With God Anything is Possible

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

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

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)

A Lot Less Churches

November 23rd, 2016

churchesThis morning at the “Y” I overheard a couple of guys talking about their churches. One was saying that his church recently got about thirty new people because another church in the neighborhood had gone through its “umpteenth split”. The details were real gory; yet I had to chuckle.  Not because it was funny, but wondering what the newly unemployed preacher had been thinking when he took the job in the first placed. Stepping into that dysfunctional mess was like marrying someone who had said “I do” zillion times previously.

In 1993 my wife and I, along with a couple of our best friends, started what we all thought was the first “split proof”  church in the history of the world. We succeeded —- for twelve years almost to the day! Then the bottom fell out! I came to understand through that 12 year experience, most of which was positive, that even in a “split proof church”, there is still one flaw – people. In our case, there was no one cause. It was more of a matter of me mishandling several different issues that alone were not that significant, but taken together effectively transferred the power to one family. One day I looked up and was holding the very short end of the stick. Now, the former best friends do not speak to each other and the “split proof church” has joined the ranks of nearly every other church. That is a shame. We are a sorry witness to the Gospel we proclaim.  The Supreme Court recently ruled that corporations “are like people”. I’m not sure about that, but I know that is true of churches.

I still think that it is theoretically possible to have a split proof church. Here is how: At the very first hint of a strain in a relationship, everybody must follow this commandment or be shot: Matthew 5:23-24 CEV So if you are about to place your gift on the altar and remember that someone is angry with you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. Make peace with that person, then come back and offer your gift to God.  Pebbles unaddressed become boulders very quickly. If more of us lived that verse, the world would be a better place and there would be a lot less churches.

Special Announcement:

Miracles 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 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 will include financial statements, board members, corporate charter, 501c3 acceptance, etc. We expect that all the grants will be awarded in the first quarter of 2017.  With God miracles still happen! God Bless.

 

Getting Through Hell

November 17th, 2016

hell_headerI just got a call from a friend that made my day. He told me that his son was in treatment at Sierra Tucson for drug addiction. I had lunch with this man last week and had recommended that the son go there. I shared with him how my time there, for trauma treatment from childhood sexual abuse, in 2005 had been life changing. Shortly after I returned home from ST, a friend took me to breakfast. He presented me with a refrigerator magnet that says, “If you’re going through hell, keep going”.  Better advice I have never been given! Thankfully, I have made my way to the other side and now I have something in common with millions of others who have  taken the same advice. The key to any recovery or even life in general is to simply “keep going”. As a pastor and former hospital chaplain, I have ministered to hundreds of dying people.  They pretty much always fall into two categories: quitters and folks that “keep going”. There is no comparison to the quality of life of the two.  Regardless of the struggle you may be in right now, the key is to “keep going”, because when you do, you always make it through.

When your “hell” is rooted in actions done to you by others, the best means of propulsion through it is forgiveness.  Without it, we become frozen in our hole of misery, victims trapped by our own bitterness. That is a hellish way to live! When you hold on to your security blanket of hate, you automatically stop moving.  At that point all you are doing is slowly squeezing the life out of your soul. You never get on with your life unless you let it go. Without forgiveness, sooner or later you are toast. That is the reason the Bible tells us not to keep a record of wrongs (I Corinthians 13:5).  Every time you recall the hurt you immediately make a willful choice to “keep going” by reminding yourself anew that you are once again going to give up your right to get even. Instead you mindfully pray that God will bless the very people who have hurt you. One of my “ah ha moments” was the day that it occurred to me that life never happens in a vacuum. By that I mean, that as a rule, other things are going on because people do not wake up one day and decide to hurt you. It is only hurt people who hurt people — understanding that truth has been a healing salve in my own journey. Never forget that as bad as things may be, they are never as bad as they seem and there is always a bright light when you make it through.

At the Crossroads

November 9th, 2016

donald_trump_rnc_h_2016For half of Americans President-Elect Trump’s unlikely victory is assessed as a disaster of the greatest magnitude.  For the other half, it is manna from heaven. How do “We the People” reconcile those two antagonistic points of view? As a nation that is the challenge we face together this morning. In my personal life, out of my greatest single defeat spring my maximum growth curve. Of course, amid the pain I was blind to that truth. I am a Believer, so with my back against the wall, and no other viable choice, I did a new thing. I entirely surrendered my bitter disappointment to my only sure Source of relief. After that initial step, I continued leaning on Him by doing the next right thing until together we have walked into the greatest period of my life. For me the “next right thing” included steps like forgiveness, swapping hate for love, praying for enemies, keeping no record of wrongs, refusing to throw stones along with a daily surrender to the power of my Savior.

Today America is at a crossroads. One road is the wider one so it is the easier traveled. It is the road which has split us right down the middle and got us where we are.   It is dotted with trusted and familiar rest stops of “right against left”, “black against white”, “straight against gay” and countless other perilous “Us against them” notions. Fortunately, there is another road, “But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.” (Matthew 7:14 NLT) I have no doubt that God’s hand is involved in the unique opportunity we all have today. Never again will it be politics as usual. Things have changed! We can keep trudging down the wide and perilous roadway of hate and division or we can FINALLY at least TRY to follow Jesus’ most important commands, “And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31) I do not know one single Christian who is doing either. We are just as disobedient as the Israelites of old. It did not end well for them. If we will each surrender our self-will to Jesus’ will we can once again actually be the UNITED States of America!

Walking on Water

November 2nd, 2016

Walk On Water

The other day I heard a pastor say, “Without doubt we would not need faith”. That got me to thinking again about those two. At our house, we have a statue titled Walking on Water.  It shows Jesus standing on a wave pulling Peter to safety, as he begins to sink into his doubts.   Perhaps you remember the story; if not that’s fine. The disciples were out in the sea when a storm suddenly came up….

About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came to them, walking on the water.  When the disciples saw him, they screamed in terror, thinking he was a ghost.  But Jesus spoke to them at once. “It’s all right,” he said. “I am here! Don’t be afraid.”  Then Peter called to him, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you by walking on water.”  “All right, come,” Jesus said.  So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus.  But when he looked around at the high waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted.  Instantly Jesus reached out his hand and grabbed him. “You don’t have much faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt me?”  And when they climbed back into the boat, the wind stopped. Then the disciples worshiped him. “You really are the Son of God!” they exclaimed. Matthew 14:25-33 (NLT)

In the everyday and not so everyday storms of life, sometimes our faith falters. This does not necessarily mean we have failed. When Peter’s faith faltered, he reached out to Jesus, the only one who could help. He was afraid; he doubted, but he still looked to Christ. When you are fearful of the troubles around you, doubting Jesus presence or ability to help, you must remember that he is the only one who can help.  The point that Peter’s action   vividly demonstrates is that when you feel like you are about to sink into the depths of doubt, is when you’ve got to call out!  That is all God expects of you.  You do the calling and he’ll do the rest. With God,  anything is possible —- even walking on water!

 

Better Things are Coming

October 19th, 2016

hope-quotes-14They were talking in hushed tones but I was able to hear enough to become very sad once again. Another young person had ended his life. The second leading cause of death in the 10-34 age group is suicide, right behind accidents. Why does that happen and why does it happen so often?   The answer is really pretty simple.  It’s the same thing that causes the young suicide bombers in the Middle East to strap a bomb to their backs and walk into a crowded restaurant and blow themselves up. Whether you are a suicide bomber or a young professional the reason you take your own life is because you lose something that is a necessity for life …… hope.  You lose hope.

Hope is the essential ingredient to withstanding the difficulties of life.  The author of the book of Hebrews refers to hope as “an anchor for the soul” 6:19 (NLT).   Without hope, there is no quality of life. Without hope sometimes there is no life itself. Many years ago I went into a spiral deep down into the pit of hopelessness that became more intense each day. I went to a place I’ve never been and I pray I’ll never return.  A guy who for over 15 years had taught others to have faith, to believe and trust God, and here I was just barely hanging on by my finger nails.  I expect that many, if not all of you, know what that’s like, don’t you?

One of the most inspiring writings of all time on the subject of hope comes from the prophet Jeremiah in the Old Testament.  Here, set against a backdrop of facing disaster and ruin, a man whose eyes are saturated with tears discovers that his hope that has been depleted and even obliterated, is rekindled and focused on God.

Lamentations 3:17-19 (NLT) summarizes what many hopeless people feel in the pit of their souls,    “Peace has been stripped away, and I have forgotten what prosperity is. I cry out, ‘”My splendor is gone! Everything I had hoped for from the Lord is lost!”’ The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words.”

That is exactly how I was feeling back in 2005. That is how the young man whom the guys were talking about was feeling. The victim of hopelessness loses peace, focus, and strength.  He gains misery, bitterness and pain.  That is what happens where hope has been exhausted. But after painting a bleak picture of his life, Jeremiah then takes a look at the other side of the coin by giving us  a truth literally crammed full of hope.

Lamentations 3:22-23 (NLT) “The unfailing love of the Lord never ends! By his mercies we have been kept from complete destruction. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each day.”

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

The River of Evil

October 13th, 2016

huang-he-jin-xia-da-xia-gu-1In 1968, shortly before I voted for the first time, my dad gave me some unsolicited advice that went like this: “Son never vote for a Republican! I voted for that SOB Eisenhower in 52 and that was the biggest mistake of my life”. In that instant of time somehow I was able to keep my mouth shut. But to let you know how that story ended, I voted for Hubert Humphery; not because dad told me to but because, back then, I was very liberal. Please don’t stop reading; I did not stay in that place.  Dad would not be happy; I have been disobedient. My voting has been all over the map and today I think I’m a moderate. As a “boomer” I was taught by my parents, the nuns in Catholic school and society that I had some kind of almost mystic-like, sacred duty to vote every time the polls were open.  I guess that is the reason I felt a slight tinge of guilt when I bailed in 2004 (Bush / Kerry, ugh). This year, however, I am not going to feel any remorse when I do not vote for only the second time.

They say that the way you can tell if a politician is lying is that his/her mouth is moving. I know that this year that is obviously true. What I have come to realize, in my late years, is that most people are not bothered by outright lies or the obscene amounts of money that is poured into the campaigns by folks buying influence. The whole political system has become polluted by a systemic river of evilness which is ripping our country apart. We now live in an “us against them culture” where “US” is good and “THEM” is bad. Instead of loving “THEM” as God’s Word demands, we pretty much hate “THEM”.  Our whole political system is designed in such a way that many good folks go to Washington, but few if any return.

I can’t count the number of folks I hear saying “the less of two evils”, when it comes to voting. That con worked on me several times.  Recently I realized that by voting for the less of two evils is evil in itself. Evil is always evil. Sin is sin. By definition it is always bad. That law flows out of God’s will which penetrates every fiber of society.  The way I understand how God set things up was that His will trumped all.   Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need” Matthew 6:33 (NLT). This year I am going to trust God to do that very thing and I’m going to stay home and  love “THEM” and pray for God to save us from ourselves.

Something to Think About

More about my dad and I in my  journey to wholeness in my free book  @ Part 1 UNSCREWED – Becoming Whole Again

Harvest Moon

October 5th, 2016

moon-p134987767-4I hope you took some time to pause for a few minutes to just soak in last month’s incredibly brilliant Harvest Moon which, for believers, was an occasion for silent worship one on one with your very Creator God. I cannot understand how anyone who caught a glimpse of that moon rising over our city could not believe in God.  I don’t see how that is possible, but that is just me. You know the Bible more or less says the same thing. In Romans 1 Paul says that folks have no excuse for not believing in God because all they need to do is open their eyes. Seeing that magnificent moon again got me to thinking about how I take God and His creation for granted.

Have you ever stopped to really think about the moon? I figure that there was a lot of behind the scenes work done to hang it up there. How did God come up with the moon?  How did He arrive at its design, its distance from the sun and the earth, its effect on the tides, its orbit? Did he design it from scratch or reach down and grab a hand full of earth and suspend it to become the Moon.

I mean even for God the sun and the moon and the stars and galaxies and black holes, whatever they are, — how did He come up with all that?  Wonder if He drew it all out first on a napkin or perhaps built a scale model? Did he plan for the moon to be so beautiful or did that happen by accident?  As I looked at that moon, I wondered if it was by His design that it would have that incredible orange hue or is that just pollution? I’m not sure about that. But the moon is pretty incredible and so God must be too!

The story of my  journey to wholeness in my free book  @ Part 1 UNSCREWED – Becoming Whole Again