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.

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.

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.”

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)

Trust God, Dream Big and Stop Sinning (Nehemiah Wrap-up)

March 28, 2011 by cloften  
Filed under Bible, Church and Leadership, Teaching

We just finished 2.5 months of Nehemiah.  Thanks for all the good feedback on the series.  Nehemiah is an incredible book that tells a powerful story of an incredible leader and a nation trying to restore its relationship with God and break the cycle of sin.

I just wanted to take a moment and review all the different pieces of the story and what we learned from Nehemiah.

We first meet Nehemiah and we see an influential leader in Persia being called by God to rebuild the wall in Jerusalem.  The plight of his people broke his heart and he had to take action.  Follow the passions that God put on your heart and believe that God will do incredible things through your life. Way too often we settle for ordinary with God, and don’t believe that God even wants to do great things in our lives.

In Nehemiah, we see a man who was devoted to prayer.  He knew that the only way anything significant was going to happen was if God moved.  God moves through prayer.  However, he was also a very deliberate planner.  He wasn’t just one or the other.  He prayed and planned.  I’ve often heard it said that we should pray like it depends only on God, and work like it depends completely on us.  I don’t know that I like that, because even in our planning there should be a built-in dependence on God. So, we should pray like it depends only on God, and plan like the God of the universe is calling you to do it.

In the actual building of the wall, we see a lot of different people playing a role.  The job could never depend on one person.  People were focused on building their one section of the wall.  No one did anything spectacular on their own, but together they did something incredible.  When we each believe that God wants to use us and we all work together, we see God do amazing things.

However, in the middle of all of this we see a ton of opposition from the outside and struggles within.  Anything worth doing for God will find opposition and skeptics. Our success will depend on who we listen to.  We need to listen to God’s call on our life more than we listen to critics. We also need to take care to not be divisive.  What God has called us to is too important and significant for us to fight over little things. How big the things are that divide us depends on what we compare them to.  If God has called us to reach the world, just about everything else becomes fairly small.

After they rebuilt the wall, we see the greater work of rebuilding the people begin.  It begins with Ezra reading the Law to the people.  They respond with great sadness for their sins.  However, first the leadership wants the people to take time to celebrate.  They have been reconciled and brought back. They must rejoice.  We have to take time to celebrate the fact that we have a relationship with the God of the universe. It is a very serious thing to walk with God, but serious doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t celebrate.  We must celebrate.

Next comes the time to repent.  Sin is a big deal, and the Israelites realize that it is their sin that has separated them from God and they rightly respond with repentance.  Although God is gracious to us, we must realize that sin hurts us and offends God, and we must repent. Saying “sorry” is one thing, being sorry and changing is another.

After the time of repentance we see the Israelites desiring to make commitments to try and break the cycle of sin.  Sin-sorry-forgiveness…sin-sorry-forgiveness…and on and on it went.  They wanted to break that cycle, and so they pledge to not intermarry, to honor the Sabbath and to give sacrificially.  It takes great sacrifice on our part to see God do incredible things among us in the long-term.

In Nehemiah, we have a great leader, and as he is wrapping up this task, we see his leadership skills and those of the leaders he is leaving behind.  We see leaders taking initiative, doing what others won’t. The leaders are the ones to move to the new rebuilt city.  We also see a great party to celebrate and dedicate the wall.  The people are inspired, because that’s what leaders do.  Leaders inspire people.

You really do wish that the story could have ended there, but it doesn’t.  Despite their desire to not fall back into the cycle of sin, they quickly do and Nehemiah has to rebuke and correct them when he comes back to check on the people.  Regret and feelings last a little while.  We need to be people that desire long-term repentance.  This doesn’t happen quickly.  This comes when in our hearts we commit to doing what it takes to be the men and women God has called us to be.  We become a part of a community.  We are committed to God’s word and prayer.  We often reflect on the power and love of God demonstrated in the Gospel.

There is much to be learned in Nehemiah.  I’d encourage you to read the book (again, I hope).  Listen again to some of the sermons on the chapters that you most need to apply.  Let’s allow this time in Nehemiah to impact us not just for now, but for years to come.

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.

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?

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.

That’s not fair

Have you ever noticed how much time we spend lamenting things that we have deemed are not “fair”?  Why did he get that job?  Why does my brother get to stay up later than me?  Why do they have more money?  Why did this bad thing happen to me?  Why are these people getting away with hurting me?  “IT’S NOT FAIR!”

I say all of this even as I sit here with a small knot in my stomach myself about something that I wish were different, that will, no matter what, not ever be different.

What an incredible waste of energy it is for us to spend so much time dwelling on what we deem to be not fair.  Why did this happen?  Who let this happen?  Here is what should have happened.  We go on and on.  We lose sleep.  We rant to our friends.  We even get theological and bring God into the situation.  Did God cause this or did he let it happen?  Could he have stopped this?  Why didn’t God stop this?

We are not making the situation better.  We are not helping ourselves or hurting the people that cause us pain. (Though I have found that passive/agressive sulking really does stick it to people).  What then should we do?  First, surrender to the reality that life is not fair.  In John 16:33, Jesus assured us that in this world we would have trouble.  Why then the surprise?  Then we should turn from despair and frustration and turn to hope.  In Romans 5, Paul encourages to rejoice in sufferings (weird, I know), because they lead us to a hope in God’s love that never disappoints.  Everything else can disappoint us, but that hope never will.  Move away from your pain and frustration and turn to the love that God gives. 

I could spend a lot of time frustrated that I’m not 6′6″ and my basketball career was cut short, but I wouldn’t call that productive or helpful.  What is productive and helpful is learning to trust and lean on a God that loves us, especially when life is not fair.