When God Closes a Door…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The House That God Won’t Sell by Heidi Loften

September 4, 2012 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

So, if you have known The Loften family during the past 2 ½ years or so, you know that we own a house in Cabot, AR where we no longer live.  We began trying to sell that house in May 2010 before we moved to Fayetteville in August 2010.  We have prayed that this house will sell.  We have had anyone who would listen and would pray praying that this house will sell.  We have begged and pleaded with God for 2+ years to free us from the burden of this house.  I especially have taken it personally that God has not answered our prayer.  He has sold houses down the street from ours in seemingly miraculous ways.  We have had countless “almosts”—any of which could have turned into a sale if He had willed it.  We followed His call to move to pastor a different church; shouldn’t He have smoothed the path ahead?  He knows that pastors don’t make enough to cover 2 mortgages!  Why would God put this burden on us when we are just trying to be faithful to Him?

I am here to report that the burden of this house has been lifted from our shoulders!  However, the title to the house is still in our name.  God has given me freedom, but not in the way I thought it would or should come.

I have told many people about “our house” over the past couple of years.  I have praised its charms and selling points.  I have bemoaned the features it lacks which I was certain had kept it from selling.  I have spoken of it in unflattering “albatross” terms as a burden that is keeping us from being and doing all that we want to do in our new home.  I had grown to resent its existence.  How long, Lord, will our prayer go unanswered?

God answered my prayer by telling me about “His house.”  It has the same address as “our house that won’t sell,” but a very different story.  “His house” sat empty and waiting for a year for a family that would need a new home.  This family had moved from a discouraging situation where they had felt shame and defeat.  They walked into the house that God had been saving for them and felt like royalty.  It was a beautiful new home, more luxurious than any they ever dreamed of living in.  Their hope and confidence were renewed.  They knew if God had provided them with such a lavish blessing as this home, that His favor and hand would bless their new endeavors.  God’s house was perfectly laid out to host countless Bible studies and cookouts.  Our family could not have asked for a better home while we lived in Cabot.

When we left Cabot and moved to Fayetteville, we assumed we would sell one house and be moving into another.  But God moved us into Paradise instead…or so we dubbed the cheap 2 bedroom apartment where we spent the next 6 months.  The lessons learned in Paradise were countless, but in summary—God used it to refine our family and orchestrate His perfect timing.  We gained a new appreciation for each other and God renewed our desire to add to our family.  Had we sold “our house” when we planned to all of the pieces would not have fallen as they did to bring our precious new daughter into our family.  God used “His house” to deliver “His baby” into her family.

For the 2nd time now, God has used His house to answer the prayer of a family seeking a house to rent.  Twice now after fervently praying for our house to sell and sensing in our spirits that God was moving, He has told us to rent it instead.  Twice now a family has called us within hours of offering our house for rent telling us that our house was the specific answer to their prayer.

God used this 2nd instance to tell me the story of His house.  “Why, God?” I asked Him, “Why did you answer that family’s prayer and not ours?”  The answer came back, “Because this is my house.   I can use it for my plans and purposes.  I can use it to bless the renting families, and teach your family to pray.”  God flooded my heart with the story of His house.  The blessing it has been to our family in so many ways, and the blessing that it has been twice now to families praying for a home.  God also made it clear to me that He was not asking me to bear the responsibility of the house while He exercises the freedom to do with it as He pleases.  Although a pastor’s salary can’t support 2 mortgages, He has always provided.  Both in freedom to do with it as He pleases and in responsibility to provide, this is and has always been His house.

I am not going to stop praying about the house, but I am going to stop praying for “our house” to sell.  I am praying for “God’s house” now—a haven, a place of redemption, a home with God-sized potential which exists for His glory.  I am praising Him for the miracles He has done in and through it and trusting Him for more.  I am finally free from a burden that was never mine but has left scars on my back.  God is showing me that His promise is true for more than just houses.  He is teaching me to be burdened in prayer and leave His part to Him.

29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

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.

Was It Worth It?–Risk and Faith

September 23, 2010 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

I want to apologize on the front end for how intentionally vague the first part of this post is going to be.  It will be frustrating to some of you.  Some may try to pepper me with private messages asking for more details.  You will get none, don’t even try. “Oh, good grief.  Seriously? You intro something intentionally vague with something intentionally vague?  How about you just get on with it?”  My bad.

I drove 8 hrs on Saturday and arrived at my destination late Saturday night.  I was there to be with a friend who was taking a big risk and doing something pretty cool.  I was there to support him.  Went to sleep that night, got up early the next morning.  3.5 hours later, it was over.  It didn’t work out.  We had brunch and I drove 8 hrs back.  I was possibly going to be there 3 days, but it ended up being about 13 hrs, over half of which I was asleep.  I drove 16 hrs total and I was with my friend for about 6 hrs for something that didn’t work out the way we had hoped.

Here is a popular question from the handful of people that knew what I was doing: Was it worth it?  Was it worth the drive and the effort?  Knowing that was coming, I thought about it on the drive back and this blog post formulated in my head.  I believe that “Was it worth it?” is the wrong question.  You can’t evaluate a risk on the back end.  You take a risk, it doesn’t work out, then you ask if it was worth it.  That’s like asking, “If you had known for certain that it wouldn’t work out, would you still have done it?”  That question barely makes sense if it makes sense at all.  Rarely is it advantageous to do something that you know won’t work.

If things had gone well with my friend, some really cool stuff would’ve happened and I would have regretted it so much if I hadn’t been there.  It didn’t work out so well, so was it worth it?  Absolutely it was.  I risked some sleep, time and gas for a potential payoff for me and my friend.  It didn’t work out.  Would I do it again?  Yes.  Why? Because I still wouldn’t know the outcome.  It might work.  Wouldn’t that be great! Wouldn’t that be fun!  Let’s go see!

Way too often we are consumed with the “what if’s” of failure.  “If it doesn’t work out, I’ll look stupid.”  “Better to not even try.”  If I do nothing, then I know I won’t lose.  Guess what? You will also never win.  I want to make a hard shift here before this sounds too much like a chapter out of a book that an ex-football coach wrote or a mediocre self-help book.

Is there something big that you believe God is calling you to try?  Is there a ministry that he wants you to start?  A relationship he wants you to initiate?  A risk he wants you to take?  Is he asking you to demonstrate some faith and take a risk with him?

My guess is that some of you said yes and you’re scared to death, scared you might fail.  You are plagued with what if questions.  If you are doing risk analysis, let me help you.  The greatest risk that you can take with God is to not step out and do something that he is calling you to do.  It’s actually not risky at all.  You can guarantee that you will be restless and disappointed.

Rarely are there guaranteed outcomes, but I will give you a couple.  Life with God is full of opportunities to step out in faith.  Stepping out in faith is always worth it when you do it with God.

Stuff Christians Need to Stop Saying #0

March 8, 2010 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

Ah, the prequel.  You can tell me that it is terrible and it will not matter (Hannibal Rising).  I will want to see it.  A good series makes you interested in the characters and you just want to know how things got started (X-Men Origins: Wolverine).  It can be over 15 years later (Star Wars) and I will be ready.  Many of them were disappointing but I would be first in line tomorrow, if they made one about Qui-Gon (Liam Neeson). 

Love the prequel.  Often it answers the question, why? 

Set-up:  Someone you know is going through a hard time, facing a challenge.  Perhaps you are trying to instruct your child or a protege in what it means to follow after God.  Perhaps you are one of the 3 people in the world that looks forward to church signs for reasons other than irony.  Who knows?

Response: Some overly-simplified Christian slogan that can fit on a bumper sticker.

Some (and by some I mean the 7 of you still reading) may be wondering why have I been blogging this series.  People who know me think they know the answer and that it’s simple.  This brings three of my favorite things together:  helping people grow in faith, ranting, and random pop-culture references.  Add in eating cheesy, salty snacks and this could have it all.

However, there is something deeper that compels me to do this.  Way too often, we as believers take overly simplified approaches to God and faith.  We want answers.  We want steps.  We want to easily put our mind around the what, why and how of our struggles.   We wish that everything were as simple as this:

“Hmm, this guy at my work is really annoying me.  Should I kill him?”

“Well in Exodus 20:13 it says you shall not murder.”

“Oh, really?  Thanks.”

Life is not always that simple.  In fact, it rarely is that simple.  God is bigger than our formulas and bumper sticker theology and life is very complicated.  In order to follow after God and be the men and women he has called us to be requires faith.  That faith needs to run deep and we need to be willing to put in the mental, emotional and spiritual work it takes.

Philippians 2:12-13

12Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

Slogans and quippy phrases may point us in the right direction, but they can only be the beginning point of a faith journey where we learn to follow Jesus deeply with continued reliance on the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us.  Always ask questions, always read, always pray.  Listen to God.  Let him challenge, deepen and strengthen you.

You will be amazed at what God will show you, and much of it will not fit on a bumper sticker.