Building the Wall

January 31, 2011 by cloften  
Filed under Teaching

That was a great word from Nehemiah yesterday (That’s a throwback expression for good sermon). Thanks Pastor Gonzo, or should it be Brother Gonzo, or just Gonzo.  I don’t know, but let’s agree that it’s not Aaron.

Upon first glance, Nehemiah 3 can be kind of a boring read, like it is one of the genealogy lists.  So and so built this piece of the wall and what’s his face built this piece and Jimmy WhoCares built this…and on it goes.  But behind all of that is a great story of how a large group of people work together.  Each person does a small part and when they all work together something really big happens.  We will soon see some obstacles and discouragement that they face, but for now it is an incredible team working together.

To me that is a picture of both the way a church works and the way the Church works, if you catch my meaning.  (If you don’t, you are in the majority.  No one ever knows what I’m talking about.)

A church works this way on Sunday morning.  From the greeting team, to the coffee folk, to the tech crew, children’s ministry, the band, the pastors, everyone is playing a small role and when it is all put together, God uses it to create incredible experiences for people to worship and find God.  Without any one of the people, it would be less friendly, less clear, less powerful.

In the same way, each church plays a role in reaching different people in different ways with different types of ministries.  When we all work together, God does incredible things in our community, region and world.

The interesting thing about building a wall is that is really only strong when each section of the wall is strong.  If one section is weak then it doesn’t matter what the rest of the wall looks like.  A wall is only as strong as each section.

The last thing I want you to feel is some negative feeling like, “Don’t be the weak link, you slacker.” (Unless that motivates you, then OK I guess)  What I would rather you feel/know is that we need you.  Our wall (church, ministry, world) will be stronger when you use the gifts and passions that God has given you and use them.

What is it that God is calling you to do? How can you serve? How can you be used? What is your piece of the wall? If you don’t know, just jump out there and start building (serving).  We need you and we’ll be all the better for having you.  God wants to use you to change the world and draw people to him.

Unpacking the Packed House

January 27, 2011 by cloften  
Filed under Bible, Church and Leadership

No, this doesn’t have anything to do with us buying or selling a house (although we did have a 2nd showing last night, if anyone feels inclined to pray in that regard).

This has to do with the overwhelming number of people that were at the 2nd service at the Grove on Sunday (if your church is full or fullish in the service you attend, feel free to keep reading)

I have been a part of services where I’ve said, “that was packed,” or “we were full.”  I will try from here on out to not use that expression any more, because I was at a service on Sunday that was packed and full.  We counted yesterday and we have ~210 chairs.  There were over 220 people in the room.  For you non-math majors out there, that means there were people there that didn’t have chairs. I know that people who hate math especially hate story problems.

Anywho, there are a couple of things that people can walk away from a service like that thinking, “Wow, that was cool.  There was a lot of energy,” or “that was crowded, hot, and if I’m going to be honest, smelled a little bit.”  Now I’m guessing that most of the members/regulars are in category 1.  Also, I would hope that most of the new people were in category 1.  Something like that is cool, once, maybe twice.  After a while, it can for some begin to be uncomfortable.  Again, this isn’t regulars, it’s people that are new to church, often the most spiritually vulnerable.

We certainly don’t want to do anything that would discourage people from coming or inviting a friend. (Why would I invite a friend if there is no room?) So what can we do?  Welpst, we can look for a new place to meet, which we are doing (Pray for that by the way. Hoping to have some good news soon).  You can also (gulp) come to first service. It starts at 9:15, by then on most days you are up, ready, at work or class, and have 10 games of minesweeper under your belt (Is that a dated reference?).

If you are bringing friends and they want to come at 11, come at 11.  If it’s just you, try and come to the early service.  New people will almost always come to the later service.  Let’s make room for them by worshipping early.

Speaking of that, drop your kids and wife off at the door and then go park in the worst place imaginable.  Braums lets us park in the northern part of their lot. We can park across Sunbridge at the strip mall. We can park down the street behind the church and Braums.  I think no one uses that street but us anyway.

People have always said to me in situations like this that “it’s a good problem to have.”  Agreed. But that still makes it a problem, a problem we can fix.  Come early and park inconveniently.  I’ll talk to you again about what to do when both services are 200+.

Laying Out a Fleece (and other bad ideas)

January 24, 2011 by cloften  
Filed under Bible, Church and Leadership, Teaching

Have you ever heard of someone laying out a fleece?  It is perhaps the most insider church jargon of all time (well, maybe something about the balm in Gilead might beat it).  People often use that expression as if it is a common expression.  The expression comes from the story of Gideon. (Read here)  In the story, God clearly speaks to Gideon and tells him that Gideon will lead Israel in a victorious battle.  When I say speaks, what I mean is God speaks, you know like with talking and hearing.  This was no inner-prompting or assurance, like we deal with.

God clearly speaks but Gideon is not convinced that God will give him victory, so he puts out a fleece (think piece of wool, not light jacket) on the ground and asks God if God “really” wants him to do it, then only the fleece will be wet with dew the next morning, and not the ground around it.  God does it, graciously.  Then the next day, Gideon does it again but in reverse.  This time the fleece has to be dry but there is dew everywhere else.  God again meets the request, graciously.

So in Christian Jargonese, laying out a fleece has become a way of confirming God’s will.  However, that story should be thought of as a story of fear and a lack of trust in God.  God said it, with words, out loud.  What further confirmation was needed.

Compare this with our man, Nehemiah.  He believed that God wanted him to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, with no audible voice.  He prayed and then by faith seized the opportunity when it came.  Too often we are gripped with fear, not because we are not sure about what God wants, but because we are not sure we want what God wants.  “What if it doesn’t work?” “What if I look stupid trying to do this?”  “I need to KNOW that God is going to make this work.”

We need to stop kidding ourselves, it’s not confirmation that we need, it is trust to follow after God.

Am I being too tough?  Fine, we can start laying fleeces.  But do it in the opposite way of Gideon.  Don’t do it where God has to do a miracle if he wants you to take a risk, but he has to do the miracle if he doesn’t.

Here is the “fleece” you can use.  “God if you DON’T want me to do (crazy, faith-filled scheme) then bring a monkey to my front door carrying a rubber chicken, and have him tell me in Pig-Latin that you don’t want me to do it.  Otherwise I am going to (crazy, life-changing, fulfilling, best thing you’ve ever done faith-filled scheme).”

Or you can just trust God and go do it.

Why wait? (Nehemiah 2 Preview)

January 21, 2011 by cloften  
Filed under Bible, Church and Leadership, Teaching

As we are getting ready for this Sunday, there is something that I want us all to think about–waiting.  Waiting patiently is, shall we say, not a strength of the modern American culture. No judgment here, few things irk me more than pulling up to a gas station only to discover that they don’t have pay at the pump.  What? You want me to walk all the way inside and pay someone.  What is that going to take, like 90 seconds or something?

Nonetheless, whether we like it or not, we always have to wait. If you live with three women, you know what I’m talking about. (Probably shouldn’t have said that) Let’s put this in a spiritual context.  What if God were to tell you that he wanted you to do something, how soon do you expect it to happen?  My guess is the honest answer is immediately, or at least as soon as possible.

What about our man Nehemiah?  It was four months.  They may not seem like a long time. Well, it doesn’t seem like a long time, if it’s someone else.  However, 120 days of waiting for God to do what you believe he said he would do is a long time.  We have no idea how many “crises of faith” he had.  We would probably have a lot.  We would question ourselves as to whether or not we “heard” right and question God as to whether or not he really would do what he said.

What is the point of waiting? Why doesn’t God just do it already?  What is God doing and why?

Welcome to Nehemiah chapter 2.  See you Sunday (or listen online after Sunday night here)

So, I Started This Book…

January 19, 2011 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

We as a staff at the Grove Church are always reading a book together.  We rotate who picks the book, and discuss it every week.  We just finished “It” by Craig Groeschel (I would like the record to reflect that I spelled that right, first try, no help).  Miller picked that one.  It’s talks about the intangible qualities of healthy churches that don’t have anything to do with style or structure.

I enjoyed that book.  Would you like to know why?  It’s because I do pretty well at most of the things that Groeschel is encouraging us to do.  I’m not perfect and I’m not great at all of them, but for the most part, I get a pretty good grade for being a part of the kind of church that he is describing.

“Wow, thanks Cloften.  I really wanted to read a blog post where you talk about how good you are at something.”  Settle down, I’m still getting there.

Rachel picked the book that we are reading now.  “Forgotten God” by Francis Chan.  I know that this makes me super lame, but this is my first go at a Chan.  (Yes, that means I haven’t read Crazy Love.  Yes, I’ve heard that it is really good.  Yes, I will try and read it.  Man, you guys are really aggressive in my head.)

So, the book we’re reading now is about the Holy Spirit.  I have read the first chapter, which we are discussing in mere moments. The premise of the book is that Western Christians have forgotten about the Holy Spirit.  We may know a lot theologically about him, but we do not experience him.  I already don’t like this book.  Would you like to know why?  For the opposite reason that I liked Groeschel’s book.  20 pages in and I’m already super-convicted.

Do I rely on talent or the Holy Spirit?

Is God’s presence or power in my life evident?

Does the ministry I lead have momentum and enthusiasm or is God’s Spirit moving?

Am I in tune enough with the Holy Spirit to even answer that question?

Is “in tune” a hyphenated word or two words?

These are the questions that I’m asking myself already, and I’m one chapter in.  In all seriousness, I believe I’m going to enjoy this book and what God has to say to me through it.  Hopefully you will enjoy periodic ramblings about it.

P.S. Get the book.

Where do I find it? (Nehemiah 1 follow up)

January 17, 2011 by cloften  
Filed under Bible, Church and Leadership, Teaching

I will try (keyword: try) to post something every Monday after each week of the Nehemiah series.  Most of these topics that we will talk about on Sunday morning could be its own series.  There is so much that could be said, but no one wants to hang out there until 4.  So, I’ll drop a thought or two here.

We talked a lot about the passion and calling that Nehemiah had.  I believe that God has given each one of us a call.  This call comes from our strengths, skills, gifts and passions.  Some people wonder how they can find their calling.  How do you know?  Is it some supernatural moment?  Does it come from some internal tingling?  Will God send you a Twitter message?  “I’m serving and I enjoy it, but I don’t know if it rises to the level of ‘calling.’”

Here are some thoughts:

1) Don’t wait for some mystical confirmation or finding the ideal place to serve to start serving.  Maybe your passion is going to be children’s ministry, maybe it’s not.  You won’t find out by not serving or taking some gifting/passion inventory.  You will find out by serving in the children’s ministry.  Serve somewhere.  Serve in your church.  Respond to some ministry’s need in the community.  Go work with Habitat for a day.  Go feed the homeless.  Do something.  You aren’t going to think your way to your best fit.  You will serve your way there.

2) There is no such thing as a big call and a small call.  All calls come from God.  By definition, they are all big.  Better that someone respond to God’s call to a simple behind the scene’s ministry than feel like they have to do something.  Some people’s passion and calling is in the nursery with small babies.  These are tremendous servants who not only love precious babies but allow parents to worship freely and know that their baby is being loved on and cared for.  If god is the one leading and directing, that is not a downgrade from missionary in 3rd world country.

3) Serving is meant to be enjoyable.  Often we associate serving in the church with a workout.  “You know you did it right if you didn’t enjoy it and it hurts afterward.”  God has designed you to use your gifts.  When you do, God will bless you and you will be very glad that you did.”

4) Pressure + Guilt = Calling.  While that is the typical formula.  I disagree.  Passion + Gifts + Opportunity = Calling

Get out there.  Find a place where God can use you.  Pray.  Ask God to show you your passions and gifts.  Ask friends.

Expect God to do amazing things.

Parenting the Old Testament Way

January 12, 2011 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

What a catchy title that is. I am sure that no one is clicking on the link to come read this, so I essentially am writing to myself.  “So Cloften, how is it going?”  “Pretty good just writing myself a brief post on parenting.”  “Sweet.”

You see, from most people’s perspective, you don’t want to do anything the Old Testament way, certainly not parenting.  There are some crazy-bad examples of parenting in the Old Testament.  I do not want you to emulate any of them.  Actually, what I had in mind was something that I have been thinking about as I’ve been getting ready for our Nehemiah series.

This last Sunday I did basically an OT History review lesson.  You can listen to it here.  During that sermon, I explained how and why God called the Jewish people and the big picture of their relationship from the time of Abraham until the beginning of Nehemiah 1.  While I was getting ready for that Sunday and thinking about the OT, a random parenting thought hit me.  I tried to share it on Sunday, but I think pretty ineffectively.  I will try again.

The Jewish people in the OT did a lot of complaining and rebelling (Isn’t the parenting parallel already apparent?).  There is a lot of complaining and rebelling in all households with precious little ones under 18.  Typically as parents, we have our one standard reaction that we have to complaining, whining, etc.  Some of us are big “natural consequence” people.  We let them do the bad thing they want to do, they get hurt, they learn the lesson.  Some of us are “peace at any price” or “grace-based.”  We respond to the whining by loving on them, giving them what they want.  Some of us “bring out the stick.” (I don’t think that requires any explanation)

My default is the stick, not literally a stick, but punishment.  Classic Cloften parenting line, “In all of your life has whining and complaining ever gotten you what you want from me?”  “No (dejected face)”  “What could possibly make you think it would work this time?”  Then there is some kind of punishment.

What I am struck by is how God incorporates all of those methods at different times.  They complain in the desert and say that they want to go back to slavery.  Sometimes God blesses them with manna, quail, water from a rock.  When they ask for a king in total rebellion against God and his leadership, he warns them, they ask again and he gives them what they ask for and leaves them to natural consequences.  Sometimes, he brings the stick.

He integrates all of these.  He doesn’t always punish.  He sometimes gives in, and sometimes with no bad consequences, natural or otherwise.

Maybe I am only talking to myself, but I believe that we need to have multiple “tools in our belt.”  Every circumstance is different and each child is different.  Sometimes you need to punish, sometimes you can just let it go.

“That’s right Cloften.  Now put down the stick.”

Old Testament History (In 20 minutes)

January 10, 2011 by cloften  
Filed under Bible, Church and Leadership, Teaching

As we were preparing for a series in Nehemiah, we began to wonder how familiar people are with the book of Nehemiah and OT history.  We began to ask around and determined that there are a lot of people who aren’t familiar.  So we decided to take a week and intro the book by giving the history of the OT up to that point.  That was definitely a different kind of message for me, but I hope that it helped some people.

Sometimes I think that we are too embarassed to admit that we don’t know the Bible that well, because “we should already know it.”  How can we already know it, if we don’t teach it.  So, here it is.

Listen to that message here.

Security, Salvation and Other Non-Controversial Topics

January 5, 2011 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

The question has never been asked, “Do you take requests?”  Thanks for asking.  Sure I do.  That doesn’t mean all will always do what you ask, but I most certainly will take the request.

Someone recently hit me up on the Facebook and asked me about what is commonly referred to as “once saved, always saved” or “security of the believer.”  I know that in a lot of circles this is highly debated and perhaps controversial.  I wish that it weren’t.  When I teach on it, I pretend like it isn’t.  I don’t go to the “controversial passages” and have some theoretical debate with myself.  I go to what I believe are a couple of very straightforward passages and just teach them, which is what I will do here.

(On the other hand, I don’t want to stifle discussion by acting like this is a cut and dry issue.  If you have a different point of view or questions, ask them and I will post new thoughts/responses.  I like to keep blog posts to about 600 words or less.  If you wanted to read a book, you would, well, you know, get a book.)

Romans 8:28-39

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

There is a simple logical formula that Paul describes in the first part of this passage:

The ones he foreknew–he predestined–he called–he justified–he glorified.

Everyone in the first category is in the second, everyone in the second is in the third and so on.  Therefore, everyone that God chooses for salvation (I will leave predestination on the shelf for now) are the ones that are glorified (end up perfect in heaven).  If you God starts the process with you, he finishes it.  There are no points where you can lose it, fall out or escape.  God finishes what he starts when he calls someone.  There are no exceptions.

To further emphasize what he means, Paul describes the security that we have in our relationship with God saying that nothing can separate us from the love that we have in Christ.  He says nothing.  Nothing in the present or future (which is everything by the way) and in case you want to think he leaves an exception he says nothing in creation.  Some might say, you can separate yourself.  Well, that is only true if you are not created or you do it at some time that’s not in the present or future.  (I don’t mean to get all mystical, but you really can’t do that without a DeLorean and a flux capacitor.)

I know that this only scratches the surface, but like I said, I like to keep posts short.  Let me know your thoughts and we can keep talking.  Some questions or thoughts, I might respond to, others I might turn into new posts.  Please share your thoughts, counterpoints or concerns.

Blessed to Be a Blessing: The Nehemiah Prequel

January 3, 2011 by cloften  
Filed under Bible, Church and Leadership, Teaching

Well, it is a new year.  A friend of mine declared that he would like us to drop the “20″ when saying what year it is.  So, it is now “11″ not “20-11.”  I agree.  However, it will be hard for us.  Except for a few of Willard Scott’s friends (Boom! Dated reference!  Wait, does he still do that?), none of us have changed centuries before.  I wonder if William McKinley passed an edict about when to drop the 19 (Boom! Very dated reference! By that, I mean no one knows the old presidents)  Do we all agree? 11? Can we agree on 11?  Anyone other than me thinking about Spinal Tap?  This kind of rambly nonsense is what you should expect at least until February.

If there had not been a title, and all you had read was that intro, you would have no idea what this is supposed to be about.  It was my idea, and I forgot…Oh, yeah.

We are starting a series in Nehemiah this Sunday at the Grove Church.  I do not want to assume that everyone knows who Nehemiah is or why he is wanting to build a wall or how/why the wall fell down in the first place.  As such we will spend the first week, in part, talking about the background of the book of Nehemiah.  This way when we start the book, we can understand better what’s going on.  To do this, we will go way back in the Old Testament, all the way back to Genesis.

The first and perhaps most important concept is about the Jewish people in general.  They were called God’s Chosen People.  What does that mean?  Chosen for what?

Genesis 12:1-3

1 The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

2 “I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”

God calls Abraham (I know, Abram.  Let’s not be ticky, ok? says the king of ticky) and says that He is going to bless him.  Why is God blessing him?  He is blessing him so that God can bless the whole world through Abraham.  God didn’t bless Abraham just to bless him.  There was a purpose.  God wanted to raise up a nation, his nation.  This way the world would see them and know that the God of Abraham and the Jewish people was not just a god, but the God.  Then as people saw that, they would choose to give up their god, and follow the God.

The Old Testament after that is the history of that relationship.  When the Jewish people follow God, he blesses them tremendously and the world takes notice.

We will talk more about this on Sunday and how this history plays out that leads us to Nehemiah.  However, I’d like for us to take a moment to think about the concept of blessed to be a blessing.  God blessed Abraham so that through Abraham all nations would be blessed.  Question:  Why do you think that God has blessed you? Is it because you’re his favorite?  God has blessed you so that through you, he can bless others.  If he has blessed you with money, then you need to bless others with it.  If he has blessed you with gifts and talents, then you need to share those with others.

God loves to bless us, but it was never meant to stop there.  We need to recognize that God has blessed us so that we can bless others.   Let this year be the year we bless others with what God has blessed us.  Twenty-eleven, the year of being blessed to be a blessing (oops, I meant ‘11)