When Life Makes You Scared

November 2, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Bible, Church and Leadership

Confession time: Fear often gets the best of me.  I project often as a confident, self-assured leader.  There are times that is exactly what I am.  However, sometimes I’m afraid.  I’m scared that I am not the husband that I’m supposed to be, or father, or pastor, or leader.  Sometimes, I hear from God what the next step is that God wants me to take in my life and it scares me.  I feel inadequate.

man afraidI remember my very first day as a pastor.  I was going to work part-time as a small groups pastor at my church in Conway.  I had lobbied hard to get this job and I believed that I could do the job well.  I believed that it could be a great step for me out of college ministry and into being a pastor. I believed that I would do this well and then they would offer me job full-time and my career would take off.  So, on the first day of work, I went to the church office and sat behind my desk.  My first official act as pastor was…panic.  I had no idea what to do first or next.  I sat there frozen.  I would love to tell you that this lasted for a couple of minutes.  Insert the word hours for minutes.  I was earning my paycheck that day for sure! I did the only thing I knew to do which was call my wife, Heidi.

She did a great job of calming me down and telling me that I would do great.  She told me to make a list of everything that needed to get done and then slowly do them one at a time.  She told me to pray and she prayed with me.  The anxiety began to pass.

Most of us have been there or may be there right now.  You know what you are supposed to do, but fear is winning.  God wants you to restore a relationship.  He wants you to reach out to someone who is hurting or far from God.  He wants you to take a risk with your career.  The biggest one that many of us face is that he is calling you to stop that destructive sin that is ruining your life.  When it is obvious that God is wanting us to stop doing something we shouldn’t be or start doing something that we need to be doing, we can get scared, overwhelmed and desperate.

The people of Jericho found themselves in such a desperate situation in Joshua 2.  The Israelites are, for the second time, on the edge of the land that God had promised them.   Joshua sends out 2 spies to check out the city of Jericho that God has promised to them.  The king of Jericho hears that the spies are in the land and perhaps have taken shelter at the home of Rahab the prostitute.  (The fact that she is a prostitute is superfluous to the story, except as a stark contrast of a stereotype.  You would expect a prostitute to be the least sensitive toward the leading of God, but the opposite is true.  Also, how did the spies end up at a prostitute’s house?  Another post for another day.)  The king, in what you think is an act of confident counter-attack, sends his soldiers to find and capture/kill the spies.

However, we find out that it was not an act of courage but of desperation.  Rahab explains that the whole city is terrified of Israel.  They have heard the stories about how powerful the God of the Jews is and they are scared that they are next to be judged by this God.  They don’t know what to do.

Rahab and all of the people of Jericho had 3 options.

1) They could choose to fight. They find themselves backed into a corner.  It is clear to everyone that God is against them.  Rather than choose humility, they choose the ridiculous.  They choose to fight God.  They would rather die than admit to themselves, others and to God that they were wrong.  We see the king doing this, at least at first.  He hears that the Israelites have sent spies into the land, and he believes that he can thwart them and God’s plan if he captures the spies.  He is still fighting.

2) They could choose to hide. They knew that they couldn’t fight God so they make the decision to just cower and hide and let themselves and their city be destroyed.  This is what Rahab says that most of the city has chosen.  She says that they are “melting with fear.”  They admit defeat, but they do so without humility.

3) They could choose to humble themselves and follow God. This is Rahab’s choice.  She stands in the face of the soldiers from her king and lies to them.  Death would seem imminent in such a situation.  However, Rahab chose in that moment to fear God rather than the king or the soldier that was staring her in the face.

Many of us are staring soldiers of our own in the face right now.  It is not that we are uncertain as to what God wants from us.  We are not unsure about what the next, best step is.  Uncertainty and ambiguity are not our problem.  Fear is our problem.

I was scared to get married.

I was scared to have a daughter.

I was scared to have another daughter.

I was scared to adopt.

I was scared the first day of every job I have ever had.

However, I chose God in each of those circumstances and peace and joy and fulfillment beyond my expectations were on the other side.  Fighting God is pointless and hiding gets me nowhere.  I must choose in the big picture issues of my life and in the day to day moments to not choose fear, but to trust.  That’s where life is.

Why Am I the One That’s Nervous?

May 27, 2011 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

How many times in the last 5 years of my life has this been the scene?  I am standing on the sidelines of a soccer practice and watching Lauren.  I choose to not try and calculate that number.  (The answer will be troubling, like the time I calculated the number of sermons/talks I’ve heard in my life.)  However, this one was different.  This is her first “tryout.”  We are moving from academy level to club level.  What does that mean, you may ask?  First, it means they take more of our money and second, it would seem, that they take more of our time.  As they describe it though, I realize this team we’ve played on this year was already acting like a “club level” team, so we are already prepared for the time that competitive soccer can take.

Anywho, she is now trying out for the team as we move to this next level.  I am watching this tryout and I am as nervous as I have been in a long time.  I remember the first time I spoke at Fellowship Bible in Little Rock and I knew that I was going to speaking to thousands.  I was nervous.  Seriously, I was more nervous yesterday.  It felt silly, but I couldn’t help it.

I’ve felt this way before.  I took Maylee to an audition for a musical a few months ago.  I couldn’t get that stupid knot out of my stomach.  I was pacing down the hallway trying (unsuccessfully) to not listen in.

What is this neurotic behavior? Where does it come from?  It happens in a lot of parents for different reasons and manifests itself in different ways.  For me, I just don’t want them to be disappointed–ever.  I want them to always win, always be happy.  I want to give them everything they need and as much as they want as I can (within the bounds of good behavior, grateful hearts, anti-materialism, etc).  9 times out of 10 if they say, “Can we go to Sonic?” we go to Sonic.  Same for ice cream and renting movies.  The answer is almost always yes, if it is possible to do so.

Here I am though in situations that I can’t control even in the slightest.  I cannot ensure (good post on difference between insure, ensure and assure here) outcomes here, like I can with producing cherry limeades.  So perhaps, this is, at least in part, control issues.  However, it is so much more than that. I want them to win. I don’t want them to experience disappointment.

Unfortunately for some parents, this leads us to drive our children harder than they want to be driven.  “You must succeed.”  This makes it more about us than them.  Similarly, yet differently (nice, huh?) it can lead us to discourage our children from taking risks.  “It’s better to protect them, so they won’t get hurt.”  I think this also is about protecting us more than them.  It also isn’t realistic.  They will be disappointed.  That’s one of the sure things of this world.  Disappointment will come and it will hurt.

Are we preparing them for it? Are we walking them through it? Do we lovingly encourage them the whole way? These are the questions that we need to ask ourselves, not the question I wish I could: how can I make sure they are never disappointed or hurt?

As the reader(s?) of this blog know, I love my daughters and am overwhelmingly proud of them. I want them to win and I want them to know that I am their biggest fan in the world.  Our kids need to know that.

Just don’t tell them that I’m nervous, because it makes them nervous, and then they don’t do as well and then I get more nervous, which…you get the idea.

Grace, Fear and Our “Rights” Guest Post by Brian Hirschy

September 10, 2010 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

Brian is a new friend of mine.  He is a cultural photographer that lives in Tibet and a Grover.

Rights, Rights, Rights
As Americans, we are seriously bent on “our rights.”  Having rights, and furthermore actually valuing those rights, has undoubtedly made America into a great nation of freedom.  I am very thankful for my constitutional rights. That being said, in America, does this Pastor have the right to burn the Koran – Absolutely. No doubt about it. As a Christian, however, he certainly does NOT. Christian requirements are different, are they not?
Furthermore, I consistently hear Christians (everywhere) talking about “security” and often even confusing Americana w/ the teachings of the Bible and how we have Government given rights. To this we need to ask the question – who is sovereign over America? Who protects it? Who decides if we as a nation prosper or not? Heck, who even decided to let us exist? Is it God or is it the constitutionally given rights we so value?
We are required to give up so many of our rights as followers of Christ. Our reaction to things like this should not be through the “I’m an American” lens, but rather through the “Im a disciple of Jesus” lens. He never guarantees safety, lack of trouble, or even that we wouldn’t have to interact with people who violently disagree with our faith. We think that because radical Islamic countries burn the Bible almost daily that we have the right to return the favor. We continue to think it’s not FAIR that we don’t ‘overreact’ like many Muslim nations when they do so. We think it’s unfair that because they will overreact, our constitutional rights as American’s have been trampled on.  It’s not fair that they can burn the Bible but we can’t burn the Koran.  Fair sucks – it’s not fair that Jesus had to die for all of us idiots. Our rights, even the ones defended by the Constitution, went out the window when we were redeemed and now we are slaves to righteousness.
Fear is a tricky thing.  Fear comes when we aren’t confident in the Lords promises or our true identity in Him – when we aren’t focused on him. Fear is what is happening in New York right now, sparked by what we believe our ‘rights’ to be. Fear is what is happening in Florida right now. The belief that we must to strike back at radical muslims is only derivative of a lack of understanding of God’s sovereignty and a denial that His promises are true. Everyone in the world paint themselves as tolerant people, but how many of us get on an airplane and see an arabic looking person and the thought runs through our mind, ‘Oh crap! It’s a terrorist” or at least watch the person carefully.
Let me give you another example. Where I live I’m fully allowed to enter the mosque and DEBATE the tenants of Islam, PEACEFULLY and in a civilized manner. No one has tried to cut my face off at a mosque that has more than 300,000 members. I’ve even been able to talk regularly to the imam of the mosques in a Godly manner and he fully realizes that we follow Jesus. Most of us don’t realize that the Koran ACTUALLY teaches that true believers are those who seek the truth and are willing to be peaceful in all things – Muslims, according to the Koran, are supposed to, before anything else, be described as people of peace. Furthermore, the Koran speaks very highly of followers of Jesus and that they are to NOT be persecuted in several different passages.  Yes, their are verses that speak severely towards those who wage war against Islam and that everyone should become a Muslim.  These passages are what cause splits among the Muslim religion, but my point is that we in general are acting out of fear and true ignorance of these verses.
Yet, our churches get really uncomfortable when someone of another faith is among our congregation or even someone who is different that then general makeup of the congregation joins us. We are fearful of this Muslim Community Center – whose written agenda is to promote inter-faith conversation and cultural understanding. We are fearful that, “What if it’s just a safe haven for Muslim extremists?!”   We are fearful that to enter into a conversation about who God is and then who Jesus is with a Muslim, Buddhist, or atheist will only challenge our faith in ways we don’t want to be challenged really – we in effect deny the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives and our own.  We so often refuse to even know what the Koran says because we are fearful and not confident that Jesus is who He said He is. Please, please don’t hear a universalist message here – God says that there is NO gospel but the gospel and that those outside of it are outside of Him. However, He also said to love those different than you – even those who make you fearful, persecute you, and are dead set against you.  Love those who blew up the Twin Towers.  Love those who would even want to kill your children. How does this NOT describe how we are to react even to Muslim Extremists.
It’s easy to strip the humanity from a group of people we have never met. Heck, it’s easy to strip humanity from those you even LOVE.  For example, I know their are eskimos somewhere in Alaska, but until I mean one, they will remain what I saw in a book in the 3rd grade. Like I’ve mentioned on my blog, my neighbors are muslim, I have many friends who are Muslim, the guy whose giving me a ride to the airport on Wednesday is a Muslim who knows I’m a Christian and gosh darn it, he still likes me!
We forget the message of Christ was not one of earthly power or where we are on the religious/spiritual food chain. We must remember that these are people that GOD sovereignly choice to create and put on this earth, without asking you, and we are called to love them the best we can with how God only enables us to do. The Word is clear that ANYTHING we do outside of that is sin.
What the dude said
This Pastor has stated, verbally, that he is standing up against the ‘radical sect of Islam’ stating that we will no longer bow our knees to them and no longer live in fear.  What?!  Where’s THAT in the Bible?? How easy is it to insert “We will NO LONGER turn the other cheek! We will no longer bow one on knee!” Seriously, what does the Word say about this? In NO uncertain terms it says this: love them, pray for them, turn the other cheek, give them your tunic (Luke 6). If this pastor hears God’s voice, like Luke says true believers do, he is a SLAVE to these things.  Slave = no rights. As an America, I deeply defend his right to do such a thing, as a Christian I strongly state that the Word says he does not.
Like has mentioned several times before, we by now means can expect people to react Godly who are not redeemed – this includes Americans and Muslim nations alike. We cannot expect non-believers to react with grace because it ONLY comes from the Father. Whether the burning happens or not, grace MUST abound and we must ask God to give us the ability to show that grace to both Radical Muslims as well as a man that is set on burning something he fears.
As you might have gathered, my perspective on living in a largely Muslim community in a communist nation vastly impacts my opinion on these things. But please hear this – the Muslims I know are people that are literally trying to get by in life yet.  Trying to make ends meet.  Are worried about there children… yet we more often than not, in our hearts, tend to group them together (I speak of myself in these things).

The events that are happening in America right now truly truly tear my heart to pieces. I’ve watched hateful things be spewed all over the place, and more often than not come out of the mouths of Christians. We are allowed to understand what peoples believes are we should not be fearful of them as well.

Even if EVERY SINGLE muslim was an extremist, the Word of God is clear that we are to still not retaliate, still love them, still bless them.

Offloading Your Kids, Early and Often

June 14, 2010 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

We met my parents at Fergusons restaurant near Marshall for lunch on Saturday.  They then took our girls back to Branson for a few days.  It’s been about 36 hours now and this is when I really start to miss them.  They say they miss me, but water slides and roller coasters tend to make my girls forget that they even have parents.  I digress, as always.   We have done this a lot over the last 12 years, not the meet at Fergusons, but the offloading of kids to grandparents for days of eating bad, partying hard, and sleeping rarely.

Being at Fergusons reminded me of one of the first times that we did this.  Maylee was 2 and Lauren was still internally attached to her mom.  We met my folks there and we had not told Maylee that she was leaving with Mimi and Rowr (my parents).  She had spent the night with them before and been fine, but we didn’t know how she would react to know in advance, so we said nothing.  After lunch (It might have been a late breakfast.  Does that even matter?), we walk outside.  Maylee gets ahead of all of us, opens Mimi’s car, sits in the back middle seat, buckles herself with the lap belt and then doesn’t make eye contact with anyone.  We all start laughing.  She has this look on her face that says, “I don’t know what you think the plans are, but I am going wherever the people in this car are going.”  Lucky for us, that was the plan.

From the time both of our children were little, they have had no anxiety about spending the night or a week with either sets of grandparents, other family friends, going to camp, whatever.  They both are very adventurous and brave.  A summary of your likely reactions :

1) “You evil ogre of a father.  You left your kids with other people over night at age 2?  You should be ashamed”  It’s worse than that.  They were both 15 months when we first did that, as soon as they were no longer externally attached to their mom (We’re all adults here, right?).

2) “I’m so jealous.  I can’t get my spouse to agree to stuff like that.”

3) “You are so lucky.  My kids would never do something like that.”

I have heard all three of those reactions.  People have said, in one form or another, all of that to me.  Here is what I believe–whether or not spending the night away from parents is scary to a kid is almost exclusively a function of the parents’ attitudes.  Little kids think that anything that is new is scary.  Anything that is different is scary.  Anything that is unknown is scary.  It is our job to tell them what is our is not scary. (I have talked about this before, with regard to speaking to adults and roller coasters.  See here.) 

Be honest, it is you that are scared to leave your kids with family for a couple of days.  It is you that gets nervous when you drop your kid off at their class at church.  Right?  “No Cloften, you big judgmental jerk.  You should see how scared they get when I drop them off.”  Of course they do, they are feeding off of you.  You tell them that they are going to have fun, that you love them and walk away.  Then, they have fun and are significantly less anxious the next time.  Hopefully you will be too.

Now I know that even the most confident of kids will go through some separation anxiety.  Some day I will tell you about the time when toddler Lauren literally tore down the walls in her class (It was a make-shift hallroom class made of temporary walls.)  You know what fixed it?  Consistently dropping her off with no drama from us, never going to “check on her” (which translated means, calming my own nervous heart), and lots and lots of Teddy Grahams.

In what I want for my girls, closely behind passionate love for God, respect and kindness, is confidence.  I want my girls to believe that they can go through life, depending on God and believing confidently that they can be and do whatever it is that God has called them to be.  I never want their fear and insecurity to hold them back.

There are some things that are scary.  Snakes–scary.  Dudes in trenchcoats with candy–scary.  Life–not so much.

How to deal with mold on your wall

Clearly I am not a handy-man.  If you don’t know that, know it now.  Don’t call me for repair projects at your house.  I can’t help.  I’m no good.  I’m willing mind you.  I will happily hold the board that you cut.  If this is true, then the title of this must be a metaphor for something.  Yes, it is.

This is one of my new favorite illustrations that I use when talking to people.  I say that I came up with it myself, but then you will tell me that you read it in a book 20 years ago. (Every good illustration that I think I made up, I later read somewhere else that predates my use of it.  Some day I will have something original to say, unless this verse is true.)

There is mold on the wall.  How do you fix that?  There are 3 basic ways.  One is to paint over the mold.  Ta-da! No more mold.  The second is better.  You can cut out the piece of sheetrock that has the mold and replace it and repaint.  Ta-da!  No more mold.  The third is the best.  Figure out what is causing the mold.  Fix that.  Then replace the sheetrock.  Then paint.

How are you dealing with the problems in your life?  The sin issues?  Addictions?  Pain?  Are you painting over them?  “Problem, what problem?”  Are you just fixing the wall?  This is where we deal with each instance as it comes.  We need to find the source.  Why do you struggle with fear?  Why are you so angry with your spouse?  Why do do that thing you do when no one else is around?  Spend some time in prayer and reflection.  Ask God to show you what is going on in your heart.  Seek advice and help from a pastor or mentor. 

Otherwise the “mold” will just keep coming back.

Two Things Loftens Cannot Fear Part 2

If you missed Part one, check it out here.  The first thing that a Loften cannot fear is talking to adults–ordering food, asking for refills, introducing themselves, etc.  The second, I’m guessing will shock you and maybe make you smile.

The second thing that Loftens are never afraid of is a little less (or a lot less) intuitive.  We are not scared of rides and roller coasters.  That’s right.  The rule is this:  once you are tall enough to ride it, you ride it, at least once.  My guess is that some of you are looking up the numbers for child endangerment services right now.  How could you do such a thing? Well, just like I said in part 1, I put my girls in situations that can be scary but not dangerous.  We are not cliff-diving or swimming with crocodiles.  These rides are safer than riding in the car.

What can the justification for this be?  Do you like watching kids scream? Are you just looking for someone to ride with when your wife won’t?  Are you just mean?  We do this, because the fear of the unknown is not OK.  How much adventure and fun is lost when we are too scared to try?  How often are we intimidated by something that is uncertain and so we stay safe?  A new job, a new opportunity, a new friendship, a new adventure, an awesome roller coaster that goes upside-down and shakes you around at high speeds.

Once you have tried the ride once, you may then choose to not ride it again.  You can decide that you didn’t enjoy it and you don’t want to do it again.  That’s fine.  You cannot however choose to not do something because of an irrational belief that it is unsafe (That sentence was a triple negative, but it seems grammatically ok).  Their Dad that they trust tells them what is safe.  They trust me, not their fears.  I am with them and we face the rides together, the whole time their dad telling them, you are going to love this.

What have we learned.  We have learned that we all love, I mean LOVE roller coasters.  The faster the better, the more upside down the better, backwards, forwards, sitting, suspension, all kinds.  They cannot get enough of them.

Pre ride: Dad: “You are going to love this.”  Daughter: “No, it’s scary.”  Dad: “No it’s not.  You will love it.”

Post ride: Dad: “I was right again, wasn’t I?”  Daughter: “Yes, Dad.  Can we ride it again?”

We’ve also learned that they are not as big of fans of the freefall rides, the ones that pull you straight up and drop you straight down.  Even with that though, I made Maylee ride Tower of Terror again at Disney Hollywood Studios the next time we went to Walt Disney World, even though she didn’t enjoy it the last trip.  Post trip, favorite ride? Tower of Terror.

Fear of the unknown grips us.  We strive for security.  I want my girls to find it in the relational trust that they have in their Dad.  Somehow I wonder if we are stil talking about parenting.  Wouldn’t we do well to face the world not with fear, but relational trust in a Father that loves us and is always with us?

Watch out World, the Loften girls are not scared of you.

We always know where the cameras are. . . always.

We always know where the cameras are. . . always.

They look absolutely miserable, don't they?

They look absolutely miserable, don't they?

2 Things Loftens Cannot Fear Part 1

At first you may think that this is a joke, but you can ask either of my girls what the two things are that we cannot be afraid of as Loftens and they will both tell you the same thing.

The first is that we cannot be afraid to talk to people.  This includes new people that we meet, it includes waitresses, essentially everyone.  For example, we are at a fast food restaurant and we are sitting down at the table with our food.  One of the girls may ask, “Dad can I have some ranch?’  I tell them, “sure” and then I look toward the counter.  They then go to the counter themselves and ask the people themselves and get their own ranch.  You may wonder when I started doing this.  They started ordering for themselves as soon as they could formulate sentences and they have been going to the counter by themselves way earlier than many of you would think is safe.

You may think that I am (at least was) putting my girls into scary situations, and I should (or at least should have) gotten stuff for them, ordered for them, etc.  First, you are right.  This is a scary situation for a little kid.  However, there is a difference between a scary situation and a dangerous one.  I have never put them in danger, but they have been scared.  Why is it important to me that they do this?  First, our lives/my job thrusts my girls into situations all the time where they are meeting new people.  We’ve told them we never go to stranger’s house, we are meeting new friends.  But even if I weren’t a pastor, what better life skill is there than the ability to confidently talk to people, especially people that you might naturally be intimidated by?  There aren’t many.  I’ve said this before, but I want our girls to be confident and want them to have hearts to love and engage with people.  God has called us to love others like we love ourselves and fear will not be what holds a Loften back.

(Stay tuned for Part 2, the second thing we cannot fear.  You won’t believe it.)