Stop Whining and Start Winning

November 17, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Bible, Church and Leadership

I can still feel Colorado when I think about what it was like to live there.  Unfortunately, I don’t mean how I felt seeing how beautiful it was or the cold moutain air or anything awesome like that.  When people ask me how was it living in Colorado, I tell them that I wouldn’t know.  I lived at seminary, the Chick-Fil-A where I worked and the church where we attended and volunteered.  Those things happened to be in Colorado, but I was way too busy to notice.

be strong and courageousWhen I say I feel Colorado, I mean the pain that I felt in how hard that season was.  It started bad and got worse.  The reason I was there was to finish seminary, but I had hoped to do that remotely with my new small groups pastor job at my church in Conway.  I didn’t get the job.  I actually didn’t even get interviewed.  It was hard and hurtful.  The first real disappointment in my life.  Then we moved…in with my in-laws.  They were great and generous to do that, but it’s a shot at the manhood regardless.  I was delivering pizzas for a boss 10 years younger than me.  My car broke down and couldn’t be fixed.  The car we replaced it with stranded me 6 times in a year.  Right before we were about to sell it, it literally blew up.

How did I respond to this? Short answer: poorly.  Another short answer: whining.  I was so good at having a pity party.  I cried a lot and I yelled a lot.  At 28, I was unprepared for this level of disappointment.  I lacked the courage that was needed to face adversity and learn from it.  Rather than allowing God to use it in my life, at least for a season, I allowed it to wreck me.

I take comfort that I can say that I was like Joshua, one of the greatest leaders in the Bible.  Unfortunately, I comparing myself to his worst moment, but at least I can say that I am like him.

Joshua and the Israelites had just seen God do an incredible miracle at Jericho.  Now they were on to Ai.  Unknown to Joshua, Achan had stolen some of the treasures that God had forbidden.  As such, when they attacked Ai, God wasn’t with them.  (A fact that Joshua could have known, if he had consulted God before the attack on Ai.  Instead, he rushed in and attacked, forgetting that it was God that had brought them victory, not their soldiers or his military acumen. Another great lesson for another day.)

After their defeat at Ai, Joshua goes straight to whining and complaining mode.  He tells God that it would have been better if they had never come to the promised land at all.  He questions God’s integrity and wonders why God brought them all this way just for them to be wiped out.  Questioning God’s integrity is never a great option.  God, however, is gracious with Joshua and explains Achan’s sin and the solution for Joshua.

What should Joshua have done? Said another way, what should we do?  When a plan we are convinced is God’s plan goes wrong, what is the right response? When severe disappointment comes, what do we do?

1) Remember what God has already done. One disappointment does not negate what God has already done in your life.  God had just brought down the wall of Jericho.  He is still the same God.  The same God that has brought you to where you are and loved you and served you is the same God that is with you now.  You may not understand the what or the why of what’s happening now, but the character of God is the same.

2) Stop and ask God what’s going on.  The question is always asked, “Why do bad things happen to good people?’  The answer is both simple and complicated.  The simple answer, as with most deep questions, is that it depends.  The complicated answer:

  1. It could be sin.  That was the problem for Joshua.  This is where the phrase “sin in the camp” comes from.  God was opposing them because of sin. The drunk driver should not complain to God about why he is jail.  The man who neglects his wife should not complain about her affair.  God shows us tremendous grace but that doesn’t mean that the trial isn’t a result of sin.
  2. It was never God’s plan. We become convinced that God wants us to do something, but we never really asked him.  We confuse what we want with what God wants.  This is also in play here.  Joshua never asked God if it was time to attack or how.  Why didn’t I get the job at my church? Because, for a lot of reasons, it wasn’t right for me.  What I took as disappointment and a trial was God protecting me from what would not have been a good situation for me.
  3. Your plan is off. I firmly believe that God is calling me to reach people in NWA through The Grove Church.  We have seen some success.  We also have had some things we’ve tried go wrong.  Why? They weren’t good ideas.  The solution is stop doing that and start doing something different. Why was God not with us? It was a bad idea.
  4. You live in a fallen world. Sometimes the answer is bad things happen to good people because those good people live in a bad place.  Don’t let the overwhelming blessing you live under blind you to the fact that we live in a broken world where bad things happen.

3. Listen to God and trust him. Too often we can pray and ask God a question but we fail in the obvious next step–listening.  God will answer you.  I can make no guarantees on his timing, means, or favorability, but I can guarantee an answer.  When faced with disappointment or a trial, reach out and then listen.  Then trust whatever he says.  Don’t go where Joshua went.  He led with a distrust of God.  He believed the worst first.  Even in that, God met him and gave an answer.  Then we see Joshua choosing to trust and follow again.

I am walking through a lot of trials with different people right now.  Some are doing well and some are not.  The difference between them is simple–they have the courage to trust and follow God.

What Right Do I Have to Complain?

December 16, 2010 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

I’m not known as a complainer, maybe a good-hearted, humorous ranter, but not a complainer.  At least I hope not.  However, if I am not known as a complainer, it really is only because I’m not known.  (Wait, what?)  What I mean is that I am a complainer in my heart, it’s just that I don’t want to complain in public and be known as a complainer.  This means that you should pray for my wife, Heidi.  (Wait, what?) Seriously, if you know me at all, you can come up with 50 good reasons to pray for her, not the least of which is how much of my belly-aching she has to listen to.

Anywho, it’s been a while since I have publicly journaled the Loften perspective on the not selling of the house, so here we go.

I have been thinking recently about all of the things that we prayed for as we were getting ready for this transition to the new job pastoring the Grove Church in Fayetteville.  We prayed that the transition would happen during the summer, so that the girls wouldn’t have to change schools mid-year.  We prayed for safety and health for the whole family.  We prayed that we would have favor (Nice churchy phrase that one) at the church and that the church would do well quickly.  We prayed that the girls would do well in school.  We prayed that they would make friends quickly. We prayed that they would find good ways to connect with activities that they really enjoyed.  We prayed that the Razorbacks would have a good season with us up here (Just checking to see if you are really reading or skimming.  Just kidding on that one…mostly)

So, absolutely every one of those prayer requests God has answered, many of which far beyond our expectations.  I could fill up multiple blog posts with the stories of God’s faithfulness and love to us with stories about each of those requests.  However, there is but one prayer request that has yet to be answered (in the way we want)–selling that house.  Mind you, that’s a big one, an expensive one, a frustrating one, but it’s just one.

Furthermore, look back at the list (Hogs excluded).  Which one of those would I trade for the house being sold? My kids health or happiness?  The church’s success?  I wouldn’t trade any of them.  So, here is today’s rhetorical question: What right do I have to complain?  “God you make me so mad, how dare you only answer my top 9 prayer requests?  If you’re not going to answer all of them in just the way I want, then what good are you?”

I’m not saying that we have gotten to this place easily, but we are here.  “God we love you.  Thanks for being faithful to us and blessing us so much.”  We still pray for that house, that we would have closure, that we could settle and nest here.  But we can’t complain any more.  It just doesn’t make any sense.

There are people who follow hard after God who don’t have health, safety or 5 cents (think 3rd world countries).  How do I complain when there is that? (But that’s a post for another day)

I have it all.  Everything I need, and everything I want, except one thing, one thing.

What right do I have to complain?

Stuff Christians Need to Stop Saying #9

March 3, 2010 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

You know sometimes there is a huge gap between the production of sequels.  It seems that for a while they are popping out with wreckless abandon every 12-18 months and then they stop.  Why is that?  One reason is that the last one was so terrible that you want people to get the bad taste out of their mouth (Rocky V).  Sometimes it’s because the actor gets too big for his britches (arrogant for those of you who live outside the southern U.S.) and thinks he has become “too big” for the role then the actor needs to cash a check for some reason and after waiting on the “perfect script” they make one and lay a giant rotten egg (Indiana Jones).

Sometimes the author just gets really busy and distracted.

Set up: You or someone you know is going through some tough times.  It seems to be overwhelming.

Response: Well, you know, the Bible says that God won’t give you more than you can handle.

Sometimes people will go even further than that.  People begin to take pride in the trials that they are going through.  “God must think a lot of me, otherwise he wouldn’t put all of this on me.  He thinks I can handle a lot.”

“Now wait a minute, Cloften.  I have bared with this series for most of my adult life, or a month I can’t remember which.  I haven’t always agreed with you, but this is too far.  I know that is in the Bible.”

Ok, here is your verse:

I Corinthians 10:13

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

What does this passage say?  First of all, it is talking about temptation.  If you are tempted to sin, you will not be tempted in such a way that you will only be left with the option of sin.    If it speaks to anything, it speaks against a false view of “lesser of two evils” that says that we are put into situations where all we can do is sin.  There is no temptation to sin that is so great that you must choose sin.

Secondly, where does the way out come from?  The way out comes from God.  If the only ways you can overcome sin came from you, the verse wouldn’t make sense. I am tempted to sin beyond what I can handle all the time, noted by the fact of my persistent sin problem.  However, God always provides a way out.  Again, God always provides a way out.  Some face temptation in their lives and read this verse and believe that they can have confidence in themselves alone to overcome.  If that is true of you, then 1, you misunderstand your own personal history with overcoming sin and B, you haven’t read the rest of the verse.  We can have confidence in God, not us.

Even if you want to extend this passage beyond the temptation to sin (which is what Paul is talking about) and include the overwheming circumstances of life, it is only in God that we can find the way out.  Never have I met someone who took on a heavy burden and walked through it, that came out on the other side and said, “Wow I didn’t know that I could do that.”  They will tell a story about how God met them in their pain and how God brought others into their lives.

Overcoming the temptations and trials in your life is not about your perceived capacity to stand up against “what you can handle.”  It is about God filling, strengthening and leading humble broken people well beyond what they could handle on their own without God.

Stuff Christians Need to Stop Saying #1

I am hesitant to label this #1.  This means that I will do more.  However, if this doesn’t go well, I won’t.  But since it didn’t go well, you won’t remember, so we’re good.  As this (possibly) turns into a list over time, some of them will be funny, some will not.  Christians have a lot of expressions that we use.  Some of them have terrible theology in them.  Some are just weird.  Some are old and need a makeover.  Enough intro, here is #1.

Lesson Learned Theory of Facing Trials

Set-up: A Christian is going through some sort of difficult circumstance and is trying to process it.

So the person going through the trial is talking to a friend about the trial and one of them (could be either one) will say, “God is trying to teach you something.  You need to learn it, so this will pass.”  “Yeah, I know.  I thought I had learned this lesson already, but apparently I didn’t.  The trial came back.”

That seems harmless enough, and my guess is that it seems common.  However, there is a danger to that kind of thinking, to believe that trials happen so that God can teach us.  He then will not remove the trial until you learn the lesson.  He then reserves the right to bring more suffering into your life if you did not learn the lesson completely.

There are a couple of problems here.  First, it means we misunderstand the source of trials and suffering.  God is not the source.  A cursed and sinful world is the source.  We sin and suffering results.  Someone else sins, and suffering results.  The world that is cursed where sickness and death are the norm brings suffering.  God does use suffering to refine our character, but that job is never finished and that lesson will never be over.  God will use suffering to teach perseverence which develops character which produces hope, a hope that does not disappoint (Rom 5:1-5).  He will work for your good in all things (Rom 8:28).  Nowhere in that does it say or even suggest that God is throwing suffering on you simply to teach you or that he is holding on to the end of suffering like cheese on a string, waiting for you to learn something, but jerking it back if you haven’t learned enough yet.

God is a good God that loves you and wants you to have peace and hope in your life.  When trials come he is always going to be leading you in that direction, deepening your character.  However, do not believe that that means you are at fault for the suffering because he thought you needed to learn something.  Furthermore, (trying to avoid full blown rant) this kind of thinking is very dangerous for those that are in the middle of a trial that is irreversable, i.e. the death of a loved one or infertility.  We learn to cope, have hope and peace, trust God, but those things do not go away.

By all means, we need to find God in the middle of difficult circumstances.  However, in these situations God is not the strict 3rd grade teacher with the ruler ready to swat your knuckles, but a compassionate Father with you on his lap wanting you to find hope and life in him and to find comfort in the eternal life he offers.