Count Your Blessings . . . “Pursuing Happiness”

In 1776 the Declaration of Independence stated, We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.  With this document, the United States was born and we have been pursuing happiness ever since.  Pastor Ed made the point that happiness is tied to the truth and the ultimate truth is happiness is tied to the Creator.  Clearly, this has not been self-evident as we have morphed from having the right to pursue happiness to happines being an entitlement.  This sense of entitlement has its harmful consequences but an even more sinister perspective is one that was held long ago and is still held today by some calling themselves Christians.

It was and is believed that those who were “blessed” and enjoying the material comforts of living were those whom God rewarded.  If one did not have such success it was the evidence that “sin” and disfavor with God caused the negative condition.  Certainly we bear responsibility for our choices and reap consequences but establishing riches, success, fame, good fortune or even good health as the litmus test of being “right” with God is a very steep, slippery slope.  Elitism, racism, ostracism, and much worse have been justified by this unrighteous precept. Jesus made clear in his parable in Luke 18:9-14 that relying on position, status, self-determined righteousness was a dead end and the Pharisee returned to his home that day unjustified.  In contrast the “sinner” who accurately understood who God is and understood the only path to righteousness is being rightly related to God went home justified.  True happiness is not a function of circumstances but a function of relationship with the Creator of the Universe – the One True God of Psalm 1. 

The Psalmist paints the scenario of walking, standing and sitting.  For those of us who call ourselves Christians the questions beckon; with whom are you walking, standing and sitting?  Do we sit with those whose happiness depends upon circumstance and good fortune or do we walk with the One True God? Do those who stand with us know us as one whose happiness is an entitlement or a function of relationship with Jesus Christ?  Do we evaluate people with a litmus test based on temporal matters or do we view others through the lens of grace?  Do we look in the mirror and see that we are loved and treasured by the Creator of the Universe recognizing our happiness lies outside ourselves?

 Shalom.

FAQ . . . “Hell On Earth”

The World Series is over and the Dodgers have now gone 30 years without winning the Fall Classic. For some this is “hell on earth” but for die-hard Giants fans this may be a glimpse of heaven.  For Yu Darvish, the beleaguered pitcher for the Dodgers, his anguish over two horrible performances in the World Series is heart-sad to observe.  He has apologized and expressed great disappointment to the Dodgers, fans and undoubtedly his family.  Some would say he is living in emotional hell right now.  This is but a moment in a career that still has its best days ahead unless Darvish chooses to remain in this “place.”

Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church many times has stated that life on Earth is practice for when we are face to face with the Creator of the Universe.  Thus, loving one another now is practice for when we get to love God in person.  This thought, coupled with Pastor Ed’s excellent presentation entitled Is Hell Real? made me think if hell on earth is practice for Hell in Hell.  Ed drew the picture that not only is Hell a literal place of eternal punishment but also is a state of being – a present place of living.  One key thing Ed pointed to was Hell is a place we choose.  And this is true whether it is the literal place (I am fond of calling it the smoking section) or our emotional state of living.  It is God’s will that He wants no one to perish (Hebrews 3:9).  And even though His desire is not one perish; He has given us the freedom to choose.

I am of the opinion that the greatest pain and suffering Jesus experienced in the crucifixion was the time of separation from God the Father as He bore the sins of all of us.  This “hell on earth” encompassed experiencing living as something other than His true nature (sinless) and especially a time in a state of isolation – alone rather than three-in-one.  How many of us live in a similar state of life?  Do we go through our days feeling this is not who I am or I wasn’t meant for this or why am I doing what I hate to do but still do it?  We experience this in our jobs, our families, or our relationships.  We want different but it never happens.  I submit to you that if this is your plight, you are having a taste of Hell on earth.  Life is so complex and our troubles are so diverse and personal but we each choose, we each make decisions and act accordingly in reaction or response.  We can choose Hell or we can choose Heaven.  It is not a question if there is life after death.  It is a question if there is life after birth.  Choosing God allows His presence, nature and power to operate in our lives counteracting Hell.  Instead of choosing to act in the same way do something different – do the Christ-like thing.  I do not know what that specific Christ-like thing in your life is but I know we at GateWay would be more than willing to walk that journey with you.  A Connect Small Group is a great place to start.

It has been often quoted that “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”  I think this is not only insanity but a glimpse of Hell on Earth.  Is it time to try something different?

 Shalom.

FAQ . . . “Is this Heaven?”

Sinus surgery recovery got the upper hand this past week and writing was simply too hard on my weary head.  This was unfortunate since we were treated to a lively, personal, good and enlightening message for Network Missions weekend at GateWay and I wanted to comment.  Buhle Dlamini made me laugh and made me think as I watched the video on the website.  I am still thinking of what can be done to embrace diversity in our GateWay community.  His words (Buhle made this point a couple of times) – “we need not go to South Africa; we can do this here,” are compelling.  Interestingly, this weekend’s sermon on Heaven blends into my thoughts on diversity.

One of the sad aspects of my recovery is it literally hurts my head to read (I would love to be able to read right now) and to write.  And sadly TV viewing has little impact so I have watched a lot of TV.  The only other “activity” that gives me relief (even sleeping is a challenge) is to sit in my easy chair, eyes closed, thinking quietly or praying.  I wish I could tell you I have been a real prayer warrior but I must confess I have been a real couch potato.  I say all this to lead up to share with you I watched Field of Dreams last week.  This Kevin Costner movie about a man who plows up his cornfield to build a baseball diamond complete with lights, is virtually required viewing for baseball aficionados.  Costner’s character, Ray Kinsella, hears a small, still, voice, repeating “Build it; He will come,” meaning create a baseball field.  Naturally, this drives him crazy and as the story unfolds, crazy as it is, he builds it.  Shoeless Joe Jackson magically appears on the field and eventually, his disgraced teammates from the 1919 White Sox World Series team materialize to play ball in the middle of a cornfield.  These deceased “Black Sox” players were banned from baseball for life for allegedly “fixing” the outcome of the World Series so playing again, even nearly 100 years later, is pure joy.  In a very poignant scene, Shoeless Joe comes up to Ray after a round of practice and asks, “Is this heaven?”  Ray replies, “No, this is Iowa.” So what will Heaven be like?

Pastor Ed reading the words of the Apostle John out of Revelations paints an amazing picture that I still have a difficult time grasping.  Winged creatures, lion, lamb, jeweled structures, gold everywhere is simply beyond my comprehension.  But there is one aspect of the Heavenly future I can readily understand.  Revelations 5:9 reads And they (the winged creatures and elders, etc) sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood, men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.”  Every is a very comprehensive word and I have no doubt, God means every and not some.  The Heavenly future will include believers from all nations, all tribes, all languages and all people groups in unity singing praises to God Almighty. 

I have no doubt God intended diversity to be the default setting for His creation of the world.  I have no doubt I live in a diverse community and this community is one part of a very diverse world.  I have no doubt God's plan celebrates diversity.  I have no doubt about diversity because Revelation gives us a glimpse into Heaven and Heaven is completely diverse.  Pastor Rick Warren has often said our current life is practice for our time in Heaven.  Embracing and celebrating diversity now is our opportunity to practice what we will be living out in Heaven.  Our current political, social and cultural environment does not embrace diversity but is mired in division.  Our churches and our church history have been bastions of separation based upon diversity.  It is time that we understand diversity is not going away because God created us to be diverse.  To be in opposition to another based on color, language, appearance, race or ethnicity is to be in opposition to God.  I have no doubt, taking one step at a time, one relationship at a time, multiplied by one church at a time; we can help bridge the divide.  Who are you inviting to GateWay?  I hope one day soon our worship celebration will be filled with people reflecting the diversity of Heaven.

Shalom.

FAQ . . . “1+1+1=1 – Take the Red Pill”

One of the most challenging ideas for intellects, philosophers, academics, scientists, and humans, in general, is how God can be three in one.  This is of course after many have such trouble getting their heads around a living and loving God in the first place.  We are indeed blessed and fortunate to have Pastor Brian deliver the weekend message unpacking the Holy Trinity.  His most excellent exposition is not to be missed and it is posted on our GateWay Church of Visalia website.  Pastor Brian’s words had me thinking about the Trinity but in my “rabbit trail” sort of way.  Here are my thoughts as they came while I lay in sleepless recovery from surgery.

I love cooking and exploring different menus and recipes so my mind leaped to the “holy trinity” of Cajun cuisine.  Onions, celery and green pepper will be found in many dishes from the Louisiana Bayou.  Soon I was driving my Chevy to the levy and pondering the “day the music died.”  In 1971 Don Mc Clean wrote in American Pie, his complex song on the downward direction of the American dream:  “And the three men I admire most The Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost. They caught the last train for the coast.  The day the music died.”  Mc Clean’s “trinity” was Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and the Big Bopper – J.P. Richardson who perished in a light-plane crash and in his mind, American music would never be the same.  Finally, I came to rest on Carrie-Anne Moss’ character in the first Matrix film.  She was the ultra-tough, skilled and deep thinking warrior named Trinity in this dystopian tale of revolution in a world of fully controlled and manipulated beings.   I land here because, in one scene of the movie, the protagonist, Neo, portrayed by Keanu Reeves is asked to make the ultimate choice by Laurence Fishburne, Morpheus.  He says to Neo, “You take the blue pill, the story ends.  You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe.  You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”  I invite you to read further and take my red pill and follow me down a different Holy Trinity path, a path of science, metaphor, spirituality, and relationship all involving water.

Water is an amazing substance.  Virtually everyone knows it is composed of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom - H2O.  Water is the basic element of all living things on Earth and without it, there is no life.  The “holy grail” of space exploration is to find water on other planets or celestial objects away from Earth.  Approximately ¾ of our planet is covered with water and the heating and cooling of these global waters by the sun cycle govern life.  We all know as water is heated to boiling it becomes steam and when it is sufficiently cooled it turns to ice.  Most materials, be they solid, liquid or gas abide by the “rule” that as it is heated its size or volume expands and as it cools it contracts or shrinks.  That is why Consumers are told to buy gasoline when it is cooler or cold since the gasoline molecules are more tightly packed resulting in getting more energy into the same measured volume, thus, saving money.  Back to water; have you ever wondered why ice cubes float in your soda, ice tea or glass of water?

Water possesses a unique quality among all of the earth’s substances.  When the temperature of water is lowered toward its freezing point, the water molecules huddle closer together like any other substance.  The molecules of all substances are searching for the most efficient shape or best ways to pack closely together (shrinking) as the temperature approach its freezing point. But when water reaches 4 ̊Celsius or 39.2 ̊Fahrenheit, water starts to expand.  The “Mickey Mouse” molecular configuration of the hydrogen atoms ears and oxygen atom find their most efficient huddle in a manner that creates more space in between the molecules.  At 0 ̊ Celsius or 32 ̊ Fahrenheit water is approximately 4 % larger in volume as ice than as a liquid.  Therefore, the same amount of H2O is less dense as ice and floats on a denser material, water.  The implications of this are absolutely staggering for life as we experience it on Earth.

As the yearly sun cycle heats and cools the planet, we have our seasons, in particular, winter. (A scientific fact easily the subject of another post is that the duration and heat of the seasons are determined by the Earth’s distance from the sun and the shape and tilt of its orbit around the sun.)  During the cold of winter, our northern and southern regions of the earth and in our higher elevation spots get covered with snow and the waters in the streams, lakes, and oceans freeze over.  If water did not expand but continued to contract the resulting ice would not float but sink.  In the depths of the ocean or lakes, the water is the coldest and ice would melt at a much slower pace.  In fact, deep water is so cold ice would not melt and each subsequent winter would create more ice that would sink on top of what is already present.  Ice would drop the temperature of the water in the oceans and drop the global air temperatures and eventually Earth would be a big deep freeze.  Because water floats we have seasons and not solid "frozens."  This begs the question as we go deeper down that rabbit hole.  Why does water have this special property of expansion at freezing when just about everything else does not?  What about the orbit’s tilt, shape, and distance from the sun?  Could it be this is by special design, by a Creator and not by the chance collision of cosmic rocks?   Is this the fusion of science and faith?

Water is also a substance that can be found in what scientists term a “triple state.”  This is the point where the same molecular substance exists as liquid, solid and gas.  In a specific environment ice (solid state) floats on water (liquid state) in an environment of water vapor (the gas state).  This triple state is an earthly and tangible example of something that can exist as “three-in-one.”  Although infinitely simpler in construct than the Godly Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, water points again to a special design that gives us a glimpse into God.  This is the meeting of science, theology, and metaphor. 

It is of major consequence that Jesus says to the Samaritan woman and us in John 4:14, “but whoever drinks of the water I give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”  The woman asked for this “living water” and entered into a relationship of eternal life with Jesus beginning her new spiritual journey.  This is the meeting of science, metaphor, spirituality, and relationship.  Receiving this water brings us into a relationship with the Holy Trinity so each part of the Trinity can carry out its role in our lives and we can then respond in the manner in which we were so wonderfully created by the One who took the care and thought to make water the way it is.  The Holy Trinity is real as water.

Shalom

FAQ . . . “Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?”

Sadly my post this week will have two parts.  It is so tragic that Pastor Ed’s sermon title for this past weekend begs the question in light of the horrible shooting in Las Vegas Sunday night.  What was Stephen Paddock thinking and feeling?  What led him to carry out such a heartless and cruel act?  Was there anything that could have been done to prevent this carnage or altered the course of life for Paddock?  In the days ahead many will face much anguish, self-doubt, fear and anger and the on-coming deluge of politically charged rhetoric.  For the family and friends of the 58 killed and over 500 injured, we pray for God’s mercy and comfort and strength for the day.   Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?  Please Lord, hear our prayer.

I am almost at a loss for words today.  As a crutch, I turn to a blog post written a while back about a high-profile shooting and repost a portion here.  The Bible states:  “Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves. You lust for what you don’t have and are willing to kill to get it. You want what isn’t yours and will risk violence to get your hands on it.” (James 4:1-2 The Message Bible)  We have met the enemy and the enemy is us.  What was warring deep inside Paddock and causing such trouble that he was willing to kill?  What did he lack in life that could only be resolved in death?  Are there more Stephen Paddocks out there?  Sadly, yes there are.  What can be done?  Back to my previous posting.

It is now way past time to love our enemies.  Jesus stated:  “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.”  As Christ-followers it is way past time to turn enemies into friends, to restore Godly family relationships.  Of many issues raised by this infamous case, racial hatred must be addressed.  Changing society and culture is seemingly out of reach for the individual Christ-follower but as a Christian community, it is time for us to shape the culture, one individual at a time, one family at a time, one church at a time.  In the next seven weeks begin a relationship with a person from a racial heritage different from your own (or in today’s context perhaps a person you see as isolated and alone).  Listen to their story and tell yours without judgment or defensiveness.  Extend grace and offer the blessing of friendship.  Expand this with your families.  Have this new friend in your mind, in your heart and in your prayers.  Then see what God can do.  Lord, have mercy on us.

Part 2 –  The beginning of wisdom is the fear (a deep, abiding respect and reverence) of the Lord. I believe wisdom will go a long way in helping us “get along” and not just get along but thrive.  Pastor Ed challenged us to take each day of October and read a chapter of Proverbs corresponding to the numerical day of the month.  Today is October 2 thus read chapter 2 and tomorrow, October 3, read chapter 3 and so on until the 31st.  This is a GREAT suggestion by Ed.  I know this process makes a huge difference in life and relationships as I personally have experienced the transformational power of the Holy Spirit using the words in Proverbs.  I have kept this devotional tool almost daily since 1973 at the suggestion of a spiritual mentor, Dr. Bruce Miller, at the University of Sothern California.  He is also the one who “turned” me on to the writings of Oswald Chambers and My Utmost for His Highest, another daily tool.  Over the years (and some things have taken years to sink in) I have learned and practiced many God breathed principles of living.  This has truly shaped my life for the better and I am sure countless many are thankful that Proverbs has done so as without it I could easily be the jerk that is in my human nature.  Many matters that govern and determine the course of relationships are found in Proverbs.  Following these principles and avoiding the negative patterns can lead one to succeed in life and love.  Gems such as:  before honor comes humility; always hold close truth and kindness; don’t hold back good from those to whom it is due when you have the power to do it; when there are many words transgressions are unavoidable but he who restrains his lips is wise; and so many more.  These days, I like the verse that reads, “A gray head is a crown of glory.”  Of course, there is a catch as it goes on to read, “(if) it is found in the way of righteousness.” (Oh, Lord, may I be a doer of Your Word, and thus live righteously.)  Chapter 3 reads to me like a loving and wise father writing a letter of advice to his son away at college for the first time or embarking on a new career.  There is so much contained in Proverbs.

Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?  I think we Christ-followers can by living out the words in Proverbs.

Shalom.

FAQ . . . “What The World Needs Now”

Pastor Ed sang parts of popular songs from several decades introducing the weekend sermon’s focus.  I think he should keep his day job (lol) which he does so well.  Lest you think me harsh, back in college I was working on my guitar skills and my roommate said very clearly, “Bill, just play, don’t sing!”  Another song featuring love was penned by Hal David and Burt Bacarach back in 1965 and first recorded by Jackie DeShannon.  The catchy tune opined:  “What the world needs now, is love sweet love, it’s the only thing there’s too little of . . . .”    The song goes on to tell the Lord we don’t need more mountains, oceans, cornfields but love for everyone.  I agree, we certainly do need love for everyone as it is so evident we are lacking in civility, respect, forbearance and loving kindness.  But even as I state the obvious what is not so apparent to many is we need God even more.

Loving others without reservation, condition, or fear and loving generously, hilariously and graciously requires resources not found in human nature.  Our basic humanness is self-directed at best and utterly selfish at worst.  Sociology, psychology, anthropology or any other “ology” reveals humans try hard to self-generate a loving, outward focused nature within us.  History, ancient and recent, shows us we can only generate such energy for tragically short lengths of time.  A change in heart or put another way, something has to come into us to be anything other than self-centered.  Much of what it means to love is outlined in the Sermon on the Mount.  Think in terms of forgiving your enemy or treating others as you would want to be treated while turning the other cheek after an emotional blow to the gut.  The difficulty is how to live this out.  Oswald Chambers make it very clear this is impossible for us humans:  “The Sermon on the Mount is not an ideal, it is a statement of what will happen inside me when Jesus Christ has altered my disposition and put in a disposition like His own.  Jesus Christ is the only One who can fulfill the Sermon on the Mount.”  If Jesus is the only One who can fulfill the Sermon on the Mount, I can only do so if I have His nature in me overriding my self-directed one.

What the world needs now – what Bill needs now is more of Jesus in me and to flow out of me.  I don’t need another mountaintop adventure, or a new experience in culinary delights, or an easy-going existence in the meadow of life, I need to unleash the nature and character that was placed in me by the Holy Spirit, made possible by the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and orchestrated and ordained by Father God.  How can we unleash this new nature?  Abide in Me says, Jesus Christ.

A few suggestions on how we can abide.  Be connected deeper to a local Christ-following body like GateWay.  Join and participate in a Connect Small Group.  Increase your gratitude for what God has done in your life by recounting those moments in personal worship and perhaps writing them down in a journal.  Fill your mind with God’s Word and pour your heart into another.  Begin and maintain a habit of daily personal devotional reading and study.  Using our GateWay Devotional – The Word For You Today is a great place to start.  Pray for others and with others for God’s touch in lives.  Make it a weekly goal to share God’s goodness in your life with a co-worker, fellow student, sports team member, or neighbor.  Read good Christian books and if you feel you are not a reader, get on Right Now Media and watch hundreds of great sermons, messages, and stories.  Each and every one of us at GateWay can access this “Netflix” of Christian material without charge to you.  Download the app and get the passcode from the church office and you are in.

Abide in Me if you want to love like The Rock(star) Jesus.  This is an intentional act and you must make the choice.  No one can do this for you but it is more encouraging when we do this together.  Find a friend and take the first step.  Don’t have a friend then consider joining a Connect Small Group.

Shalom.

FAQ . . . “Unforgiving; Unforgetting; Unhappy”

Forgiving and forgetting are so simple to say and in concept so simply correct but in life so complex and often times so difficult to carry out.  Even the Disciples asked Jesus how many times they had to forgive a person of transgressing against them.  Examples of unforgiving and unforgetting abound in our world.  From the pages of history, global politics, national headlines to the “war” between the sexes, exes, and those with whom we have some nexus, we all struggle with giving forgiveness when injured and moving forward in wholeness.   Forgiveness is the transcendent quality of our faith and is at its core.  “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son .  .  .  .” 

Forgiveness is one of the pillars of good relationships and without it any relationship will be unstable at best.   I know of no person or relationship that is perfect, without defect or occasional dysfunction.  We all mess up, act unbecomingly and badly.  My mirror attests that this is no lie.  Therefore, in order for relationships to thrive, forgiving and forgetting, are essential.  From the tiniest transgression to the apparent deal breaker God instructs us to forgive.  We all have experienced and witness people deteriorate because of long held unforgiveness.  Even in the short term, holding such feeling makes us unhappy.  I have been at times miserable because I have harbored an unforgiving nature towards my wife or my boss.  One of the ironic twists is many times the person not forgiven is oblivious and feels no ill effect and we stew in misery.  So how do we forgive and forget?

I believe this is key; the foundation and incentive to forgive lays with God’s treatment of you and me.  Using Psalms 103 Pastor Ed excellently presented a glimpse into how extensive God’s love translates into forgiveness.  It seems a universal phenomenon that people react magnanimously when they remember they have been treated kindly and graciously; so too with forgiveness.  Remembering brings about a change in heart.  Deeply remembering the grace and mercy of God brings our hearts to a tender and grateful place.  It is from these depths of mercy that the forgiving spirit springs forth.

I have been told, “You don’t know what I have been through.  After this, how do I forgive and forget?”  You have heard this or said these words yourselves.  The spiritual stuff stated above is fine but how does it work in real life?  As Christ-followers, first, you must remember this, God forgave you and He asks that we “pay it forward” and forgive.  Second, forgiving someone is an act of will and not an emotion.  It is an intentional act.  Strong emotions will be encountered but this is still a matter of choice.  God will honor your choice in obedience to Him.  Third, forgetting is very emotional and a huge step in faith; Faith to allow God to heal your broken heart, mind and soul because it is so emotional.  I hold this perspective; it is better when considering the forgetting aspect of forgiveness, to view this as getting to the place where the offense has no more power over you.  It doesn’t mean we have our memory erased but it does mean when it does come to mind, the sting and agony, are dim. 

When you forgive out of obedience and faith, God shows up.  Pastor Ed referenced Joseph.  If there was a man who had reason to not forgive and forget, it was Joseph.  Joseph stated in Genesis 41:51, “God has made me forget all my trouble . . . .”  How did God do that for Joseph?  Honestly I do not know and I do not know how He will show up in your lives when you choose to forgive.  I do know He is a personal and loving God having compassion on His children.  Pray and ask.   As a child of God, He will respond in ways that are best suited for you.  I have seen God use His own Words in the Bible to impact and impress.  Sometimes I have seen the contrite and humble approach of the “other person” help but sometimes this never happens and you are left with resolution all on you.  I have seen God use the passage of time to heal but more often I have seen Him use the loving-kindness and support of faithful friends and family.  I have seen God use the guidance of a counselor or therapist.  I have seen God use our own GateWay Church in amazing ways.  I have seen a heart attack bring two estranged hearts together.  I have seen God use the birth of a child to transform relationships.  However He chooses to work, His blessing are new every morning; great is His faithfulness.  

Is it time for you to make the choice to forgive someone then patiently allow God to bring healing? If you are having a hard time making a decision, let us at GateWay help.

Shalom.