Archive for December, 2016

Bare Limbs

Thursday, December 29th, 2016

mbhqxiwI took this picture Christmas Day near Nashville, Tennessee, as I lay on a creek bank, with a full stomach, looking up into a cloudless blue sky, thinking about Christmases past.  In my prone position, staring up at the huge oaks and poplars lining the bank, I was taken by the stark beauty of the bare limbs as they reached up to their source of life. Those branches could be a metaphor of my life and the countless times I reached up to God petitioning Him to intervene on my behalf or for loved ones in times of urgent need. It has been my experience that it is only when we strip ourselves naked of pride and self sufficiency that we truly surrender ourselves to our Creator.  It is only then that we wholly depend on our Source of life and His unfailing provision for us.  Looking at those limbs, I realized that while they were all similar, none were just alike.  For the hour so that I spent there listening to the babbling waters, I imagined those limbs as reflections  of  particular times in my life when I did not just pray, but times I begged God to help in periods of utter powerlessness. Here is a sampling of some limbs that I identified:  My dad’s fight with lung cancer, the night my brother was shot and critically wounded, the time in my early business career when I made a really big mistake, the day my nephew drowned, the days in Cathy’s pregnancy with Michael when we feared that there were problems,  the false scare that a young friend had MS, three newborn baby boys of dear friends born with heart problems, my 45 year struggle with my past including a lot of lies, the loss of a church I helped to build and the part I played in that sad story, the time I took Michael to the emergency room with a kidney stone,  the rejection I got a few weeks ago when I reached out after many years, the many times I prayed for the sick and hurting in our churches.

The powerful truth of the naked tree is that the source of the tree’s life will surely cloth those branches with a new blanket of leaves in the spring. The nakedness will last only for a short season.  Likewise, our times of utter powerlessness over life’s events are never permanent, but for a season only. In time God always clothes us in a coat of new hope.  The sun always rises and God always loves without fail.

Something to think about

 

My  journey to wholeness in my free online book  @ Part 1 UNSCREWED – Becoming Whole Again

Opening the Box

Thursday, December 22nd, 2016

dollarphotoclub_73799158-1024x680During my years as a pastor I would often use the expression “Big G God”. It is one thing to use that term; it is something else to believe that God is big enough to take care of you. Sometimes we tend to see God as a celestial grandfather whose chief attribute, perhaps his only attribute, is love. A danger we have in the church today is that we tend to strip God of his other attributes.  One of his attributes is that he is all-powerful; therefore, he does have the power to take care of you and everybody else. It doesn’t matter who you are or what is going on in your life. God has enough power! But you’ve gotta believe!

Let me give you an example of what I mean. Up until eleven years ago I lived for forty-five years in a shadowy world of shame and self-doubt carrying the deep, dark secret of having been sexually abused. I looked good on the outside, but inside I didn’t feel very good. Whenever my wife asked if anything “like that” had happened to me, I always said “no”. The reason I didn’t tell the truth is pretty simple actually. I could tell you that I was ashamed or that I was embarrassed, feared rejection or was afraid to admit it. All of that was true but the bottom line was I didn’t believe God was big enough to get me through dealing with my past. I didn’t see how it could possibly ever work out for my good. I had God stuffed into a box of my own making — a small box in fact.

Well, I’m happy to be able to tell you that now my inside matches my outside. I’ve opened the box and let God be God and I found out He’s bigger than big. God is huge! I decided to face the secret, tell the truth and trust God to take care of me. He did!  I’ve been blessed to  share my story with many others. My life has never been better. I have experienced personally how awesomely enormous the “big” is in God. My part was to open the box; God did the rest.

Something to Think About

My  journey to wholeness in my free online book  @ Part 1 UNSCREWED – Becoming Whole Again

Nothing Lasts Forever

Monday, December 12th, 2016


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As I prepare for the final service, December 18th, of my twenty-seven  year ministry spanning three churches, two of which we helped plant, I find myself surprisingly “un-sad”. Looking back, I have few regrets. From the day in the fall of 1989 when Pastor David Graves offered me my first church job, it has been the journey of a lifetime. Even today, I have a difficult time wrapping my brain around why God chose me. My faith has grown exponentially to the point that most days I am at least in the ballpark of being a fully devoted follower of Christ. I think back on my time at Grace Church and the issue with the hymnal. I was raised Catholic and until a year or so before I went on staff I had never seen a hymnal, much less tried to sing from one. So, for the first six months I was about a half-second behind everybody else. That was a bit awkward since each service I was sitting on the platform without any place to hide. But even that bit of embarrassment makes a cool little story to share.

In 1993 Cathy and I, along with four friends, started Highland Park Church. I have believed in God at least since I was five, but during my twelve years at HPC I was witness to what I believe were several miracles that are unexplainable if I take God out of the equation. The first was the perfect assurance we had that the church would be a huge success even though you could put what we knew about church planting on the head of a pin. From the get-go that was a given and it happened above and beyond our dreams. There was a miracle regarding a horse trailer. The most obvious one was that God pulled some strings allowing us to purchase 66 acres, five miles from downtown for $725,000. A Bank president remarked that was the best property buy in Nashville’s history.

Eleven years ago, I left my position as founding pastor in what was the most painful season of my life.  That period was permeated with a deep sense of sadness that settled into the pores of my soul like a thick August  fog. At first I thought it was about brick and mortar. We had just moved into our brand-new state of the art building, after spending nearly twelve-years as a portable church, meeting in a community center and a high school. I finally realized that my pain had little to do with losing a building. The epicenter of my pain was the loss of treasured relationships. Buildings are replaceable; treasures are not.  After a personal grief that lasted for months, I concluded that nothing lasts forever.  And as painful as that might be, night is always followed by a new day.

I figured that Crossroad Community Church would be HPC 2.2. It was never close as far as size. At first I had a problem accepting that fact, mostly because of my pride. Then one Thanksgiving morning God told me to take care of the folks He had given me and do it as well as I could. I’ve tried to do that. The final miracle is the “Crossroad Miracles Still Happen Grant Program” in which our church will distribute over $600,000 that would have gone into a building. Now, it will go to multiple ministries so that our legacy will live on in the lives of people whom we will never know. We are discovering anew that it is greater to give than receive. God Bless!

My  journey to wholeness in my free online book  @ Part 1 UNSCREWED – Becoming Whole Again

With God Anything is Possible

Wednesday, December 7th, 2016

159ee5968bacaba594a41b5e11a1ebbcOne of the most asked questions that I get is “How do I know there is a God?” I love that one because I have a great answer. “I have seen him work miracles in my life.” Lately, as we have been winding down our ministry, I have been thinking back over the last twenty-seven years and how God used many people to get me from selling building supplies to selling Jesus and allowed us to help plant both Highland Park Church in 1993 and Crossroad Community Church in 2005. He lit the fuse to this miracle in an unusual way. It all started through a guy I met in a youth football program. At that time, I had not been going to church with any regularity for over twenty years. I have learned that when God starts something you better grab hold because you are in for an amazing adventure. It is no stretch to tell you that I will be in heaven because God chose me for this incredible ride. God sent others into my life to guide me along this journey. Like the retired preacher who, over a cup of coffee in Memphis, first encouraged me to think about the ministry. My wife, Cathy, who gave up being a stay at home mom, so I could become a minister in 1990 and who without her pulling much more than her share, my ministry would have been impossible. There were the hundreds of people who loved and supported us when my forty-five year secret shame came out in 2005. One of those is the most giving person I have ever known. He introduced me to the thrill of generosity which has made me a better man. I constantly thank God for those folks along the way.

So, twenty-seven years down the road, on most days I get close to allowing Jesus to be my Lord and not just my Savior. I have found thought trial and error that one adjustment makes life much more fun and a lot less complicated. Instantly, life becomes love and forgiveness instead of bitterness and hate. I confessed to our church the day I announced my retirement, that for years, after the nasty HPC split, that I had taken joy in the fact that the church I had helped to plant still had only one service. How is that for sinfulness? It was all about me and my hurt and nothing about folks coming to know Jesus.  Obviously, at that time John was Lord and not Jesus. Then one day I was alone in our cabin when God showed me how out of His will I was. Since that day, I have prayed for God to grow HPC to two services and bless everybody there. That is the latest miracle. That is a God thing not a John thing. I am expecting more miracles in the new season of our lives because with God anything is possible.

Attention Pastors

Monday, December 5th, 2016

grantsMiracles Still Happen: Crossroad Community Church will have a final service on December 18.  After Christmas, we will launch the “CCC Miracles Still Happen Grant Program”.  God has blessed us financially, so we want to pass His blessing on to other churches / 501c3 ministries.  These grants are not intended for operational expenses but rather for very specific ministry projects. In phase one (now) we invite pastors / ministry leaders to email johngouldener@gmail.com with a short description of your church and its need. If our grant committee selects you for phase two, we will email an application packet to gather more information which could include financial statements, board members /elders, corporate charter, 501c3 acceptance, etc. Preference will be given to non-denominational churches. Closing date for submitting applications is March 1,  2017. We expect that all the grants will be awarded by July 1, 2017.  With God miracles still happen! God Bless.

Waiting

Thursday, December 1st, 2016

cat_waiting_for_food-t2This morning on the way for my ten-year colonoscopy, with my stomach feeling like my throat had been cut, I was hoping the wait time would be minimal. It was. I got right in and out and was eating breakfast by 8 AM. Nobody likes to wait. Yet, deep inside we expect to have to wait on things like the light to turn, at good restaurants or for voice mail to cycle through. We go into that kind of stuff with our eyes open knowing full well that it isn’t going to happen without a time of waiting. But when it comes to God, well that is a horse of a different color—-right?   Waiting on God makes waiting on the mundane a piece of cake!

God waiting is not a passive way of killing time. It is an activity.  It is a quiet and sometimes a very prolonged active stillness.  God waiting needs to be a directed, purposeful expectancy.  It should be a deliberate directing our attention toward God, awaiting His intervention on our behalf per his perfect timetable.  Charles Stanley says waiting is “Like standing on tiptoe waiting (God’s) further instruction” (1 The Glorious Journey p330).

God is rich in mercy.  He is not an absent-minded kind of God.  He always has a specific reason for telling us to wait.  When waiting on God our sole responsibility is to trust — just to trust God.  That’s it, nothing else. What I’ve discovered is that God always gives me clear direction. However, in my life He’s never been in a hurry. So, here’s the take away. The longer God takes to give direction, the more He has to teach us. When things aren’t going smoothly, remember to trust His love and not complain. Wait on God’s instructions. They will come at just the right time and they will be correct.

I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD. Psalm 27:13-14 (NLT)