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.

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.”

Why Don’t You Ask For Help?

May 26, 2011 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

Turns out the invincible Lauren Loften is having some problem with math.  This is a strange phenomenon for my younger daughter.  It turns out that pretty much everything she has been “taught” in school up to this point, she pretty much knew already or at worst, immediately understood and learned.  Converting fractions to decimals to percents has been weighing her down.  She was getting good grades on her work in class, because as it turns out, they let them use calculators that have  “convert to fractions” “convert to decimal” buttons on them.

(Side Rant.  Since when do kids get to use calculators?  That is ridiculous.  I remember getting to use a calculator in class in Trig, rarely and that’s it.  I took Cal in high school and I was a math major in college and took every kind of math imaginable and we didn’t get to use a calculator.  That’s like taking your spelling test on Microsoft Word with the red squiggles turned on.  No I didn’t walk to school uphill in the snow.  I did ride my bike a few times, but it was because I wanted to.)

When did I find out about Lauren struggling in math?  After she had already not done well on the test.  She has a dad who was a math major and has tutored lots of people in math, and she never asked me for help.  Someone who loves her very deeply and would help her in an instant is in the room across the hall and she doesn’t ask for help.  Turns out she also never asked her teacher for help or clarification as well.

I asked her why not.  She said, “pride.” (Strange answer for a 10 year old. Turns out she had already had this convo with mom)  We talked for a while over some Maggie Moo’s about how she doesn’t like to admit mistakes or weakness.  She doesn’t want anyone to think that she’s got problems.  She wants everyone to believe that she has everything under control.

Who does that sound like? (I wrestled a little with who/whom there.  I just go with who if I’m not sure, because whom always sounds wrong, even when it’s right)  If you said me, then you are correct.  Unless by “me” you mean me.  Then you are wrong.  You should have said “you” meaning you.  If you said “you” and you meant me, you are wrong.  You should have said “me” meaning you.  Wait, what?

Actually, it’s all of us. We have access to the God of the Universe through prayer and his word.  He loves us and already knows that we are struggling.  He would gladly provide peace and guidance and lead us.  We don’t ask.  Why?  Lauren’s one-word answer will suffice: pride.

We want to give the impression that we’ve “got it” when we don’t.  Even when we aren’t fooling anyone, even if what we are struggling with is crippling us.  We need to get over ourselves and recognize our weaknesses and our dependence on God.

He will gladly love you, help you and sustain you.

(Also, I will help you with your math homework)

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.

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)

Running Around with My Hair on Fire

I don’t how many of you have ever moved to a new town and become the lead pastor of a church.  Anyone?  Just me?  Fine.  Then you will have to come up with your own context to apply this, or you will be stuck just mocking me, which I think we could turn into quite a fun game.

Anywho, when people ask me how long I’ve been here in Fayetteville at the Grove, I have to think about it.  It has only been a little over three weeks but if feels like so much longer.  It’s not because anything bad has happened or that it has been particularly difficult  It’s just that I have been moving at such a fast pace and so much has happened.  It takes a lot of energy to move into a new situation like this.  There are a lot of people that want to meet you and get to know you, and I want to meet and get to know them.  I want to cast new vision and energy for what God will do in the future and that takes a lot of energy as well.

Did I mention that I have a family?  They need to get connected to people.  We were here a week when we got Lauren connected with a Soccer (Futbol?) Club.  She practices 3 nights a week, we’ve already had 4 games, 2 of which were in Oklahoma (not a typo).  School started last week and we are trying to make new friends.  We are going and going.  It has been a blast.  I have no complaints.

However, after 2 1/2 weeks of this, last week I just crashed.  I was hit with the overwhelming tireds.  I realized I was pushing a little too hard and falling into the oft lamented trap of all doing and minimal being.  “Nice, Cloften, what does that mean? It sounds very deep but I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

It is very important that I take a significant amount of time each day and connect with God, not just prepare the next talk, sermon, staff meeting.  All of those are spiritual endeavors, but they take from me.  Connecting with God because I love him, fuels me.  Recognizing that he is in control slows me down and reduces the stress and pressure.  Life is a marathon, not a sprint.  Ministry is a marathon not a sprint.  Leading a church is a marathon not a sprint.  A friend of mine recently quoted someone else (I don’t think my senior English teacher would approve of that documentation) said that ministry is a series of sprints and rests, and that’s the best way to “run this marathon.”

(Let’s beat the metaphor to death and even mix it up)  Sometimes the fastest way to get somewhere is to go slower.  Sometimes the only way to get there is to stop and get gas.  Sometimes running and running and running as fast you can only gets you somewhere short of your goal quickly and to your goal, never.  Sometimes the way to do more ultimately is to do less now, or better said, to do more with God.

A week or so later, I’m still tired, but I think that has more to do with allergens at the Paradise View Apartments.  I feel I’m going internally slower while still growing pretty fast externally.  I still have plenty to do and plenty of stuff worthy of stress.  However, I am more and more increasingly aware of God’s love and sovereignty.

And I’m pretty sure that my hair is no longer on fire.

Some Thoughts on the Shack Book

Staying on the cutting edge, as always, I just finished the wildly popular Christian book, The Shack.  People have been asking me for a while to read it and “give my thoughts.”  I am not a huge reader, though I go through spurts of reading, and of course, like most of us I wish I read more.  (At least I wish I wanted to read more)

So I finally did get around to read it, and to be honest I am kind of scared to write a full review of the book.  Why?  I am not sure there has been a more polarizing book in a long time.  There are two, very distinct, categories of people that want my thoughts on this book.  First are those that think this is the greatest book ever and is now the definitive Christian book on answering the question of how a Christian should deal with pain and suffering.  The second group are ready to reinstate heresy panels whereby the author may be tried, convicted and excommunicated.

Let me just say that my feelings on the book are, well, shall we say, somewhere in between the two.  I am afraid that whatever I say, I won’t love it enough or hate it enough to satisfy anyone.  “Come on, you spineless weasel! Take a stand.”

I think what he has to say about the “problem of pain” is actually pretty sound and comforting.  He pictures God as not the cause of pain, but one who will use the pain in our lives to bring some good.  All pain, in one form or another, is derived from the world’s separation from God and independence.  Again, God does not cause this pain, but it is a natural consequence from the collective rebellion of people.  Why then does God not choose to intervene and prevent pain?  The author gives a solid two part answer.  God desires to give us freedom and choice, and who knows how much pain and suffering he is preventing.  We will never know, because he prevented it.  Does that leave you unsatisfied?  Probably, and rightly so.  There are some questions that cannot be answered simply, and I don’t believe that even 48 hours in the physical presence of God can give satisfactory, complete answers to some of these questions.

Does the author go too far some times?  Yes.  I would say that he is not a theological scholar when it comes to the Trinity.  Is that going to bend me out of shape?  No.  Was I shocked by his portrayal of God as a black woman?  No.  Was he trying to be shocking?  Yes.  Again, does some of what he does go too far?  Well, what do we even mean by that?  He reduces God to human form as three separate people.  Even the author recognizes this will be incomplete.  Should he have therefore not done it? Of course not.  Anytime we describe or try to explain who God is, we will use limited analogies and words.  It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try.  We just need to recognize the limits, which I believe the author does.

All that to say, I am not a big fan of trying to be shocking for shock value sake.  “God’s a black! woman!  Ooooooohh.”  I found the book to drag in parts.  It still was a pretty quick read.  It is worth your time to read, especially if you have a personal interest in the question of how can their be pain and a loving God.  If you are a theological, doctrinal watchdog, as I can be sometime, you will have to turn some of that off at times and say, “it’s a fiction book.  It’s a fiction book.”

Well, despite my original intent, I did comment some on this.  Did you read it?  What did you think?  Any specific questions that you wish I had answered? Topic I should have covered?  Let me know.