Archive for January, 2015

Not Quite Right

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015

superbowlfootball607When I was a little boy, I stole a plum from H. G Hills Grocery at 20th and Charlotte. I ate it outside while my mom finished her shopping. As we walked home, with me pulling my red wagon containing the grocery sacks, something was not quite right.  My conscience hurt me. I never confessed but the following Friday, when we went shopping again, I discretely left a dime on the checkout counter. Now sixty plus years later sometimes when I pass the plum department at Publix I recall that heist. As far as I can remember, the plum caper was my first “official” sin; there have been many more since that day.  Most of them I prefer not to write about.

God is pretty up-front about what he blesses and what He doesn’t.  From one end of the Bible to the other, it is crystal clear that He never blesses behavior that is contrary to his will.  He never has and never will because He can’t. That would be contrary to his nature.  If a person lies, cheats, steals, assaults,  hates or sins in any way, but also does lots of good stuff in between and prays every day for God to bless him, I’m betting that the blessing will never come.

Lately there has been a lot of ink and digital content devoted to twelve footballs that somehow shrunk a bit during a recent big-deal playoff game. The quarterback said he didn’t know anything about it. The coach called a news conference to offer what he called “scientific proof” as to how the balls may have lost their mojo all by themselves. In the grand scheme of things it is really not a big deal. But obviously something is not quite right; the star quarterback and his coach have both taken a hit in public opinion.

In the “Vanderbilt” rape trial, which was a very big deal, defendant Cory Batey testified how he and his co-defendant went to church and bible study as usual the morning after their assault. I am guessing that might have felt a bit awkward and not quite right.

The rest of us sometimes also experience areas of our lives where things are also not quite right. Whenever that occurs, in our marriages, relationships, our private worlds, grocery stores or wherever, there are things we can do to turn things around if we will act quickly! Unfortunately, most of the time we refuse to do them.  Usually, what happens is we dig our heels in so deeply in denial that our pride takes control and what was once great is no more. Maybe that is why God put these words in the Bible.   First pride, then the crash— the bigger the ego, the harder the fall.   Proverbs 16:18  (The Message)

Something to Think About

God’s Will for Dummies

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

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It was the fall of 1989; I was in the building supply business in Nashville, Tennessee, with a somewhat vague plan to enter the ministry in 1995, after our son graduated from high school. The way Cathy and I had it  scripted, when Michael left school for the University of Tennessee, we would then be  in a position to swap selling lumber for selling Jesus.  The phone buzzed in my office; when I took the call my friend Jeff was on the line.  He asked me to meet him at the Cooker for lunch. Just before I hung up, he said that he would have David Graves with him. The name meant nothing to me.  Jeff told me that David was a pastor friend of his. He was a sharp looking man who was immaculately dressed and in his mid thirties, with not a hair out of place or a wrinkle to be seen. He didn’t look like the typical preachers that I had been exposed. In fact he looked  very “corporate”.  As the three of us were having lunch, I got the impression that Jeff was trying to sell David to me. Quite honestly, I was clueless where our conversation was headed. About the time I bit into my cheeseburger, David looked straight at me and said, “John  I would like for you to join my staff at Grace Church  as my administrator and associate pastor”. When I try I can be a pretty good actor. I was able to continue chewing my mouthful of burger without even a hint that I thought perhaps I was hallucinating.

Since that lunch, my twenty-five year ministry, spanning three churches, has been one heck of a ride. I have experienced the ultimate highs and a few lows so deep and dark that I questioned both my faith and myself.   Because of David’s trust in me, I have been privileged to have something that few mortals ever experience – fulfillment and incredible joy even in the midst of pain.

People frequently ask me, “How do you know if something is God’s will?”  The answer is that often I am not at all sure where my will ends and God’s will begins. However, I do know this. When something out of the blue, like my lunch with David Graves happens, something that we did not manipulate and it is so out of the ordinary as was my entrance into ministry, when that happens the smart money will be in the God column.

Something to Think About

“God Please…

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015

granny_smith…let granny live.”  That was the prayer of Tim  a college age kid at my first church.  When he did not return after the Christmas break, I tracked him down. He told me that he “had given up on God”. His 89 year old granny had died on Christmas Eve. He said, “Pastor our whole family prayed that granny would live, but she died. We begged him”. I helped him understand that granny could not live forever; that God had given her a wonderful life —- much longer life than average and that death is essential to life itself. He was back at church the next Sunday.

Most everything I have seriously prayed for, I think God has pretty much given me. And the times he did not, I have been able to look back at some of them and see why it would have been bad for me to get the answer I had wanted. So when God promises to give us whatever we ask in prayer, it is conditional on God’s love for us. So it has to be something that is both good for us and under God’s will.

Without a doubt the hardest I ever prayed for anything in my life was that God would put our church back together after it split in 2005. I cannot adequately tell you how I begged, wailed and pleaded with God on that one! I am a person of great faith so for the longest I thought that he would give me what I wanted.  He did not. It took several years for me to see how better off I am at the new church than the old and that is not a slam on the old one at all.  By not answering my prayer God has given me more than I could ever have imagined. But at the time, I could not see that.

Through that process, God opened a new chapter in my ministry. It would be about more than getting new folks to show up. Now it would be about shepherding the flock that he had blessed me. The next time you are begging God for this or that stop long enough to understand that he will never do anything to hurt you. You cannot lose.

Something to Think About

Surrendered

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

SurrenderThe older I get the smarter I get. After church Sunday one of our long time members, Sunday volunteer and dear friend expressed a concern  about what I had written in my blog the previous week (“God Breathed” January 1, 2015  Johngouldener.com).

To make a long story short I had contrasted our first church plant with the second. In the first we experienced what I believe to be a series of God directed miracles. While the second church has obviously been blessed by God in many ways, it has not followed the “miraculous model” of the first. I had written, “During my Thanksgiving retreat at the Abbey of Gethsemani, God revealed the real difference (between the two)…The first church was itself a miracle. It was raised up by God himself. God breathed always trumps man-breathed. Miracles only come to pass when we completely surrender our will to His”.

Anybody who knows my story realizes that for a lumber salesman, who had taken a twenty year break from church, to walk out of the lumber company one day and walk into a church of 1000 the next as the associate pastor without any seminary study, something miraculous was going on. For my wife and me to take that step, we had to completely trust God because it made absolutely no sense in the human.

Here is what I believe was the key and it may be the key to most all answered prayer. Three years later when we helped, along with others, in launching our first church plant, I believe that we were all surrendered completely to God’s will, as far as the new church was concerned. As best as we knew how, we followed his leading in planting that first church. Our only thought was how our church would be a doorway to Jesus Christ. As far as I can recall there was no thought of how it would benefit any of us whatsoever.

Twelve years later when our church split and some of us formed a new church, as I have reflected back,  I now realize I was not completely surrendered to him on the second go around. Over time God has shown me that this time my primary concern was not how to reach people for Christ, but for me it was primarily about how to continue my personal ministry, take care of “my” people and show up my former church.

So Sunday my friend asked me if I thought that Crossroad was not in God’s will. I believe that it is.  But God never blesses something that is bad. “Continuing my ministry” is a good thing and “taking care of people” is a good thing. God has greatly blessed those two facets of  CCC.  On the other hand, “showing up my former church” (by growing a really large church), while it may be a normal human reaction, it is a very ungodly thing. It is sin and God never blesses sin.

Something to think about