of Disney World

1) Stay on-site at a Disney Hotel if at all possible. I know that you can save some money staying off-site, but there are other money factors to consider.  You don’t have to pay for parking, and you won’t use any gas.  Their buses take you wherever you need to go.  You also will save a lot of time if you are trying to get there by rope drop (If you don’t know what that means, seriously read the other post).  You can walk out of your room, to the bus stop and the bus takes you close to the entrance.   You bypass paying for parking, and having to take the shuttle or monorail to the front gate.

Also, staying on-site immerses you in the Disney experience, which is part of the fun.  It feels like you are in a completely different world rather than at a tourist attraction in the middle of Orlando.  It enhances the magical experience for the kids (not me, the kids.  I’m a grown man.)

2) Eat at some character meals. A character meal is a meal at a Disney restaurant where some of the Disney characters walk around the restaurant and take pictures with you.  Not only is that just a super-fun concept in and of itself, but it also allows you to get your character pictures and autographs done while you are eating.  For every picture and autograph you get in a restaurant, that is one less line that you have to stand in at a park or one less FastPass+ that you have to get.  Meeting with characters in one of the prime attractions at Disney.  Now we get to walk past people standing in line for that and think about how much we are winning.

Some of our favorites:

Chef Mickey’s–buffet, decent food, Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy and Pluto.  Those are the main characters and they all come to your table while you eat.

Cinderella’s Royal Table–WARNING! Super-expensive.  Good food, you are eating at Cinderella’s castle the icon of the park, it’s Cinderella’s castle! You get to meet multiple princesses.  (A cheaper alternative is Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in Epcot.  Food not as good, different princesses. Cheaper)

Crystal Palace–has the characters from Pooh, buffet, ok food for lunch, we’ve heard great things about the breakfast, will let you know in 90 days.

3) Go when kids are traditionally in school if at all possible. Teachers, don’t rebuke me please, but pull your kids out of school if you can.  Look at your school calendar and see if there are any weeks where your kids are out of school for a few days that are non-traditional times (not Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Spring Break, etc.), pull them out the rest of the week.  You will find that the parks are much less crowded and the prices much lower.  Less people + Less money = More winning.

4) Get good advice about what park to go to on what day. There is a lot of great advice out there.  Touring Plans, EasyWDW, WDWPrepSchool.  They all have crowd calendars and rate which park to go to on each day.  They know the natural patterns and this way you can go to the least crowded park each day of your vacation.  Your lines are much shorter and you are much happier. You need a great coach to win.

5) Wait to book your vacation.  Disney offers discounts for almost every season, unless you are trying to go spring break, Thanksgiving, Christmas–the times where the parks are packed.  If you wait, you can get one of the discounts.  The downside is that you will be late at making dining reservations.  You can book dining reservations 6 months in advance, but you will be booking your trip 90-120 days in advance.  Some premium time slots for best restaurants will be gone, but you will be able to find some good ones still.  It’s a good trade off to save hundreds of dollars.  There’s that less money = winning formula again.

6) Consider the Disney Dining Plan (But only if they are offering it for “free” or discounted. Nothing is free. If they offer it for free, you are paying a little more for your hotel room.)  If you are staying onsite, it is a way to prepay for meals.  This is not always a value.  Here is a website to help you check.  What we have found when we have used it  is that it allows us to eat at nicer restaurants and order more expensive food than we would normally because you are paying for meal credits, regardless of the price of the meal.  It’s a little more complicated than that, but when you check into it there’s a lot of good explanation.  It saves the potential stress of having to say know to your kids (or you) getting a drink or a dessert at every meal to save money, because stuff like that is included.  Again, it’s not always a good financial deal.  Sometimes it would be better to pay out of pocket on-site.  Check the calculator.  It’s also a great way to consume a lot of calories in a week, another winning formula.

7) Amazon is your friend. We are shipping some snacks to the hotel via Amazon.  Unless, you are flying Southwest, you probably have noticed that paying for bags on airlines can add up.  We are using Allegiant and they charge for carry ons.  So, we are figuring out what snacks we want/need and ordering them off Amazon and having them shipped.  We are Prime members so the shipping is free.  Cheap way to get stuff there.  Cheap + more calories = X (solve for X)

8) Consider the pace of your day and your week. If you have read the first post or talked to me about this, you know that we get there early and go fast all morning.  We cover a lot of ground quickly.  However, you have to consider the pace of your day and week.  This will vary a lot depending on who all is in your party.  We will have a 4 year old and a pair of grandparents.  So, we are planning slower days after our busier days and late nights.  We try not to have 2 late nights in a row.  We also plan times, when those who need more rest or need to go slower can break from the pack.  If this sounds like a lot of planning, it is.  Disney World is way too crowded and complicated and overwhelming to just wing it.  Winging it = losing. Obsessively planning = winning.

9) Embrace the Value Hotels. These are the cheapest hotels on-site.  Some people might be put off by the word value and in your mind you get a Motel 6 vibe.  It’s not that.  It’s a nice hotel.  Probably as nice as the offsite hotel you are considering.  The pools are incredible, the amenities are good.  We are there to tour Disney parks not be at a hotel.  What we need at the hotel is a clean bed and clean bathroom.  The value resorts have both. Great way to save hundreds or even thousands of dollars.  We are so exhausted after a full day of winning, it doesn’t matter what the room likes like.  We only see our eyelids.

10) Figure out the technology of MyDisneyExperience and FastPass+ These are tools that Disney offers to help you with your touring and to get you on some rides at the front of the line.  (I may dedicate a whole post to this at some point, but probably after the trip)  It will help you stay out of lines and help tremendously in your planning for meals, characters, wait times, everything.  Don’t let technology intimidate you.  Don’t let that it just seems to be one more thing to complicate the trip hold you back.  Other people will be utilizing this and we just can’t let them win.

There’s a reason why there are countless blogs about how to tour Disney World–to do it well without waiting in a lot of lines is not simple.  You can’t just walk in there.  You can, but you will regret mid-afternoon day 1.  To make it work, will require work.  It’s a trade-off for sure, work hard in planning your trip pays off in a better more relaxing experience on the trip.  Do what we do, we turn the obsessive planning into fun anticipation for a great trip.  We rewatch the video that Disney will send you, we look at the websites, we brainstorm about restaurants.  The trip is much more than the week that we are gone, it is also weeks of excited shared planning and preparation.

Prepare to win. Enjoy the win. Celebrate the win.

When God Closes a Door…

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

There’s a common story that I hear a lot living in Northwest Arkansas.  As many of you probably know, the corporate headquarters for Wal-Mart is here, and that is a huge magnet for businessmen and women from all over the world.  You add a university and a few other corporate headquarters and suddenly this area of the state and country has a lot of different people from a lot of different places.  Contrast that with a lot of other parts of Arkansas where the overwhelming majority of people are from Arkansas.

when god closes a doorSo, the story I hear is from people from different parts of the country who at some point in their lives had to/needed to move to Arkansas for work.  As someone who has lived 38 of his almost 44 years in Arkansas, I love and am proud of our state.  On the other hand, I can see it from their perspective…Arkansas.  Arkansas, where they invented the toothbrush (instead of teethbrush), land of Deliverance, where the family trees are straight lines.  I’ve heard them all.  From these people’s perspectives, these are not jokes but fearful realities.

However, the conclusion of the story is always the same.  “I was so surprised! It’s so nice here! I love it! I’m so glad that God brought me here!”  They describe coming here as either their only option or their least bad option.  They come here and quickly consider it a blessing.

Which leads us to our Christian cliche of the day.  “When God closes a door, he opens a window.”

Allow me to give it a different spin.  “When God closes a door, who knows what’s going on?  Just trust that it was shut for a reason.”

When God closes a door, he may be saying, “Wait right here.  I’ll open it later.”

When God closes a door, he may be saying, “What is wrong with you? Why would you want to go out there?  That’s not good for you!”

When God closes a door, he may be saying, “I know you think you want to go out here but you don’t.  Try this other door, on the other side of the house.  It leads some place different.”

When God closes a door, he may, in fact, open a window, because he wants you to take a different path to get to the place you both want to go.

The only thing that you can know for sure when a door closes, is that the door is closed.  (I know I just blew your mind!)  There are other things that you need to know/remember.  God is a good God that loves you and wants your best.  You can trust God.  He is very much interested in your good (mostly in making you good and seeing you do good things).  God will never deflect you from your best path.  Him deflecting is how you can know something wasn’t your best path.

So, how can you know what God is doing when a door closes?  That’s a great question without an easy answer.  Here’s a few tips.

1) Ask him. Talk to God and learn to listen. He wants to lead you, so let him lead you and believe that he will.

2) Ask a friend or mentor who has been where you are. There are often repeatable patterns that others can see because they have lived it, that you can’t see.  Do not walk through a confusing time alone, when God has placed others in our lives to help us see what sometimes we can’t see.

3) Take a minute. That’s a common expression for us in our house, but maybe not to you.  What it means is slow down and calm down.  Take a minute to make sure that you are not overreacting or allowing disappointment to control you. Let trust and hope fill the spot that anxiety and fear are currently filling.

Put all that together with an attitude of trust and at just the right time, which may seem to you like too late, a different door, or the same door, or a window will open, or you’ll wake up one day and wonder why you ever wanted to make a move in the first place.  God has laid out for you the path of good that he wants you to walk.  Just trust and follow, all the way to Arkansas if need be, or (gasp) Mississippi. (Sorry that’s what we do here.  Pretend that we are better than Mississippi.)

For we are God’s handiwork,created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:10

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