Heritage Series: A Piece of the Rock

Back during the Golden Age of television (the mid-1950’s to late 1960’s) Prudential Insurance Company ran a long advertising campaign based on their catch phrase, “Get A Piece of the Rock.”  The corporate logo bore the graphic image of the Rock of Gibraltar.  This historic and geological icon stands at the confluence of the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea at the tip of the Iberian Peninsula.  For centuries the British have maintained control of this strategic site overlooking the narrow strait separating Spain from Morocco.  (To help draw the picture, imagine Morro Rock at the entrance to Morro Bay except many times larger.)  The British Empire for nearly a century ruled the high seas and part of that dominance was fortifying and holding key points along the world’s shipping routes and the Rock of Gibraltar was one of those crucial choke points.

Prudential adopted this logo because the Rock of Gibraltar not only represented strength and dominance but truly was the fort of strength, solidly entrenched, unmoving and eternal.  Thus, investing in Prudential Financial or relying on its insurance products was a choice anyone could feel secure and safe in making.   Anyone watching TV during the Golden Age was told to get a “piece of the rock” -- you can trust Prudential.

We welcomed back Pastor Tom Carter this past weekend as part of our Heritage series celebration.  He began by referencing 1 Samuel 7:7-12, the account of God responding to cries for help against the Philistine army.  In remembrance of God’s intervention, Samuel took a stone and set it up as a memorial naming it Ebenezer saying, “Thus far the LORD has helped us.”  Pastor Tom spoke of an extremely difficult time in his long tenure in furthering the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  All during this excruciating stretch Pastor Tom would rely and rest in the strength of his rock, Jesus Christ, illustrating this point by referring to a large rock on a pedestal place in front of the podium.  As he spoke he often would pat the rock, his Ebenezer.  Pastor Tom had his “piece of the rock.”

Before the outbreak of World War 2, the British for a number of years had been readying the Rock of Gibraltar by constructing artillery batteries, strengthening fortifications and creating a series of tunnels crisscrossing the rock connecting all of its emplacements.  This system of tunnels and chambers protected British soldiers from being targets in the open air and provided safe routes to supply, reinforce and strategically move men and armaments.  Ironically, as told to me by one of my history professors, these tunnels and chambers significantly weakened the geological structure of the Rock of Gibraltar.  My professor believed that well placed bombardment would bring the whole system to a crashing demise.  This is a stark contrast to the image of strength portrayed by the rock.  Fortunately the German forces never invaded Gibraltar during WW2 which may have revealed the British were putting their trust in false hope.

The question today as it always has been is what or who are you putting your trust in?  With a life full of trials and tribulations choosing wisely and well makes all the difference in the world.  Build your house on the rock, not the sand, the rock of Jesus Christ.  Without fail, He has been the constant in my life.  With Him I can be strong and courageous.  Pastor Tom is reminded by his Ebenezer where his trust lies.  For 150 years and hopefully many more, GateWay Church will place its trust in Jesus Christ.  Whom will you choose?  In a play on words that I have loved for many years, do you have, “The Peace of the Rock?”

Shalom

Bill YoshimotoComment
Heritage Series: Where Everyone Knows Your Name

Nearly a year ago I posted a blog with the same title, Where Everyone Knows Your NameCheers struck deep into the American psyche and found its way into the hearts and weekly TV viewing habits of a nation seeking relationship and connection.  Even though decades have past this need and search continues unabated.  The simple yet profound sermon this past weekend illustrates that spiritual and human connection is both necessary for life and very powerful.  As Pastor Ed read the Apostle Paul’s list of special people I could picture Paul deeply appreciating the vital role each played in his life and the furtherance of the Gospel.  Paul had impacted the lives of thousands then and millions now.  There likely is no other man who has had a greater impact for Jesus than Paul.  Yet Paul recounts specifically people who made a difference in his life.  Even the great Apostle Paul needed and was encouraged by his relationships.

The TRUTH is we were made for relationships; First, with God the Creator of the Universe and second, with one another.  Not having a relationship or having an unbalanced relationship with God, I believe, guarantees having unbalanced or destructive human relationships.  Living in right relationship with God under grace goes a long way in giving grace in our human relationships.  I think our whole culture and the whole human race could benefit greatly by living together graciously.

In celebrating our history and years of continuous ministry in Visalia we have recounted the growth of our church from a few people attending to thousands today.  It is unrealistic to believe GateWay Church is a place where everyone knows your name but it is a place where the “welcome” points to a place where many will know your name.  And we have opportunities for smaller “bites” of GateWay where indeed, everyone knows your name.   Connect Small Groups is tailor made for this.  Another great place for connection is the Choir and Orchestra.  We have other possibilities at GateWay.

And finally for today, we are on mission that everyone in Visalia will know Jesus as Lord and Savior.  No one will know the names of all 140,000 residents of Visalia but amongst this throng of people there are thousands who yearn to be known by name and be connected in relationship.  We all know many around us by name.  It is time to invite them to know Jesus and make the introduction.  Bring them to GateWay that they may experience a place where everyone would like to know your name.  In doing so, you may make the biggest difference in their life.  Who knows, when these precious folks recount their “list” you may be the key relationship on it because you invited them by name.

Shalom

Bill YoshimotoComment
Heritage Series: Strong and Courageous

Major League Baseball is about to take its All Star break pausing a few days to celebrate the best players in the game.  A starting roster of players from the two Leagues, selected by the vote of the fans, will take the field and carry on a tradition dating back to 1933.  The balance of the squads will be selected by the managers and coaches of the respective All-Star teams.  The National and American Leagues have each won 43 games with two ending in ties.  For baseball aficionados the “real” season begins after the All Star Break.  This year there are close races in all of the divisions with several teams vying for first place.  In the past this is where teams emerged from the pack and won Division, League and World Series titles.  Who will finish the “real” season strong and be among the elite teams in baseball lore?

In some ways, the Heritage Series is like the All-Star Break for GateWay.  We honor the foundations, the founders, and the faithful and celebrate what God has done.  In leading us through the Heritage series Pastor Ed reflects not only on how far we have come but also encourages us to boldly move forward.  Be strong and courageous, GateWay.  As we begin the next 150 years of ministry in Visalia (if the Lord allows and waits longer for His second coming) we too, like Joshua, stand ready to cross “this” Jordan and fulfill Christ’s calling to go and make disciples.  

The “real” season for us is not the past but what we do with today and the times ahead.  We opened our fiscal year last weekend with approving new leaders, affirming our budget and renewing our challenge to impact Visalia and beyond.  In our post-modern age it is not enough to have the best programs, facilities, music and teaching.  And even though our music and teaching from Ed is second to none in Visalia we must not succumb to the temptation to work for five stars on Yelp or any other rating site.   What we must strive for and succeed in is to make a Jesus-difference in the lives of our families, friends, co-workers, neighborhoods, and city not merely be the “best.”  Each one of us at GateWay must take up the modest goal of making a significant Jesus-difference in at least one person’s life over the course of the next twelve months.  As the body of Christ known as GateWay we must make a difference in Visalia and then to the ends of the Earth.

You may be asking, “How do I make a difference?”  As Ed stated, we have the vision that anyone who does not have a home church or does not know Jesus in Visalia will walk through our doors.  One way to make a difference is to invite unchurched people to GateWay.  In our town of nearly 140,000 people, approximately 20% of the population is in church on any given Sunday.  This statistically means we have over 100,000 potential people we can invite to church.  Another way is to join a small group this coming season and united we will make a difference in our community.  There are plenty of other ways both inside our church family and without.  Come to GateWay and see.

One thing I do know about making a difference – we will need to be strong and courageous; Strong because the forces of evil and indifference are mighty; Strong because it is so easy to seek and be comfortable; Strong because we must be one in the Spirit and not factionalized.  We will need courage because the pull of tradition is steady and creates closed hearts and minds when we need to welcome new people, new ways of reaching people and new life in our own hearts and relationships with Christ.  We must be courageous and step out and up from the foundation of 150 years of ministry in Visalia.  In a couple of weeks the Heritage Series will come to a close and the 2018 edition of the All-Star Game will have been completed.  Then the “real” season begins.

Shalom

P.S.  Last week in writing about Dr. Howard Clark’s presentation I typed Psalm 42 when I should have typed 46.  I sincerely apologize for any confusion or disrepute caused to Dr. Clark, GateWay Church and Pastor Ed.

Bill YoshimotoComment
Heritage Series: The Sky Is Falling

We have all heard of the fable of Chicken Little running around the yard crying out, “the sky is falling; the sky is falling.”  Interestingly, this ancient folk tale told with many various details has two endings, both sad and happy.  As the story resolves in the version I prefer, the sky isn’t falling and Chicken Little in his self-centered perspective learns he is wrong but along the way, he convinces several other animals who join in the paranoia.  Whether the ending is sad or happy, the underlying fact is the sky was not falling.

We celebrate our 150 years of continuous ministry here in Visalia, First Baptist/GateWay Church and remind ourselves where we have been and how far we have come.  It is crucial we focus on the one true constant.  Dr. Howard Clark spoke this weekend and painted a picture of a time in our shared experience where it did look like the “sky was falling.”  Pastor Clark served our church as Senior Pastor from 1999 to 2003.  I have listened and learned from many excellent pastors in conferences, seminars, various churches, in multi-media formats, and in my home church.  I have had many great “one time” experiences but week in and week out, Howard was the best.  He taught me with depth, knowledge, experience, kindness, practicality all with a silky smooth presentation.  And at the same time I felt the assurance and confidence God was speaking through Howard.  My personal relationship with Howard was no different and much more.  My heart and head were very happy to have Howard and Kathy with us this weekend.

Dr. Clark recalled the horrible events of September 11, 2001.  We all know where we were when we heard the news of the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington DC.  Skillfully weaving events of that day with those Hezekiah lived through over two thousand years ago using the Biblical text of Psalm 42 and 2 Kings, I was again, unmistakably left, with the ultimate truth that God is.  The sky seemed literally to be falling that day and the days following yet as I know today, as dark as it was, the dawn came.  Getting past and moving forward depended much on who was speaking into your life.  This is still true today.  Howard asks all of us, who is our God and how do we see Him.  This is the ultimate question since the beginning of time on Earth.

When hardship comes, when my bad choices abound, when tragedy falls or injustice strikes, where do I turn?  Do I hide from Him as Adam and Eve did after their bad decision?  Do I scream outrage towards God and demand an explanation of how He could allow “this” to happen?  Do I walk away and live on denying the existence of God or do I curse God and die?  A better but difficult path is to walk with Jesus, engage in conversation, and wait on Him to speak into your life and open the next door.

I stated this path is difficult.  But praise and glory be to God, He did not intend us to walk alone but in relationship.  First, as Christ-followers we walk with the ever present Holy Spirit residing in our hearts.  Second, our paths are designed to be trod connected with family and friends.  And third, as we have done for 150 years here in Visalia, this path can be traveled with a Christ-centered, Bible based, friendly and warm church known today as GateWay Church of Visalia.

Shalom

Bill YoshimotoComment
Survivor Series: The Pride of Man

One rock song from the late 1960’s I liked was Quicksilver Messenger Service’s cover of Pride of Man originally written by Hamilton Camp.  The lyrics were full of apocalyptic phrases and undertones.  It begs the question, is there a cure for pride?  The song ends with these words:  

Oh God, pride of man

Broken in the dust again

The holy mountain be restored

Have mercy on the people

The people, Lord

The Survivor Series concluded this weekend at GateWay with the juxtaposition of last week’s subject of God’s Will and this week’s study on Pride.  It is difficult to live out the Will of God and be full one’s self simultaneously.  Humility before God is a prerequisite and human pride an obstacle.  It is interesting that Proverbs 16:18 states, Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before stumbling.  James 4:6 reads, But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, "GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE." 

I found it compelling when Pastor Ed quoted the noted and acclaimed writer and Christian apologist, C.S. Lewis,’ regarding pride.  Distilling the essence of pride as the exhilaration that comes from not having more or better but having more or being better than someone else is piercingly insightful.  Thinking ourselves better or less in comparison with others seems to be ingrained in our souls.  I believe this is the legacy of “The Fall” of man in the Genesis account and accounts for the pride of man.

Too often pride is cast in the light of over valuing traits or attributes but as Ed pointed out, pride also is the basis for unhealthy self-abasement or self-pity.  Either position finds its origin rooted in denying that He is God and I am not.  Many years ago, my Bible Study leader and one of the Pastors at the church where I was connected was interviewed by the LA Times about the rapid growth of our church and the impact it was having, especially among the Hollywood crowd.  I remember the reporter asking Pastor Brent, “Isn’t Christianity just a crutch for weak people?”  Brent with a smile replied, “For me, it’s more like a stretcher.  I am totally paralyzed and bankrupt and I need God to carry me.”  When we understand our bankruptcy and the need for God to carry us, there is no basis for pride in ourselves.  As Paul states in Romans, everyone has fallen short of the glory of God.  In other words everyone has messed up and is much less than they think they are.  We certainly are not God and desperately need His mercy and grace.  At the same time, when we understand and accept that even in our decrepit state of humanness He sought us out and loved us, we now have the basis on which to build a healthy self-esteem while greatly valuing others.  There is no moral or spiritual basis to continue in unhealthful self-pity because we have eternal value in Jesus Christ.

The song mentioned at the top of this blog began with the lyrics, Turn around, go back down, back the way you came.  Perhaps this is prophetic.  We need to go back to point where Adam and Eve walked with God in the garden in simple and unguarded relationship.  Of course this is not possible unless we enter through the life of Jesus Christ.  And this is where the song ends, have mercy on the people, the people Lord.  In His great mercy, Jesus Christ who although He existed as God did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped but humbled Himself and took on the form of man in order to bridge the gap between God and man.  The cure for pride is to walk closely with Jesus Christ.

Shalom

Bill YoshimotoComment
Survivor Series: The Will of God

Knowing the will of God is a question Christ-followers and many skeptics have asked for centuries.  In college and while in Law School this thought plagued many of my friends.  Some were consumed with the big stuff — who should I marry, what profession should I pursue, where shall I live, should I serve on the mission field for a season, were a few of the questions.   Some were mired in the minutiae — what should I eat today, which way should I go to my appointment, who should I see today and what should I say, were a few of their perplexing thoughts.  The vast majority just continued on the way of life and only asked when confronted by a roadblock or a setback in our individual pursuit of happiness.  As I look around, not much has changed.  People still ask and people still are plagued with knowing.  This weekend’s installment in the Survivor Series hits this question head on.  Pastor Ed once again using Proverbs in his case study deftly approaches the will of God.

I think we Christ-followers have over complicated knowing and doing the will of God.  As heretical as this may sound, I feel God is not concerned about what we do.  I think it is okay with God if I chose to be a lawyer or pastor or chose to be a National Park Ranger and likewise He would have been fine with me living in Los Angeles or Visalia.  I believe He is much more concerned about who I am; who we are.  It is a character thing.  The will of God is all about my character and relationship to Him.  His will for me is I am one with Him and walk in a manner worthy of His high calling.  So whether I am a shopkeeper, pharmacist, teacher, professional baseball player, pastor or a lawyer, husband or parent, His will for me is doing whatever it is I am doing to the best of my ability and for His glory. 

So wherever you find yourself and are wondering about God’s will for your life, I suggest you start with the simple question of am I doing my best and for His glory.  I think many of us just wonder and that is where it stops.  A wise mentor told me years ago the importance of simply getting into motion.  This is analogous to the physics principle that an object at rest will remain at rest.  It requires more energy to initiate motion than to alter the direction of that same object already in motion.  He said get started; God would guide me and would let me know if a course correction was needed.  Pastor Ed said the same thing in his sermon.  Ed also laid out a process and it is worth reviewing on the GateWay website.  So, make a plan and get moving.

Shalom

Bill YoshimotoComment
Survivor Series: Self Control - A Higher Purpose

There are days when we are bombarded by people showing their lack of self-control.  Whether it is in person, as related by friends, or seen on TV or other social media outlets, the stream appears relentless.  We see instances of rudeness, violence, excessive indulgence, lack of consideration, road rage, extremely loud music, and the list goes on and on.  Then there are those moments when we observe self-control in action and we wish there were more of these moments.  I believe there are countless moments of self-control taking place all the time.  But even so, self-control can be difficult for us humans.   Pastor Ed in this past weekend’s installment of case studies in Proverbs laid out a pattern for developing self-control.  Thinking through this process my mind was drawn to the story of Jackie Robinson’s first year in major league baseball.

For more than a half a century, and realistically for millennia, people of color were systematically excluded from Major League Baseball.  This came to an end when Jackie Robinson played his first game for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947.  The hatred and vitriol hurled at this Black man, an African American, was of epic dimensions.  Whole stadiums, on the playing field and in the stands, rocked with racial insults all directed at one man.  Opposing players went out of their way to abuse Robinson both mentally and physically.  Robinson by character and personality was a driven man, a fighter, and fiery individual.  Yet throughout this season, Jackie remained calm, did not return hatred with angered outbursts and played well with great self-control.   As it is often said, the rest is history.

One of the keys to Robinson’s amazing self-control in 1947 was what was developed within him many years before he stepped on to the professional baseball field.  Robinson wanted deeply to see race equality and treatment become a reality in the United States long before he wanted to be a Dodger.  It was this purpose, this big picture goal that propelled him forward despite the inhuman treatment he endured during the 1947 season.  The owner of the Dodgers, Branch Rickey, had instructed Robinson to not react or respond to what was to come as any response would doom the opening of baseball to other men of color.  Jackie understood there was much more at stake than being called a racial slur thus he exercised self-control so the bigger purpose would be achieved.

I think we Christ-followers can grow in self-control by doing the same – focusing on the bigger picture.  Pastor Ed encouraged us to remember God and aim for something better.  Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit.  Living out self-control is great evidence of the ONE who lives in you.  Thinking of the impact a changed life has on our culture motivates me to think self-control.  So when I am confronted with a situation requiring self-control, I will defer to the Holy Spirit and think of His purpose in my life for that moment.  Perhaps then, self-control will not just be a thought but an action.

For us Christ-followers, Jackie Robinson is a very good example but the ultimate is Christ Himself.  Insulted, beaten mercilessly, reviled, unjustly accused and convicted, taunted then crucified still exercised self-control so our sins could be covered and the relationship between God and me become once again a reality.  Exercise self-control that Jesus Christ be magnified.

Shalom

Alan AdlerComment
Survivor Series: Show Me The Money

We write today about money.  This weekend’s very practical sermon based on Proverbs by Pastor Ed addressed money and financial practices.  Money, as attributed to the Bible, has often been misquoted as being the “root of all evil.”  Correctly stated, 1 Timothy 6:10 reads, “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil. . . .”  It is the love of money and it is a root of evil, not the ultimate source though it finds itself as the basis of many a conflict in life.  Hebrews 13:5 offers further enlightenment:  Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have. . . .  Once again, it comes down to personal choices and responsibilities.  How money is valued, how it is idolized, how it is used is determined individually.  Our culture, politics and growing world view where personal responsibility and accountability are an anathema, money, much like the debate about guns, demonizes the object and absolves the person.  As Christ-followers we need not and must not succumb to such thinking.  Make no mistake, God is the ultimate proponent of “human rights” as He created us with free will, the right and ability to choose. I believe to demonize the object and absolve the person is an affront to the Creator of the Universe.

Harkening back to last week’s sermon and blog post, the Apostle Paul stated in Philippians, “For I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.” In our nation, a significant part of the “money problem” can be traced back to contentment.  How much is enough?  Of course money is a necessary component of life and not having enough to sustain basic living is a major issue and cannot be ignored.  Yet for many of us, the basic is not the issue.  Aptly stated by Pastor Ed, money is a tool.   How we use it provides a fairly accurate picture of who we are and what we value most.  If acquisition and accumulation of money and what money buys dominates our thinking than it ceases to be a tool and becomes our slave master.  Juxtaposed to our national loathing of slavery it is ironic we so easily allow money to enslave us as evidenced by our culture of consumption and devouring debt.

Having experienced financial enslavement and freedom I can wholeheartedly recommend the latter.  This is not a reference to the “bottom line” as we are not “rich folks” on the U.S. income scale.  It is the peace of mind from contentment and the blessing of having money as a tool and not the slave master.  This is also not only a bookkeeping matter but a matter of the heart.  This is a spiritual matter and battle all at the same time.  The more you know God and what He says about money and apply it, the better your financial shape.  For those who are married or contemplating marriage, the second highest cause of marriage failures stem from financial issues.  And as anyone who has been struggling in their marriage relationship knows, there is no peace.  So whether you are married or single, getting your financial life in God’s order should be at the top of the “to do list” in 2018.   

There are a number of resources to help you get out of debt, manage your money and deepen your faith.   We highly recommend Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University coming up in September.  It is excellent and thorough.  Need help sooner?  We have suggestions at GateWay.

Shalom

Bill YoshimotoComment