Spiderman’s Words to Wives

October 14, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

I have become convinced of something over the course of our years of counseling couples.  Although most men would never say “words of affirmation” is their love language and may even take offense to the notion of needing words of praise and encouragement, their souls are starved for such words.

spider wife

Usually when I throw out an idea such as this, I encourage ladies to discuss it with the men in their lives—ask them to weigh in.  However, I am encouraging a different approach here.  Asking a man if he needs or wants affirming words from you will be received much like you asking him if he would like for you to have fresh flowers delivered to him at work each week.  Nope, few guys can or will admit to needing something as un-masculine as verbal affirmation.  Don’t ask him.  Just start saying what he needs to hear.  You, more than anyone else in his life, have the power to offer your man something he is desperate for.

With great power comes great responsibility. –Spider Man

Your man is desperate to hear you say the words he longs to believe about himself.  But the same reason he can’t admit that he needs it is the reason he is longing for it.  Verbal affirmation is often not on the list of things parents feel boys need in their formative years:

  • learn to bait a hook
  • learn to tie a tie,
  • learn the value of hard work
  • · hear Mom or Dad say, “You are a great young man.”

Consequently, your man probably came into your relationship with his encouragement tank near “E.”  Even if he had parental love and support, he likely didn’t hear the words he needed to hear enough.  And if he had a hard relationship with either of his parents or an abusive or neglectful childhood, then there is a hole in his tank that may need to be mended in order to ever allow his gauge to leave “E.”

Your encouragement, your words of affirmation, mean verbally communicating to him:

I believe in you.  I think you are a great man.  I love watching you be a great dad. I am so proud to be with you.

Perhaps you are thinking, “I can’t say those things out loud.  He knows I feel all of that.  If I said that stuff, it would make him uncomfortable.”  You may have to get over feelings of awkwardness in order to actually verbalize such sentiments, and he may even seem uncomfortable the first time you say something along these lines, but push through all of the awkwardness and speak the words he needs to hear.  Need a running start?  Write him a love note and put those words on paper.

Because he is so starved for words such as these, they hold great power to affect him.  He needs them so desperately that his ears are perked, and he is ready to receive them wherever he can get them.  Let the most affirming words he hears all day come not from his boss or a coworker but from the lips of the one he loves most.

When we are counseling a couple, I will frequently suggest to the wife that she verbally affirm her husband.  Ladies, I kid you not…when I begin speaking examples (such as those listed above) of verbal affirmations, the husband in the room inevitably responds like a dog to the smell of bacon!  I am not his wife.  I am not even saying things that are true about him.  I am giving examples of the types of things she should try saying–yet his ears perk up and his tail begins to wag!  Whether he can admit it or feels like he can even respond well when you offer it, your man is hungry for you to tell him you think he’s awesome!

The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.

Proverbs 18:21

I will take it a step further and say that your words have the power to affect who your man becomes.  Speak words of life and tell him what you think is awesome about him, and he will aspire to live up to your view of him.  Likewise, offer words of death and destruction and he will believe he is as worthless as you say he is.  Of course there are many factors in play in a man’s life, but to large degree:

He will become what you say he is.

If that feels heavy…you are hearing me.  Your words have power, ladies.  Choose them wisely.  Offer words of life and encouragement freely and frequently and watch your words begin to unlock the greatness within your man.

Most Often Abused Bible Verses #1

October 13, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Bible, Church and Leadership

Starting a new series here.  Don’t let the number one confuse you.  I’m not saying that this is the most misused, just the first in the series.  For a similar series, check out Stuff Christians Need to Stop Saying from 5 years ago.

more-than-handle-1It seems far too often that the more often we quote a Bible verse and the more often it shows up on inspirational posters, the more likely that verse is being abused in some way.  Sometimes we misquote it.  Sometimes we take it out of context.  Sometimes we just misunderstand what it is saying.  Sometimes we abuse a verse to say something that is true, and other times to we make the Bible say something we want to be true but isn’t.  I encourage you to follow along with this series over the next few weeks.  This will help our theology and our Bible study skills.

The Verse:

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful;he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. I Corinthians 10:13

What we think that it means:

“God will never give me more than I can handle.” The circumstances of my life will never get so overwhelming that I won’t be able to handle it.  In fact, when my circumstances feel overwhelming, I can take some pride in that because it shows that “God thinks a lot of me and what I am able to handle.”

Why that is a bad interpretation:

This verse is not talking about the circumstances of your life.   Paul is talking about the temptation to sin.  The temptations that you experience are common to everyone and will not be more than you can bear.  He is talking about temptation not the trials and challenges of life. The challenges of life can be sources of temptation but Paul is not speaking to simply the times when life is overwhelming

Even if we get that right, Paul is also not talking about your ability to bear those temptations.  He does say that God won’t give you more temptation than you can bear, and if the verse ended there perhaps we could take some pride in our ability.  However, the verse doesn’t end there.  Paul says that God is the one that delivers us.

Furthermore, if this verse is talking about temptation and my ability to bear it, then it is verifiably false.  I am tempted beyond what I can bear all the time, because I choose the temptation.  I fail to take the way out that God is offering.  Instead, I choose sin.  It is dangerous to believe that this passage speaks highly of our abilities to withstand temptation because it puts the emphasis on the wrong person. I begin to look to myself as the source of my freedom from temptation.

What this verse means:

The temptation to sin is significant, but whatever temptation that you are facing is not uncommon.  In fact, the temptation, no matter how severe, will not be more than you can bear.  You will never be put into a situation where your only choice is sin.  Because no matter how severe the temptation to sin is, no matter how much the sin seems inevitable, God will provide a way out.  Again, God will provide the way out.  We experience the power of this verse, not when we take pride in God’s view of us in believing we can handle adversity, but when we are in the middle of great temptation and we choose God and his way out.

Sin is never inevitable.  Way too many of us become completely overwhelmed.  Even now, many of us feel like there is a recurring sin in our lives that we will never defeat.  We have resigned ourselves to continual defeat.  However, Paul has made it clear here that is not the case.  God has provided a way out for you.  When we choose to rely on our own strength to fight temptation, when we falsely believe that we can bear it, we end up deeper and deeper in trouble.  So when the potentially overwhelming temptation comes, do not look to your strength to bear, humbly look to God and ask for him to give you the way out.

So, by all means, make an inspirational poster of this verse.  Use this verse to inspire you when you are hopeless and sin seems to be getting the best of you.  However, when you look at the poster, your next look needs to be to God.  With that look, you will see the way out.

Stop Using Sex as a Weapon

October 12, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

We are now one day post-sermon about sex.  It was a sermon that I have wanted to give for a long time.  You can watch/listen to that here.  I wanted to talk about this for a lot of reasons.  One is that I am very passionate about the fact that it has seemed historically that all the church has had to say on the topic is to discuss when you should not be having sex.  This leads to a culture that is embarrassed and ashamed of sex, which leads to not talking about sex which leads to all sorts of problems. (You could read my thoughts on that here.)

couple isolatedOne of the ways that sex becomes a problem in marriages is when we use sex as a weapon.  God created sex as an incredible pleasurable act of unity for a marriage, and far too often in marriage it becomes a divisive tool in the hand of one or both spouses. Sex becomes a wedge between a husband and wife not an act of unity.

That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame. Genesis 2:24-25

“One flesh” is a concept that we talk about in marriage and we use it almost exclusively in spiritual and metaphorical terms.  While those usages are true, there should be no doubt that the original usage is primarily sexual (see word: naked).  Becoming “one flesh” is exactly what happens physically during sex and is the primary expression of oneness in marriage.  It then says that they were both naked and felt no shame about it.

That is a far cry from how so many of us feel.  We often bring shame and fear into our sexual relationship, in part because of how we use sex as a weapon against our spouse.  How do we do this?  Here are a few examples:

1) We use sex as a reward or lack of sex as a punishment for our spouse’s behavior. We use sex to try and manipulate our spouse’s behavior.  If they are good, we reward; if bad, then punish.  We somehow tell ourselves that this is helping our spouse become better. We are fixing a problem.  You may perhaps be temporarily modifying behavior but you are not fixing anything.  What changes you may see are at the expense of bitterness and staining the act that is meant to bring intimacy.

2) We use guilt and pressure to force our spouse into having sex with us. Sex requires someone to take initiative.  What you say or communicate may be different, but it needs to have this feel: Would you like to connect with me in this awesome, physical, spiritual, emotional way? I think it would be great!  Pressure and manipulation bring shame and guilt where there should only be celebration.

3) We shame our spouse for wanting sex too often. The fact that your spouse has a sex drive greater than yours does not make them a pervert or overbearing or aggressive or any of those things.  They are simply wired differently than you.  As we are connecting with each other, each spouse has to make an adjustment to understand the other.  One’s drive is not right and the other wrong.  Different is what brought you together and is part of what you are celebrating in sex.

4) We shame our spouse for not wanting sex often enough. Similarly the fact that your spouse has a sex drive lesser than your yours does not make them a prude or scared of sex.  Different is not bad.  Different is different.

(Disclaimer: it is possible that you or your spouse has an unhealthy sex drive in either direction.  Just being different doesn’t tell us that.  If you think you or your spouse is out of balance, you should talk to other couples that you respect and ask them what their respective drives are like.  You and your spouse are likely normal and just don’t believe it.  However, it’s better to know by asking than wonder in isolation and silence.)

We need to stop using God’s greatest gift to marriage to hurt and wound our spouse.  We must allow sex to be the incredible celebration of love and unity that God made it to be.  As with all issues that we have with sex in our marriages, healing begins with an open, honest conversation with our spouse–a lights on, clothes on, middle of the day, believe the best in each other, unity bringing conversation.  Joy, health, unity, pleasure and more are just on the other side of conversations like that.

24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is unitedAQ)” data-cr=”#cen-NIV-55AQ” style=”box-sizing: border-box; font-size: 0.625em; line-height: 22px; position: relative; vertical-align: top; top: 0px;”> to his wife, and they become one flesh.AR)” data-cr=”#cen-NIV-55AR” style=”box-sizing: border-box; font-size: 0.625em; line-height: 22px; position: relative; vertical-align: top; top: 0px;”>

25 Adam and his wife were both naked,AS)” data-cr=”#cen-NIV-56AS” style=”box-sizing: border-box; font-size: 0.625em; line-height: 22px; position: relative; vertical-align: top; top: 0px;”> and they felt no shame.

If He Cried, You’d Understand

October 9, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

Ladies, lean in here.  I am about to share with you an insight into the male psyche that could possibly revolutionize your relationships with Y chromosome carriers.

Men often respond to hurt with anger.

05-cryingman-290212-deIf you were in a discussion with your friend/sister/mom and she began to cry, you would probably rightly conclude that she was upset.  You may have to ask “what’s wrong?” to get to the root of what had upset her, but you would have a category for her emotion.  You would know to move towards her with compassion.  Her tears would likely disarm any hostility you were feeling towards her as empathy kicked in.

However, if you were in a similar discussion with your boyfriend/husband/son and he began to raise his voice and that vein in his forehead began to throb, your response would likely be very different from the compassion and empathy that you feel for a crying girlfriend.  Rather than diffusing hostility, as tears might do, his anger probably fuels your fire.  If he is getting angry, you likely feel that you can or even should take it up a notch yourself.  “If he’s gonna yell, then I’m gonna yell too!”

Cue insight into male psyche slide here:

Men often respond to hurt with anger.

The angry male in the scenario is feeling the same emotion as the crying female—hurt.  However, because we receive his anger as aggression towards us, rather than responding with compassion to his hurt, we become aggressive ourselves, causing more hurt.

This common misunderstanding is made worse by the fact that most guys, even if you asked them “what’s wrong?” would have a difficult time identifying, much less verbalizing, why they were hurt.  Now rather than understanding his anger as hurt and trying to figure out what has caused the hurt, we are wrongly assuming he “got all mad for no reason.”

So, ladies, allow me to try to fill in some of the gaps between what we are thinking they are thinking and what they are feeling but not communicating.  And gentlemen, if any of this rightly expresses what you wish you could communicate to the women in your life, you can now just point at it and say in your best caveman voice, “This. Yes.”

  • His hurt is probably rooted in feeling disrespected.

What does that even mean?  Good question.  All people have a desire to be respected (have their rights and needs matter), but for men the issue of respect goes much deeper.  God has wired men to shoulder the responsibility for providing and protecting.  We can strengthen their sense that they are man enough to rise to great responsibility through our respect.  Likewise, when they feel at all that we don’t trust them with those great responsibilities, it often echoes the ugly voices of insecurity in their heads:  “You can’t do anything right.”  “You are not man enough.”  Even if our intention is not to “disrespect,” that is what they feel when our words seem to agree with their greatest insecurities.

  • To respect a man you must trust him and believe in him.

Particularly in a marriage relationship, it is as important to a man that his wife respect him as it is that she love him.  Any inkling that you do not trust him or believe in him can make him feel disrespected and hurt.  You may think that you are just reminding him of something he should be doing, pointing out a better way to tackle an issue, or pointing out a character flaw he really should address.  However, when heard through a man’s ears, words you may have meant to be helpful may feel very hurtful.

  • I cannot overemphasize, ladies, how much more sensitive he is to this than you realize!

Open your eyes and ears to the men in your life and their need for respect.  Begin to notice when they get angry.  Take that as an opportunity to replay the conversation or events up to that point and see if you can find the disrespect trigger.  As you are learning to recognize disrespect triggers in the men in your life, help them learn to talk about them.  When the anger response comes, resist the instinct to respond in anger.  Instead try, “I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean any disrespect.  Can you tell me what I said that made you feel that way?”  Even if you did not mean disrespect, if that is what he feels, compassion is in order.

Beginning to grasp how greatly the men in your life need your respect may feel a bit like learning a foreign language at first.  But I encourage you to tune your ears to this new language and you will begin to hear it all around you.  Your efforts to understand your men will lead to better communication, less anger and fewer tears.

Let’s Talk About Sex

October 8, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

We got the word out last Sunday that we will talk about sex at The Grove Church this Sunday.  It is not unheard of for a church to talk about sex on a Sunday morning, but it is still unnecessarily rare.  We are not talking about it to simply be provocative and potentially have a high (or low) attendance Sunday.  We are talking about sex because it’s important and we need God’s voice on this topic to be as loud as all the other voices.

Birds-and-the-beesI grew up in a church that talked about sex, at least in our youth group, but really we only had one thing to say about sex.  SEX IS BAD! DON’T DO IT!  You just keep saying that over and over again until it takes root in their hearts.  If it doesn’t seem to be working, then say it louder or with more guilt and anger.  Perhaps you should even consider using awkward illustrations, the more props the better.  Maybe you should even consider using an outdated video.

Before you think I am something that I am not, I firmly believe that God’s design for sex is only for a married man and woman.  I am 100% for abstinence.  I’m the guy who has crazy restrictions on his daughters for dating.  (Read here.) I’m certainly not encouraging anyone who is not married to have sex.

However, can we agree on a couple of things?  Sex is not bad.  Sex is not a necessary evil.  Sex is amazing and an incredible gift from God.  Also, God has much more to say about our sex lives than a list of people who shouldn’t be having it.  When we act like all that God has to say about sex is that some people shouldn’t have it, we do damage.  We also make the only voices informing us about sex to be voices that are pointing people away from God’s design. So, we at The Grove Church and your lovable curmudgeon Cloften will be talking about more than just when not to have sex.  Because when we fail to do that we make the following mistakes:

1) We confuse our kids.  Your kids don’t have to be geniuses to figure out that sex is not bad.  They don’t even have to experience it to know that.  Too many people seem to be enjoying it.  Pursuing sex also seems to be very natural.  For heavens sake, they know that you have done it…at least that one time.  Please, please, please do not be one of those parents that is ashamed of your physical attraction to your spouse or make it seem awkward or dirty.  It would be better to make your kids uncomfortable and show your kids that you have a healthy love and attraction for each other rather than reinforce that sex is dirty or something to be embarrassed by.

So if you are only telling them that sex is bad and they intuitively know that is false, then you become an unreliable source.  Everything you say about love, sex and dating is false, because this one thing that you say is definitely false.  If this post gets some traction, I’ll will post later about talking to your kids about sex.  I’ll give you 23 words on it here.  Try this: Sex is awesome when done in the right context–marriage.  When you do it any other time, it causes more damage than joy.   Ok, a few more words–do not every make your kid feel embarrassed for asking a question about sex.  Affirm their question and answer fully.

2) Our marriages suffer. If we are not talking about sex openly and honestly, then our marriages will face serious consequences.  Without open, real conversations about sex, we are left with two conflicting ideas.  One is that sex is dirty and I should be embarrassed. (There is no switch that you can flip that goes from “Sex is bad. Sex is bad. Sex is bad.” *Wedding Ceremony* “Sex is great.”)  The second is sex is supposed to be like it is on TV or movies, or worse, porn.  Hey guess what? It’s not.  However, it is an awesome time of emotional connection and physical intimacy which married couple should do, a lot.

Have you had a conversation with your spouse about it? Are you satisfied with your relationship? Does your spouse know? Is there something that if your spouse started doing or stopped doing during sex that would make it better? Do they know?  Talk about it!

3) We miss out on God’s awesome gift. Seriously, you know this, I think.  Sex is great.  It is a designed gift from God given to us.  If he wanted it to just be about making babies, it wouldn’t also feel so great.  It wouldn’t also be a time of such emotional connection.  Too many of us are settling from something significantly less than an ideal sex life. We don’t have this great emotional, spiritual connection with our spouse, because we don’t talk.  We are having sex too infrequently.  We are not meeting each other’s needs.  It’s just not as fun as it could be.  The simple reason is because we won’t ever have a clothes on, lights on, calm conversation about how we are doing in this area. The only time we talk, somebody is mad because someone just got rejected or feels put upon.

What if? What if we had healthy conversations with our kids and they grew up without the awkward discomfort that some of us grew up with?

What if? What if we knew how we could serve our spouse better by just asking?

What if? What if there is something way better than what we are experiencing out there?

What if you made a decision to actually talk about sex?

The Martian Movie Review

October 7, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under General Insanity, Silliness and Rants

For the 12 or so of you who remember the blog from my previous go around, you had to know that this was coming.  In fact, one person has been on me for a month asking me, “When do we get the movie reviews?”  Well the problem was, September is a terrible time for movies, but that’s when I started back up writing.  I assured him that soon enough, good movies (and by good movies, I mean movies that I would want to see.  I don’t mean poignant artsy movies.) would be coming out and the movie reviews would be back.  Here we are.

See. It's not a spoiler to say he gets stranded.

See. It's not a spoiler to say he gets stranded.

The Martian AKA, Gravity 2: Martian Boogaloo.  stars Jason Bourne in the lead role. I will answer my wife’s question here.  “So, he’s a martian?”  (My wife hates alien movies.)  No, he is not a martian, but an astronaut stranded on Mars.  (My reviews are spoiler free, but what I mean by that is I won’t say more about the plot than what is obvious in the trailer.  If him being stranded on Mars is a spoiler for you, I encourage you to read the text on the poster.)  We also have two sets of ensemble cast members.  His space crew that includes Ant-Man’s funny friend, that girl from the 1st season of House of Cards (who is in like everything now, including the ill-advised reboot of Fantastic 4), Bucky from Captain America,  and the red-head from The Help, no the other one, no the other one, the one who caught Bin Laden in Zero Dark Thirty.  The ground crew at mission control includes Harry from Dumb and Dumber, Troy from Community, the Target Lady (???), the guy from 12 Years a Slave and Boromir/Ned Stark.  This is quite a good ensemble cast.

Expectations: Moderate.  I didn’t know if it was going to be an exciting action movie, a slow descent into madness or what.  I was afraid that it was going to be too poignant, but at the same time, there were great people in the movie and I figured it would a good kind of intense.

Reality: Better than I thought it was going to be.  It was an appropriate amount of poignant.  I never felt it was preaching at me (That’s my job, not a movie’s job).  It was an interesting look into an individual’s will to survive, the politics of decision-making and being a part of a team.  In addition there were just some cool parts.  Good mix of regular person good movie and fancy person good movie.  A bit long at 2 hours and 20 minutes.  The elimination of one “OH NO!” scene would have made it just about right.

Appropriateness: A few F-Bombs (some said and some written and more implied) and some other scattered language. You also get to see the backside of Matt Damon’s body double.  There’s a scene on par with Tom Hanks knocking out his own tooth in Castaway and that’s a little bloody.

Rating System (Revised for 2015):

See it in the theater and will definitely own

See it in the theater and might own

See it in the theater and will likely Redbox it again

See it in the theater and be done

See it at the dollar theater


Bored in 2 years and  watch it on Netflix

Avoid it.

I rate it a see it in the theater and Redbox. Heidi needs to see it.  So we will Redbox it at some point.  You should go see it.  It’s visually captivating and a great story with great acting.  There’s action, drama, humor, a little bit of everything.  It’s the kind of movie, and this is rare, that you could recommend to a lot of different people.  It’s not a date movie per se, but it would work well for a date, in that everyone will enjoy it for different reasons.

The Ridiculous Reason Why Churches Fight with Each Other

October 6, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Bible, Church and Leadership

From what I read it would seem that there is an important part of my job that I’m not doing.  I’m supposed to look at other churches and criticize them for all the ways that they are different from the church that I lead.  If it gets serious enough, I should get angry.  I am right in every conceivable way, and it is important for me, them and everybody that I declare to all the people and the pastors and the churches that I am the most right of all.

Taking a stand for what matters!

Taking a stand for what matters!

Confession time, there was a time in my life when I did consider this part of my job/life.  I was ready to fight with everyone about any issue where you disagreed with what I believed the Bible taught. There were no issues that were too insignificant. “But the Bible says,” was my launching pad for a number of angry disagreements about a wide array of issues.

However, the older that I get the less I want to fight and the fewer and fewer things that I want to fight about.  God’s call on our lives to reach the world and tell them about the love of God through Jesus is too serious and big for me to spend my time angrily critiquing the way that fellow pastors and believers are trying to accomplish this Great Commission that God has given us.

However, there are still plenty of places where it is considered a noble duty to angrily critique churches that “do it the wrong way” or “don’t believe the right things.”  It seems a good way to get a book published and to become popular as well.  Just say something hostile about another church or pastor or movement and boom you are in the limelight.  In the meantime, the world continues to see God’s people unable to get along with civility much less demonstrate genuine love for each other.  This is incredibly serious, because the way that we treat and talk about each other is what Jesus said would be one of the defining characteristics of how people would know that we follow him.

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. John 13:35

This is how people will know.  If they are paying attention, then they likely don’t know.  Many of us believe that we are doing well if we can simply get along well with the people that worship in the same building as us, which is quite a challenge sometimes.  However, this principle is not limited to just your local church, although a great place to start.  We all need to love each other and stop fighting regardless of where we worship on Sunday or (gasp) Saturday.

Why do we fight? I believe that we fight because we do not know the difference between a major theological difference and a minor theological difference.  We also then can’t tell the difference between a minor theological difference and a tactical difference.

Major theological differences are those that if you do not believe them, then you just aren’t a Christian.  Muslims do not believe that Jesus is the Son of God. That is a major difference and is part of what makes them not Christians.  When and how you baptize people is a minor theological difference.  It doesn’t determine whether or not you are a Christian.  It doesn’t mean that it’s not important.  It’s not essential and we shouldn’t act like it is.  Whether or not you play drums during your worship is just tactics.  It’s how you do church, but isn’t theological at all.


(sigh) I received an email like this once.  We were wanting to replace uncomfortable plastic folding chairs with cushioned chairs.  Apparently I used the phrase “comfortable chairs” or “cushy chairs” too much, which apparently was a quote from a book that was popular at the time and I was in trouble.  The logic of the email was as follows.

You want different chairs

You want them to be comfortable

God doesn’t care about comfort

You don’t care what God says

You don’t listen to God

You should read the Bible and pray

It was a strange email.  The application point for me in the email was that I should start reading the Bible and praying.  I took that, ever so slightly, as insulting.  But this is how we think.  My opinions about how to do church come directly from God.  If you disagree with me, you disagree with God, and therefore…(insert sanctimonious insult here).

However, what if we reserved that kind of frustration for people who claim to be followers of Christ but don’t understand who Jesus is and the purpose and nature of his death on the cross?  Then we simply have spirited but respectful conversations with people who baptize differently, or do or don’t ordain women or believe that the Holy Spirit works in a different way.  Then we can also just enjoy the diversity of styles or worship and teaching that are out there and view ourselves as all being on the same team trying to accomplish the same goals in different ways.

The line itself may be blurry, but that does not mean that there are not issues that clearly are on one side of the line.  Can we all agree that what you believe about the end times is a minor theological point? Can we all agree that what instruments your worship team plays is simply a tactic?  Sadly, the answer to this seemingly rhetorical question is no.  We can’t all agree.  However, let’s start by everyone who is reading this agrees.

Some of the best pastor friends that I have ever had believe radically different things about the Holy Spirit than I do.  We let one of these pastors use our building for worship, for free.  I even coached basketball with one of the pastors who was Pentecostal.  He is a great friend and our daughters were friends.  The issues we disagreed about never came up.  I repeat, NEVER CAME UP.  We were too busy encouraging each other and praying for our city and figuring out ways to partner together and make a difference in our city.

Now one of my great pastor friends is someone who baptizes babies (gasp).  I’ve known him for a couple of years now and guess what? Hasn’t come up.  Why? Same reason.  Too busy encouraging each other and praying for our city.  If there came a point where the city no longer needed prayer and neither of us needed encouragement, we might have some time to debate theology.  I don’t have it penciled in though.

My sincere prayer is that this will continue to catch on, that the movement for churches and pastors to love each other and partner together will sweep the world.  We can put aside small differences with each other in order to make a much bigger difference in the world that desperately needs God.

The way I figure it, we will have billions of years in heaven for me to tell all these guys how right I was.

Parenting a Velociraptor

October 5, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

Parenting is hard.  If you are a parent, you already know that.  If you are not a parent, but you pay attention, you know that.  Parenting is relentless and exhausting.  How much so?  So much, that one of my best metaphors is that it is like raising a velociraptor from Jurassic Park.

velociraptor(Side note: I have blogged about this before.  You can read that here.  I hesitated to do it again, except that if Hollywood can keep making sequels, I can too.)

So how are kids like velociraptors? Will they calm down if Chris Pratt clicks at them? Probably but that’s not what I mean. Will they obey you unless they meet a bigger dinosaur, but in the end their loyalty is with you?  Umm, rarely, but again that’s not what I mean. (Velociraptor parenting updated for the new movie!!!)

How kids are like velociraptors comes from the original movie from 1993.  In the beginning of the movie we are introduced to raptors.  Dr. Grant describes them as dangerous hunters.  Then later when he visits Jurassic Park he is horrified that they would breed raptors.  Then in what is one of my favorite scenes, Muldoon, the Crocodile Dundee-ish (Boom! Even more dated reference than the original Jurassic Park movie!), game warden describes to the scientists his encounters with the raptors.

The raptors are systematically going around the electric fence and charging it.  When asked why, Muldoon says that they are testing the fence for weaknesses.  They were relentlessly slamming up against an electric fence looking for weaknesses.  They did not care that they were getting electrocuted, they were testing the fence and looking to get out.

(In the 4 years since I first wrote about this, someone finally put the scene on YouTube.)

If you do not see the parallels to parenting, then you haven’t been parenting very long or you haven’t been paying very close attention.  Kids are relentless like raptors.  You put up a fence (a rule or boundary) and they spend their entire day/week/month/year/life testing that boundary for weaknesses.  You say to your toddler to not touch the stove/TV/fireplace.  They walk over to it slowly, right to the object (metaphorical electric fence) and reach their little hand out.  Why? To see if you mean it.  To test the fence for weaknesses.

Don’t say that word! (Rams the fence)

Don’t go in there! (Rams the fence)

Go to bed! (Rams the fence)

Eat your food! (Rams the fence)

Over and over and over again.  They are constantly ramming the fence.  Some seasons are worse than others.  We call these stages Velociraptor Mode.  They just are relentlessly testing everything that you say, every rule, boundary, everything.  All The Time!

You are tempted in these moments to give up.  Maybe you start to doubt yourself as a parent.  Maybe you begin to tell yourself that you are just too strict.  Maybe it would just be easier if you relented and got rid of the fence.  I know that it might seem that way but it is very important that you understand this.  There is a key difference between your kid and a velociraptor.  Your kid, deep down, needs and wants the fence to hold.  They need security and consistency.  They need to know that you are in charge and you have things under control.

Even though everything about the way that they are acting says the opposite, know that they do not want to be in control.  They do want the security that you provide for them.  I know this to be true, because the most stressed out kids I know are the ones who don’t know where the fence is.  It’s not that they have no boundaries (although those kids are pretty stressed out as well), it’s that they don’t know where the fence is or it is constantly moving.

Your little raptors need that fence.  They need to know that they are safe.  This goes for kids in their terrible twos to kids in their sassy seventeens.  Do not let the exhaustion of the constant testing and charging discourage you from being a great parent.  I understand that this is relentless, often thankless job.  But if we don’t lose heart, and let the fence hold, you will discover over time that you have a great kid who respects authority and is growing into an awesome young man or woman.

Again, I know that it’s a thankless job, so allow me to say “Thank you! Thank you for doing the most important job that God has given any of us–to love, disciple and raise the precious little ones that God has given us.”

In the mean time, where can we all get some of these?

raptor cage

When One of Your Worst Stories is Also One of Your Best (Parenting Post)

October 2, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

My wife and I were sitting downstairs in our house in St. Louis.  Our two daughters were (theoretically) asleep upstairs.  We had the TV on and were winding down from another day.  We were getting ready to move to Cabot and it had definitely been an exhausting few months.

Then suddenly, we hear a blood-curdling scream from upstairs.  It was Lauren.  As fast as we could, we both ran upstairs to Lauren’s room.  We dart into her room and our five year old is sitting on the floor in the middle of the room screaming her head off.  It did not take much investigation to find out what had happened.  There on the floor next to her were a pair of charred cuticle scissors and on the wall was a charred electrical outlet.

Needless to say, everyone in the house is freaking out.  Mama is holding Lauren trying to calm her down.  They are both crying…a lot.  Maylee, who is 8, has wandered across the hall also wondering what has happened.  She is now crying, not because she knows what happened but because her mom and sister are crying.  (This is what we do by the way. Dad of daughters!)  I take Maylee back across the hallway and back to her bed.  I sit with her for a little while and help calm her down.  When it is apparent that she will fall asleep post-chaos, I head back downstairs.

Mom has Lauren and I wanted to keep the chaos level down.  Mom and Lauren are laying in bed and eventually stop crying.  After probably 20-30 minutes, Heidi finally leaves Lauren’s room and slowly comes downstairs.  She sits next to me and we sit in a silence for a while.  We are still both breathing heavily and quite overwhelmed.

Heidi breaks the silence.  “You know what your daughter said to me right before I left?” (It’s never good when your spouse refers to one of your kids as your kid.)


He narrowly avoided litigation

He narrowly avoided litigation

“She said, ‘When I put those scissors in the outlet and the electricity went through my body, do you think my bones glowed like Jimmy Neutron’s?’”


(Both erupt into laughter)

That is how the one of scariest moments in our life became one of the funniest.  10 years later and we still laugh about it.  10 years later and my heart still races a little about what could have happened.

Mostly I just wanted to share that story because it’s a great story, but let’s try to turn it into something of value.

Random Parenting Advice

1) Your kids are affected by what they see on TV.  No, we didn’t try and sue Nickelodeon.  No, we didn’t ban TV for a year or anything like that.  However, don’t go to the other extreme and think that what they are watching doesn’t affect them.  We have temporarily banned a handful of shows over the years.  We noticed them talking to us or each other differently.  Then we notice, hmm, that’s how they talk to each other on that Disney Channel show.  Then, ban.

2) Your kid that is like you will repeat your mistakes.  Yes, I stuck something in an outlet once.  Yes, it was because I wanted to know what it was like.  Yes, I feel guilty about passing on my genetic traits.  If you know what your kid is thinking, use it to your advantage and help them process things the way that you wish that someone would have helped you.

3) Take great love and care with any kids that you have that you would describe as curious, scientific, and/or reckless.  Don’t think, they will never _________ because they can and will.  We had and have continued to have many conversations with her about the ideas that she is currently having.  One slipped through the cracks.  It happens.  While we are at it, pray a lot for your “Lauren.”  We plan on holding a party for her guardian angel when we get to meet her.

4) Don’t be afraid to laugh at stories like this.  Sure it was scary but it was also funny.  Sure it’s embarrassing and could have been a tragic story, but it wasn’t.  Thank God (literally) and laugh.  Don’t beat yourself up. Learn, laugh, move on.

Parenting is a brutal, crazy adventure and it is relentless and draining.  Hang in there. Trust God. Enjoy the ride.

What Motivates Me to Keep Going

October 1, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Bible, Church and Leadership

I remember the first time that we left our two older kids home alone together.  This is in the pre-Laylah (our 3 year old) days.  Maylee was in middle school and Lauren was in elementary school. We were a little nervous about doing it because the girls weren’t getting along too great at the time.  Our fear was that without parents to mediate,  it could get ugly.

dont_quit1Then Dad had a great idea.  I sat down with both of them and asked if they thought it was cool being left home alone.  They both assured me that they did.  It made them feel grown up and not like kids.  I then asked them if they would want us to start doing that a lot.  They were most definitely in for that.  I’m sure that thoughts of unrestricted access to both television and snacks were weighing heavily on their minds.  We left that night with a little bit more confidence.

Would you like to guess what happened? They were good.  That is a huge understatement.  They were amazing.  The house was cleaner than it was when we left.  There were no dishes out, no mess anywhere.  They had even put themselves to bed.  Honestly, it went better than typical nights would go when my wife and I were both there.

Why? Because they wanted it to happen again, because they wanted to do well so that they would be rewarded with more freedoms.  They wanted blessing and privilege and reward.

Jesus told a better parable when describing what it is like to live here while waiting to see God face to face either when we go to him or when Jesus comes back here.  It is commonly referred to as the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25.

14 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag,[a] each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’

21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

22 “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’

23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

24 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

28 “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags.29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Jesus has gone a journey, so to speak. He said he would always be with us spiritually and he has left the Holy Spirit but he is no longer physically present.  He has left us here with a job to do.  He has given us talents. (In Sunday School as a kid, the two meanings of the word talent always threw  me off.  In the context of the story it is an amount of money)  He has given us life and literal talents and resources and time and, and, and.

We will see him. There will come a time where we will meet him face to face when the journey is over, and apparently he is going to have some questions for us.  He is going to want to know what we did with what he gave us.  What will he say after we give our answer?

I desperately want him to say, “Well done! Come enter into my happiness!”  I want him to proud and pleased.  I also want reward.  Some people believe these are unhealthy motivations.  Obedience should be enough.  It’s selfish and prideful to want rewards and recognition.  If that’s true, then Jesus sure did make a big mistake in including this parable.

It is not bad to want to please God. It’s not selfish to want him to give to you what he said he would give if you’re  faithful to use what he has given you wisely.  This is what I want and what I am striving for.

Sure, I have not and will not do this perfectly.  Sure I may have caught a bag of marshmallows on fire in the microwave once when I was alone. (I speak metaphorically for me.  Literally for our girls when they were alone once. Another story for another day.) However, I think about this passage a lot and how awesome it will feel to finally see face to face the one that I have given my life to and to hear his voice say to me, “Well done!”

What about you?  What keeps you going?

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