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Getting Through What You're Going ThroughComfort, Hope, and Encouragement from the Twenty-Third Psalm
By Robert A. Schuller
Nelson BooksCopyright © 2007 Robert A. Schuller
All right reserved.
Chapter OneStep One: Look at Your Life Positively. "The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want."
In the weeks after my announcement to the congregation, I realized that in order to get through the valley I had to evaluate where I was before I could decide where I was going. If I had been dumped in the middle of the Sahara Desert and didn't know where I was, I wouldn't have had much chance of finding my way home. Similarly, I couldn't get through the going-through stage if I didn't first discover where I was starting from emotionally and spiritually. So, the first step in getting through your going-through stage is to take a positive look at your life. Answer two bold questions constructively:
Where am I? Where am I going?
Where am I?
In my case, I began by admitting that my marriage was over. My great-uncle, a missionary to China, and my father were clergymen, and divorce had always been totally unacceptable to our family's conservative theology. But I knew God would forgive me, for grace is a gift from God and not something we earn through good works. I reminded myself of verses such as, "He's quick to forgive" and "He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins." (John 1:9)
If you, too, have fallen short in one area of your life, God will forgive you. Never forget that. His mercy is perpetual, boundless, and infinite.
After coming to terms with the fact that my marriage was over, I next had to confront the feelings that were whirling inside me. I was hurt. I was angry. I was defensive. I felt that Linda had rejected me. That wounded my pride.
I looked back over the recent years and realized that I'd felt rejected several other times, too. I'd held on and God had pulled me through, but each instance had been painful. One of the ways I keep going when my troubles seem to be overwhelming is to remember how God has helped me through other difficult times, so I began to review my life and remember the times God had turned impossibilities into possibilities.
I had graduated from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena and been ordained into Christian ministry at the Crystal Cathedral in September of 1980. That week I began to work for my dad as the minister of evangelism, whose job description was "to recruit, motivate, and inspire lay persons to be lay ministers of evangelism."
After six months, I began to feel restless. I had walked into a ministry that had been prepared for me. Instead of beginning with nothing, as my dad had done, I had been given a spacious and modern office on one of the top floors of the Cathedral's Tower of Hope. Everyone knew whose son I was. No one questioned my plans or directives. Where was the challenge? I felt coddled.
I called my father's secretary and asked her to clear a day on the calendar for Dad and me to have a leisurely lunch together. The next week we went to a nearby restaurant and sequestered ourselves in a corner booth.
After we ordered lunch, I told Dad about the weekend retreat the evangelism committee had just sponsored. Four years earlier, when I had served as an intern at the Crystal Cathedral, I had helped to start a small group movement. We had begun with ten groups of eight to thirty members, each meeting informally in homes for Bible study and prayer. Now one hundred groups met each week, and the leaders of each group went away to a camp in the mountains three times a year to plan the next months of Bible study. These retreats were always a time of spiritual enrichment and personal evaluation for everyone attending, including me.
"I did some evaluating myself, Dad," I admitted. "I believe the Lord is calling me to a preaching ministry, and I'm really torn about what to do. There's really no opportunity for me to preach Sunday after Sunday at the cathedral, and I can't develop as a preacher if I'm not under that continual pressure to prepare a weekly sermon."
Dad finished his last bite of salad and pushed the plate away. "You could preach at the eight o'clock Sunday morning service," he suggested.
"I'm not sure that would be a true test of my ability. We both know that one of the best ways to test a preacher's skill is to watch the attendance and see if it grows. That congregation has already been developed, and the people are already dedicated to the church."
"What about Sunday nights?"
"Well, to begin with, the congregation's just as devoted," I reminded him. "But I also sense a national trend away from attending Sunday evening services. That could hit us in the future. Then the effect would be just the opposite. I could be doing a great job, but the attendance would be going down because of this trend.
"Actually, Dad, I really feel that God is calling me to start a new ministry someplace, just as you did twenty-six years ago. I don't know when. I don't know where. I do know that I want to start with nothing and build it from there."
"But, Robert, it's not like it used to be," he replied immediately. "Starting churches is a costly and time-consuming undertaking.
"Why don't you pray about it some more," he suggested. "You could always stay with the Crystal Cathedral two or three more years. Learn how we operate. Test your skills by developing new outreach projects right within our ministry."
Dad then dropped the subject of my leaving. We spent the rest of our lunchtime discussing a variety of matters related to our work at the Crystal Cathedral. All during our discussion, however, I kept thinking about my need to move on. I knew that my father had great wisdom and that I should probably heed his advice, but I left that luncheon with my mind still not made up.
A few days later, on the Tuesday of Holy Week in 1981, we had a church board meeting. This was an unusual meeting because there was no agenda. Dad announced, "Today I would like all of us to share something that is happening in our lives. It might be something you'd like us to pray about or a decision you'd like us to consider with you."
I listened as other members of the board began sharing their thoughts and feelings. Does Dad want me to tell the board about my decision? I wondered. Does he want me to announce my resignation? I still wasn't sure what I should say when Dad asked me, "What is new and exciting in your life?"
At first, I talked about the prayer ministry I had begun at the Crystal Cathedral. Prayer partners were manning the chapel of the Hour of Power twenty-four hours a day to pray for the thousands of requests we received each week. Launching this new program had been quite an undertaking and I was proud of it.
"Is there anything else?" my father asked, looking directly into my eyes. I misinterpreted his glance to mean: "Share if you dare." This seemed to be the moment to make my feelings public. My lips started to quiver as I began to speak. "I feel that God is leading me to start a new ministry-someplace, somewhere, sometime, somehow. I do not know when. I do not know where. I do not know how," my voice broke with emotion. "I just know that God is leading me to start a new church." I felt tears welling up in my eyes, so I excused myself. I left the room and regained my composure.
When I returned several minutes later, it was obvious that Dad was shocked by my announcement. The ball was in my court, so I explained. "I want to be a great preacher. I don't believe I'll ever be able to be the man God wants me to be unless I stretch myself to grow. I've been praying a long time, and I really believe God wants me to get out and start my own church from scratch the way Dad did."
I could feel my eyes filling with tears again. The significance of what I had just said swept over me. I had been only six months old when Dad began his ministry. I could remember vividly the years as a youngster when Mom kept me busy with coloring books while Dad stood on top of the "snack bar" of a drive-in movie theater and preached to rows of cars on Sunday mornings. When I was sick, I had to stay in my pajamas and sleep in the car because my parents couldn't afford a sitter. Later when the first building-a little stained-glass chapel-was built on two acres of land in Garden Grove, I began standing with my father, among the folds of his robe. When Dad shook hands with the people after the service, my small hand protruded from his side seeking an additional handshake.
When I was six, I helped Dad plant the first trees in front of his drive-in church. I spent a couple of Saturdays each spring after that planting more one-gallon cypress trees, only four feet tall, around the edge of the property. Now there were two hundred pine, cypress, and eucalyptus trees on the cathedral property and the cypress trees were thirty feet tall.
Over the years our entire family-my four sisters and I and my mom and dad-had worked together to build Dad's church. We were all involved in our current ministry, the three-thousand-seat cathedral with its ten thousand members, the youth programs, the helping hand to the needy in our community, the internationally televised Hour of Power with its four million viewers, and the publication of our monthly magazine, books, and tapes. The Crystal Cathedral was a family venture.
Now I was leaving the ministry. The significance of this act escaped no one around the table. I was surrendering my life to God.
I fielded a variety of questions from the board members. I was honest in saying that I did not know yet where God would lead me. Then I asked for the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the approval of the board. All twelve stood, linked arms, and prayed for me. Afterward they embraced me and wished me well.
Still, I could see concern in my father's eyes. He was never one to hold back progress or to thwart the moving of the Holy Spirit, but he was concerned over the timing of my decision. Was I acting prematurely?
Before I left the room, Dad cornered me. "What's on your calendar for tomorrow?" he asked.
"I have to drive to San Diego for a dental appointment," I said. "But it will only take a half hour. We could have lunch together afterward."
"Fine," said Dad, "I'll ride along with you. We can spend the time discussing your future plans." I was glad that Dad was able to clear his calendar to be with me. The simple fact was I wanted to be with my father.
The ninety-mile drive south on Interstate 5 is a pleasant drive along the beautiful coast of California. My father and I had a lot of time to discuss my decision. He asked practical questions like, "How do you expect to buy the land?"
"When I started my church," he said, "we were able to buy land for six thousand dollars an acre. Today it's more like $60,000 to $600,000 an acre, and even then there isn't much vacant land to be bought."
As he explained this economic reality we were passing the grand old estate of Rancho Capistrano, ninety-seven gorgeous acres of cultivated and virgin land owned by John and Donna Crean, the industrialists who had donated the first million-dollar gift to the Crystal Cathedral. I looked over at the Creans' oasis of lush, green palm and olive trees, which covered the rise leading up to the main house. A low, white stucco wall topped with hundreds of red bougainvillea bore the brick inscription: Rancho Capistrano. Above that and to the left, an American flag flew in the center of the courtyard of the main house.
I felt the Holy Spirit speaking to me as I never had before. I pointed to the ranch and said, "Dad, that's where I am going to build my church." I did not say, "I would like to build my church there," or "maybe I could build my church there." There were no ifs, ands, or buts. I simply said, "That's where I am going to build my church."
As Dad turned to look at that impressive hillside, I added, "I believe it might be possible to get a gift of ten acres of that land for a church."
My father began to get excited. "Well, Robert," he said, "if you're willing to ask John Crean for ten acres of land, why not ask him for twenty?"
"Well, Dad, if I'm going to ask for twenty, I might as well ask for forty," I said.
By the time we arrived in San Diego, we had decided I would ask John Crean to donate all ninety-seven acres of Rancho Capistrano to our ministry so I could begin a dynamic new church in southern Orange County. Dad would begin a retreat center for married couples, emotionally-drained ministers, and persons dealing with problems of alcoholism. My father's positive thinking made mountains seem like mole hills.
The next day I met with John Crean at his forty-acre assembly plant in Riverside where he manufactures hundreds of recreational vehicles every year. It was Maundy Thursday of 1981, three days before Easter and five years exactly from the day Dad had asked him for the million-dollar gift to the Crystal Cathedral.
Knowing he was a busy man, I avoided small talk and went straight to the subject of our meeting. "John," I said, "I believe God has called me to start a dynamic new church in San Juan Capistrano." I went on to describe my plans for the church. Then I asked, "Will you donate your ranch to me so we can do this?"
John Crean put his hands behind his head, leaned back in the swivel chair behind his desk, and said, "Donna and I have been wondering for a long time what we would do with Rancho Capistrano. Just last night we signed the papers deeding the entire property to another Christian organization."
I was shocked. So close and yet so far. After I recovered my composure, I said, "John, is it possible for you to carve out a ten-acre parcel for a church?"
"No, Robert, the entire gift is in concrete. The transaction has been made. I'm afraid it's out of my control." He went on to explain a few of the particulars of the gift and then suggested that we go out for lunch.
Once we were seated in the restaurant and had ordered our meals, I began to play the possibility thinker's game. "John, in order for me to build a church, I need at least ten acres of land. Since land averages nearly $250,000 an acre, that would be two million dollars, which is an enormous hurdle for a small church to overcome."
I will never forget what John said to me at that moment. "Start with nothing, Robert. Go out there and form a congregation. Remember, the church is not a building. It is people. The land will come from the people. In fact, you might want to do what your dad did thirty years ago-start your church in a drive-in theater. There's a theater in San Juan Capistrano, the Mission Theater. Maybe you could work out an arrangement with them so you could hold services there."
The idea was a good one. A few weeks later I went to see John Crean's son, Johnny, at his Alpha Leisure Mobile Trailer plant in Chino. He was interested in joining the new church and promised to be on the steering committee. In the next months Johnny helped me contract office space in the Birtcher Plaza; he had caught my dream and was helping to make it a reality. He also knew I still felt there was no better site for the new church than Rancho Capistrano. Sometimes I wonder if Johnny invited me to the special Fourth of July birthday party for his dad so I would see the finality of their gift to the other Christian organization.
"We're going to announce Dad's gift of the ranch during the party," Johnny told me. "It will be a very special day."
Johnny knew I had been raised with the philosophy of possibility thinking. "Nothing is impossible," my father had preached to me as frequently as he had to his congregation. Johnny Crean knew I still had not given up my impossible dream that someday my church would be located on their ranch. And he was right.
That Fourth of July, I drove up the long driveway that wound into the ranch. What a contrast it presented to the many places I was now considering as possible church sites: a drive-in, a shopping center, schools-all concrete, utilitarian buildings. No one could drive into the ranch without being overwhelmed by the beauty and serenity of that oasis. The lush, green trees and bushes surrounding the house looked even richer alongside the brown, rolling hills dotted with scrub grass that surrounded the property. Rancho Capistrano was truly a desert in bloom.
The party was held on the lawn behind the ranch house. When I arrived, people were chatting in small groups and enjoying the hors d'oeuvres spread out on a huge buffet table. Half an hour later, Johnny Crean asked everyone to gather around the patio for an announcement.
Excerpted from Getting Through What You're Going Through by Robert A. Schuller Copyright © 2007 by Robert A. Schuller. Excerpted by permission.
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