Posts Tagged ‘John Gouldener’

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


original
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

A Lot Less Churches

Wednesday, 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

Thursday, 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.

Walking on Water

Wednesday, 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

Wednesday, 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

Thursday, 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

Wednesday, 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

A Couple of Old Ladies

Wednesday, September 21st, 2016

old-woman-imagesBoth elderly widows lived at the same assisted living facility so obviously they had much in common. Each appeared to be about the same age and seemed to me to have more or less equal health and mobility.   Both sat in their favorite chairs with a blanket covering their legs watching TV.  Even though it was in the seventies outside, both rooms felt like the sauna at the “Y”. Not a hair was out of place on either head. Obviously they had recently returned from their weekly hair appointments. The décors of their rooms were essentially the same. Pictures of loved ones, past and present, adorned the walls; both had land-line telephones, chairs for visitors, goodies for snacking and a box of Kleenex within easy reach.

But the inhabitants of those two rooms could not have been greater contrasts. One was all smiles and answered my knock on the door with a cheerful, “Hello, please come in”. The entire time of our visit there was an aura of a positive and contagious force field around the sweet lady with a huge smile. Her demeanor testified to the delight my visit had brought her. As we talked, I recalled thinking, “Hope I can be this content when I move in this place”.  I came away uplifted and thankful for such pleasant experience with a truly amiable lady.

When I knocked on the other door, I heard a moan-like “It’s open”. When I cracked the door, the woman looked like she had just returned from a funeral. Alas, nothing had changed since my last visit! As we talked, I wondered how long it had been since she had actually smiled. The lady never said one positive thing during our thirty minute “ain’t it bad” conversation. It was all about her pains, her lack of bowel movements, how bad the food is and the lackluster staff.  I came away from her room wanting to shoot myself!

Walking to my car, I tried to analyze the contrast between those two women. I came to the conclusion that the quality of our lives is pretty much an internal thing. Simply put, it is dependent on the daily choice we make before our feet hit the floor.

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

Hole to Whole

Wednesday, September 14th, 2016

6a00d83451df4569e201b8d0ce078b970cToday is one of my favorite days because it is September 14. It is my yearly day of personal reflection and thanksgiving to my “Big G God” for a new life. It ranks up there with the day I was born, got married, son was born and the day that I found a personal relationship with Jesus. So on this day, I can see that I am blessed beyond my wildest dreams.  Eleven years ago this date, I was on an airplane to the unknown, as I flew to Tucson, Arizona  to begin  rehab in the Trauma and Abuse Program at Sierra Tucson (http://www.sierratucson.com). I was an emotional basket case. I re-felt the same fear that a terrified fourteen-year boy had felt when he was afraid people were going to “find out”. Yet, I knew the awful secret, that I had kept tucked away in the darkest recesses of my being, was the reason that I was on that flight.

Undoubtedly, things were going to be different from now on; but I was horrified of what was ahead and what was going to happen to me in the process.  But most of all, I feared what people would think about me. I was terrified that people would stop loving me; very few did. That was the exact fear I had experienced 45 years earlier. Now, suddenly the secret was out; everything had changed, while nothing had changed. In a real sense, the fear, pain, and remorse of the next several weeks that would stretch into the spring of the new year, would be nearly more than I would be able to bear.

Yet, all along the way God, in his mercy and love, strategically placed people who loved me, people who took my hand and walked with me, when I could not walk on my own. I have quite a list; they know who they are.  During my rehab and the months that followed, I cried several lifetimes of tears. It was not easy; I thought I would never smile again, but I have. Today, I smile quite a bit in fact.  The truth is, since the day Cathy put me on that Southwest plane, I have been, more and more, seeing life and myself with a brand new set of eyes. For most of my life, I had a “hole” in me; today I am able to see that I am “whole”. That is why September 14, is such a notable day in my life.  On this day I will pray for folks who are still carrying emotionally crippling secrets.  God wants you to be blessed too. Remember, doing the same thing over and over, but expecting different results is the very definition of insanity. The greatest regret I have is that it took me so long to choose sanity.

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