When God Vetoes Your Plan (Prayer and Sovereignty)

August 5, 2010 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

If I had known that for the 3rd time in a row that we would move before selling our house, I would have kept a journal or something and recorded those thoughts in a handful of blog posts.  Since I didn’t, these thoughts are going to be a little more reflective and rambly (more rambly? than what? your usual posts?  not possible.  Agreed)  The reason I didn’t keep a journal is that, in all seriousness, I never believed that it would go down this way.

A little history.

The first house that we tried to sell was when we moved from Conway, AR to go to seminary.  The house sat empty for 6 months.  At the time I was a pizza delivery guy and then a Chick-Fil-A night manager with a max income of about $1000/mth.  Meanwhile, I’m a full-time student with two kids and Heidi is a full-time stay-at-home mom.  It was a huge stretch for us.  I didn’t think we would make it.  Meanwhile our only car blows up.  The car we get to replace it turns out to be a lemon.

Result: We left seminary with more money than we came with.  God showed himself to be much bigger (and complicated) than I ever realized.

The second house was when we moved from St. Louis to Cabot to start Fellowship Cabot. That house sat empty for 5 months (We’re improving).  Fortunately, we were going to make more money and felt confident financially.

Result: A builder/realtor that was part of the plant team allowed us to move into a house he built before we could buy it (for free!) until our house sold and we closed when we sold our house.  We lived in a house that was bigger and nicer than we ever thought we would live in.  God showed himself to be in control and had a plan worked out so much better than the one we were praying for.

This brings us to the present and we have not, as of this post, sold our house in Cabot.  We moved to Fayetteville last week.  We have had more showings than we did before, more “almosts” than before, we had it sold for about 14 hours.  However, here we are, where we have always been.  We left a house.  There have not been many things that we have prayed for more than this.  Many people all over have been praying for us.  If you could “pray your way” into a certain outcome, this would be it.  If God’s hand could be forced by faithful, diligent, believing prayers, we would have sold our house 2 months ago.

So what does this mean?  Best I can figure there are two groups that believe that they have prayer all figured out.  First are the ultra-sovereignty (my word) people.  God is going to do what he is going to do regardless.  We pray because God says we should, and prayer changes us, not what’s going to happen.  My problem there is that the Bible says so much about how when we ask in faith we receive.

This leads us to group two.  If you believe and pray, you will get what you ask for.  Not getting what you ask for means there is something wrong with you.  Very clever.  Any time I don’t get what I ask for, it’s my fault.  That way I chase my disappointment with guilt and failure.  Problem here is, Paul, who I’m guessing had more faith than me, prayed for an affliction to be taken away and God said no.  Furthermore, God is not a puppet on a string that submits himself to the whims and wills of sinful people.

So where does that leave us?  That leaves us in the murky middle.  I believe that God is in complete control.  I believe prayer changes the world.  I believe God answers prayer.  I believe God’s plan is better than mine.  Sometimes these truths collide.  Sometimes God vetoes your plan and we are left with a crisis of sorts.

Is there something wrong with me?  Does prayer not work? Does God not care? Is God really not in control?

No, no, no, no.

Is God working out a plan more complicated and better for me than mine? Do I need to learn trust?  Is a good, loving, sovereign God got this?

Yes, yes, yes.

Details to come (soon?) on how God worked all this out.

(BTW, You can find earlier ramblings on this topic here)

3 Defining Words–(Some) Characteristics of a Healthy Church Part 3

I will have to admit that I’m not sure if word number three is a word.  Can you hyphenate any two words and then call the result a word no matter what?  Is lactose-intolerant a word?  If so, then is Bieber-intolerant also a word?  Who is in charge of deciding this?  Is it all the English teachers I had in High School and college that unjustly didn’t like me just because I was obnoxious and resented every minute I was in their class?  That hardly seems fair.  I’m sorry, what were we talking about?

Ah yes, the third defining word.


You’re right dude that’s not a word.  Would you prefer I use the more intriguing, non-hyphenated missional?  I don’t like the word missional.  Why?  My reasons are numerous and ridiculous.  We’re going with outward-focused.  Wait, wait, wait!  Shouldn’t it be outwardly-focused? Shouldn’t it be the adverbial (also possibly not a word) form?  Weren’t you paying attention?  I didn’t like English class growing up.

Anyway, just like me and this post (or this post and me), I find myself easily distracted.  My purpose in writing this post is to give and explain the 3rd of the three defining words for church.  Then I was going to inspire you.  However, I can’t stop rambling about a lot of nothing.  I’m too busy trying to be cute and clever to get to the point.

I feel church can be that way.  Jesus told us what the most important commands were–loving God and loving people.  He then gave us a mission–to tell the whole world about him, to make disciples, to take his love to people who desperately need it.  But we get distracted.  We start focusing on being busy with church activities.  We start focusing on what we don’t like about each other and we lose sight of all the people outside of church who desperately need to see, feel and hear about the love of God through his son Jesus.

Churches can become petty and start fighting within about music styles, theological minutia and, legendarily, carpet colors.  In the meanwhile, there is poverty and desperation and people separated from God that need us to love them.  When a church turns it’s attention outside of the walls, incredible things happen.  I’m too busy working along side of you to be bothered by your quirkyness.  I’m loving and serving people and I notice God transforming my character.  Most importantly, people who are far from God feel and experience God’s love, they hear about God’s Son and they begin to have life in his name.

People, both believers and not, want to be a part of a church that is showing love to people outside of their church.  They want to be a part of a church that is not waiting for people to come inside but is going “outside” to find and love people, a church that turns its energy toward needs in the world rather than turning on each other.  God is using these churches in amazing ways.

They are world-changeable.

Giant Curveballs, Control Issues, Closure and Forgiveness

August 2, 2010 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

There may be a conspiracy afoot.  The conspiracy is out to derail my productivity.  Well, that may not be entirely accurate.  The conspiracy I believe is against my particular plans and my definition of productivity. Furthermore, it is most likely targeting my need to control.

I had a great plan.  I mean a great plan.  We were going to sell our house in late May or June, move into a house in Fayetteville and be “settled” by August 1st when I started the new job.  That plan was demolished and we moved into an apartment 3 days ago.  Apartment living with 2 pre-teen girls sharing a bedroom is interesting(?), challenging(?), exhausting(?), awesome(?).  Whatever it is, it is not consistent with productivity.  I have a lot to do.  Becoming the lead pastor of a church right before school starts gives one a to-do list of epic proportions.  When life is so chaotic that you can’t even make the list, much less start executing it, even a low control guy such as me can start to get the shakes.

However, Monday was going to be different.  The first official workday.  Get up, leave the apartment (sadly of course), and go get it done.  Chick-Fil-A has free wi-fi and I have a sweet new MacBook Pro.  So we are in business.  Then the afternoon before, I get a phone call.  There are hundreds of people I would have expected to hear from before this person.  (This enters the intentionally vague portion of the program).  This person wounded me pretty deeply a few years ago.  I worked for restoration and never really got it.  Through Jesus and his love for me, I found legitimate forgiveness for him.  No bitterness.  No residual anger, but nothing close to a restored relationship.  He didn’t (at the time) want it.

Then at the least opportune time it would seem, he calls and we are going to have breakfast the next morning.  He left me plenty of opportunities to say no.  “I’m sure that you are still busy” (Yes) “You’ve got a lot to do” (Yes) “and you don’t have time” (Yes).  How do I say no? Answer: I don’t.  I can’t.  I have my plan.  God has his.

At first, we are chatting like nothing has ever happened, which is fine.  Whatever God has planned and whatever this guy has planned is great.  Then he starts reflecting on the past, apologizing for stuff, and expressing a desire to reconnect.  I’m blown away.  We have a great conversation, and it might be fair to say that we are friends again.  I don’t know what to say or think.

God has his own time table and plan.  I had an idea about what “needed” to happen this morning and God had another.  I had an idea about when this relationship would be restored, and God had another.  My heart needs to be ready for what God has for me.  Is my heart ready to forgive? to restore relationships? to respond to his priorities in my life?  Or do I have a closed heart that is focused on my ideas and plans and can’t sense what God may be up to in my life?

I want to be the person that can release what I want and think I need for what he wants for me.  But if it’s all the same, I would like to get my to-do list going.  However, there is nothing, nothing, that will happen today as significant as what already has.

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