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
Survivor Series: The Winter of Our Discontent

The Apostle Paul stated in Philippians, “For I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.” Pastor Ed this past weekend took us through verses in Proverbs addressing contentment.  What is clear to me is we live in a culture and society that is fully immersed in our winter of discontent.  This discontent in large part is a learned behavioral condition.  In contrast to Paul, we have learned discontent.  So where did we learn this you may be asking?  Let me cut to the chase.

We are told in so many aspects of our lives we are not adequate, we can have more, and we can be happy if we just have this one thing.  Whether the matter is material, physical, emotional, professional, intellectual or even spiritual we are bombarded by questions of inadequacy fueling our fears.  We are told “we can have it all” but reality for most is it is out of reach.  It is out of reach because we keep reaching for the wrong thing.  This is a story as old as time.  Parading as light Satan has spread his lies.  He told Adam and Eve they could be more if they did this “one thing.”  Adam and Eve did not rest and be secure in relationship with the Creator of the Universe.  Instead they believed the lie that what they had with God was insufficient and they were less and could be more.  Satan is so bold that he even fired the same nature of questions at Jesus in the wilderness – “if you are the son of God . . . .”  Human ingenuity has taken this lie and run with it in countless ways.  Of course there is innovation, advancement and vast improvement in living conditions but I am speaking of the embedded lie that God is not adequate and we must find “better.”  Figuratively Satan has substituted that first “apple” for the dream of an Apple iPhone X. 

Paul says he has learned the “secret” of contentment.  He is content because he knows without doubt the deep and abiding relationship he has with Jesus Christ.  As long as he has Christ he can overcome, endure, and be content in whatever circumstance he may find himself traversing.  The life of Paul truly and literally is the story of riches to rags, from safety to shipwreck, respectability to being reviled and back again.  The Bee Gees once sang, “How deep is your love?”  Paul writes of Jesus, For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39 (NASB)  For Paul, Christ’s love is and was deeper than deep could ever be.

I am challenged to learn to be content thus I must discern where my discontent is derived.  If I only had that Tesla Model S I would feel like I had made it.  If I only had that salary I would feel worthwhile.  If I only had that QLED TV I would be admired.  If I only had that relationship I would feel secure.   If I only had (you can substitute whatever item you seek) then I would temporarily fill what only the deep abiding love of God was created to fill.  If it’s all about me and my attempt to quell that eternal lie that God is insufficient to love me and delight in me however this lie manifests itself then rethinking is in order.  Proverbs 3:3-4 says, “Do not let kindness and truth leave you.  Bind them around your neck. Write them on the tablet of your heart.  So you will find good repute in the sight of God and man.”

Shalom

Alan AdlerComment
Survivor Series: The Anger of Man

Not a day goes by where something tragic happens somewhere in the world.  We often do not need to look far away to experience this.  The inhumanity or carelessness of man provides ample instances of the tragic and horrific.  There is enough to make any person be filled with rage and anger.  It is even more so when it is personal.  And when it is personal and the anger pounds away, what are we to do?   Proverbs 19:11 states:  A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook a transgression.   Overlook “this” transgression?  Slow to anger?!   Does God not know this is at least “level 2” anger as described this weekend by Pastor Ed?  I wish I had an easy and quick fix.  I do not.  My perception of the answer is, it is hard and will cost someone everything.  

Here it goes.  James 1:19 & 20 reads:  This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of GodThe answer rests here – achieving the righteousness of God.  My anger, whatever level anger it may be, cannot get me to the place that God wants me to be.  If the verses in Proverbs highlighted by Pastor Ed are to be believed, (and they are) the negative impacts of anger are immense.  According to Proverbs, the places anger takes me are far from righteousness.  So, in the face of immense transgression, does overlooking lead to righteousness?  

I have come to understand that judging the impact of “losses,” be they hurt emotions, severed relationships, terrible experiences or death cannot be quantified on an objective linear scale and certainly not on one’s own personally constructed scale.  One person’s experience of sexual abuse may manifest grief and anger on the same level emotionally as one’s teammate striking out with the championship game on the line in Little League. Thinking one thing is not so bad when viewed in my value system is a whole different matter to another.  Lest you feel I am allowing “mountains out of mole hill” I do feel there are instances where we need a perspective adjustment but this directly pertains to anger not achieving the righteousness of God.

I think in many situations, overlooking is really about letting go.  The cause or reason for the anger and hurt cannot be undone but holding the heartache does not have to continue on and dictate your life.  This can be very hard – letting go.  Letting go involves releasing your grip on the anger or hurt.  Often letting go means forgiving the offender.  Letting go emotionally gives up my right for retribution and restitution.  In simple terms, it means it costs me.  The cost may be time spent in counseling.  It may be the huge effort entailed in rebuilding self-worth.  It may force you out of your comfort zone into new areas or new relationships.  It is giving up justifying your choice to remain in anger and misery.  It is the cost of opening your heart again and taking the risks of living.  So what is the reward for letting go?   I believe it is righteousness expressed as wholeness.  God would have us be whole and complete, lacking in nothing.  To remain in anger denies moving forward in wholeness. 

This is hard to do whatever the offense may be but there is a path.  It is important to note again, anger does not achieve the wholeness of God.  So what does?  The beginning of the path (and ultimately the end) is the healing and soothing of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  He came that we would find wholeness in God.  And this cost Him everything.  From here your anger and hurt can be processed through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Exercising your free will to choose God, together you can overlook the transgressions.  And this “together” often means that Jesus brings along His team because having teammates make the journey less overwhelming and victory attainable.  Whether you are deep into Level 1, 2 or 3 anger the “turnaround” starts with overlooking the transgression through the wholeness of Jesus Christ.   I think the actual nuts and bolts will be different for each person and you will need to search out what this looks like for you personally but I think it is easier with the family of God surrounding you.  God has designed His family with many parts.  Some are counselors, some are teachers, some are chefs, some are great listeners and some are faithful friends willing to say the hard stuff.  Struggling with anger?  Go with Team Jesus.

Shalom

Survivor Series: Outwit, Outlast, Outplay = O3

In a wordplay on Pastor Ed’s recent sermon title, I have abbreviated Outwit, Outlast, Outplay to O3.  O3 is the chemical symbol for Ozone.  It is a molecule composed of three atoms of oxygen.  The normal air we breathe contains oxygen but in a molecule that has two atoms = O2.  The third atom of oxygen creates an unstable and reactive gas.  It is colorless and has a very pungent odor with powerful oxidizing properties.  Many of us have heard of ozone because it has been the frequent subject of environmental concerns about the depletion of the Ozone Layer in the upper atmosphere due to man-made chemical pollution or high levels of ozone as a component of smog.

Ozone has two properties, in particular, relating to our usage of words.  The Ozone Layer serves as a high-level shield from harmful ultraviolet radiation.  If not for the Ozone Layer we would not only have permanent sunburns but be crispy critters suffering from cancer and a whole host of bodily degradation.  This is a very good function of ozone.  The second function is as a disinfectant.  Because it is an active and powerful oxidizer, it reacts with biological substances and figuratively eats them up.  It has been reported to be 10 times more efficient in killing bacteria than chlorine; another good thing.  In contrast, inhaling ozone can harm one’s lungs, cause shortness of breath, chest pains and reduce the ability to fight off respiratory illnesses.  As with words ozone can be very helpful or destructive.  It comes down to how it is used.

I am challenged and encouraged to use words wisely in all my relationships especially with those God places closely in my life.  It seems this is where the impact of words is most felt.  The words expressed to a spouse, a child, grandchild, parents or one’s sibling have added value due to the built-in connection of family.  We hear of, see with our own eyes, read stories and watch movies of relationships damaged because of words.  We rarely will observe the opposite so I always enjoy stories where words made a big, positive, difference in a life.  I think good words in a relationship serve as a shield against the negative “statements” that often are heard and circulate in a mind.  Sometimes that one good word(s) will sustain a child for many, many, years and through many difficulties.  Speak kindly, speak well, speak positively and do it often.  It will be a shield for the heart of the ones we love.  As Christ-followers God continually says to us, you are loved, you are a child of mine and I am well pleased with you.  Taken to heart we can overcome the most challenging circumstance. It’s that ozone layer. 

I think good words spoken in right circumstances can “disinfect” a heart that has been sickened with hurtful bad word bacteria.  Much of our self-concept is shaped by the words we hear about ourselves.  Too many bad words and we literally feel sick about ourselves.  A wise person speaking good and Godly words into a troubled heart can bring healing. Proverbs 12:18  “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” Proverbs 16:24  Negative words are so difficult to shake off but “like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances.” So when I look in a mirror and see my reflection, I see the precious jewelry of good words adorning my person. O3 – Good medicine for a troubled heart.   

Shalom

Survivor Series:  The Fork In The Road 

There is a point where everyone comes to a fork in the road of life.  We all have asked ourselves, do I choose the high road or the low road?  Do I take the wide path or the narrow path?  Do I take the road less traveled or follow the footsteps of the masses?  Since the beginning of the ages, Wisdom has called out, “turn to me and embrace my way,” even as the siren call of the foolish and crooked beckon seductively.  This is the fork in the road.

We embark on an eight-week journey through the Book of Proverbs and I could not be more delighted.  I have found Proverbs to be so impactful I have often thought of writing a book on leadership and management based on the book of Proverbs.  So, I am anticipating insights into living, pathways for successful relationships and warnings of life’s pitfalls. 

As we apply Proverbs, I see this as the contrast between surviving and thriving.  The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines survive as follows:  (intransitive verb) 1 - to remain alive or in existence: live on; 2 - to continue to function or prosper.  The same dictionary defines thrive as:  (intransitive verb) 1 - to grow vigorously: flourish; 2 - to gain in wealth or possessions: prosper; 3 - to progress toward or realize a goal despite or because of circumstances.  I believe this is what all of us desire in life – to flourish and grow, to prosper and reach our goals even in the face of adversity.  We do not want merely to exist and call it a day.  As Christ-followers Proverbs can direct us there.

It starts with the choice.  Pastor Ed remarked we must make the decision to acquire wisdom.  Then embrace life principles to live by, not merely rules to mindlessly check off.  And as circumstances that surround us ebb and flow, make wise adjustments.  A great place to start is, as Ed mentioned, read one chapter of Proverbs a day using the corresponding day of the week to match the chapter number.  Thus, today is April 23 so read Proverbs chapter 23.  This is a practice I have maintained for over 45 years.  I cannot count the ways it has changed and improved me.  God has a way of using Proverbs in very personal applications.  Allow me to share a very important one.

In verse 27 of my favorite chapter of Proverbs, Chapter 3, reads:  Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.  Using these words, The Holy Spirit unleashed in me the understanding and motivation to be different in all my relationships, especially with my family.  So many times in my relationships I neglected to express words of gratitude, appreciation, encouragement or compliment when I so easily could have done so.  It is a universal truth that we thrive when given positive input or feedback.  And without it we merely survive the day.  I was struck with the truth that I had been withholding good with many that I loved dearly or worked with closely.  So now, when the opportunity comes, I seek to say thanks, or appreciate a good job or deed, or express encouragement and compliment.  It has extended to all daily contacts and not just the folks I am close to.  I no longer want to withhold “good.”  You may be thinking what if the person is not one to whom it is due.  In response, simply put, because of Jesus Christ, I do it anyway since even when I was undeserving, He died for me.  Please understand I fail often in this but at least once a month, I am reminded of this truth because every month has a third day and day three means Proverbs Chapter 3.

True story:  I was on my way home from meetings in Washington DC and arrived at Phoenix Sky Harbour airport to transfer to my connection to Fresno.  It was the last flight to Fresno that day but we arrived on time with plenty of room to make the connection.  To my surprise when I reached the boarding gate, my flight had been canceled and I was directed to the ticketing desk on the next level.  The prospect of not being able to get home that night was frustrating and when I learned the cancellation was caused by the flight crew needing to sleep it was simply ridiculously irritating.  I couldn’t understand why the airline could not plan better for schedules or have a backup crew ready for this.  Fuming, I walked to the ticketing desk and upon arrival, I saw lines of angry people accosting several airline ticketing agents.  Apparently, my flight was not the only one that was canceled.  As I waited in line, person after person venomously complained and angrily voiced their opinion.  I was astonished at the level of animosity.  I cannot say everyone was like that but from where I stood, it sure seemed that way.  In a Holy Spirit prompted moment when it was my turn, I smiled as sincerely and said, “Wow, this is really crazy for you.  I am so sorry you have to listen to all of this when none of this was your fault.  Thank you for helping me.  I am trying to go home to Fresno.” (Not withholding good . . . when it is in your power to do it)  She smiled back and sighed and said it’s been a long night.  We talked a bit more about travel and our families as she worked on the computer.  Finally, she said there are no other flights to Fresno but she booked me on the first flight out in the morning.  With a little gleam in her eyes, she said, “kindness has its dividends.”  With that, she directed me to the closed Burger King since they had padded bench seats around the perimeter of the eating area and I could lay flat for the next several hours instead of trying to sleep sitting up and set me up in the seat with the most legroom on the small commuter jet.  With my special boarding pass, I was the first on and on arrival in Fresno, the first off and without cramped legs.  I just didn’t survive that flight home, I thrived.

I look forward to what we will learn in the upcoming weeks.  I am certain you will gain immense knowledge, guidance, practical truths, and instruction for a successful life while avoiding many calamities of life during these weeks when we delve into the truths of Proverbs together.  Bring it on Pastor Ed!

Shalom

Bill YoshimotoComment
Myocardial Infarction

Myocardial infarction is the technical name for a heart attack.  It takes place when tissue in the heart muscle dies.  According to the US Center for Disease Control, approximately 790,000 cases of MI happen annually in the United States.  My best guess, based on the literature I could find, indicates over 300,000 deaths occur due to heart attacks each year.  The CDC reports over 600,000 people die from some type (heart attacks are included) of heart disease.  All of this indicates checking on heart health and maintaining good heart health is vital.  

This past Sunday, Chuck Wysong gave us a spiritual heart checkup.  This was no “take two aspirin and call me in the morning” checkup.  It was the state of medical art soil test of Jesus Christ.  It has an application on so many levels and can be universally used to establish the baseline level of spiritual heart health.  Too often, this test is applied to people not in the community of Christ-followers. The implication is those whose “soil” is good become believers who grow and thrive in life and those whose soil is compromised or hard, never come to faith thereby falling away or never taking root.  Chuck does us a great service by turning this diagnostic tool on us churchgoers.  Rocky soil, shallow soil, weed-infested soil, or good soil; what is the condition of your heart?  The peace and contentment condition of your life, the health condition of your relationships, the reproductive condition of your church, can all be traced back to the condition of your heart via the soil test.

I wonder if the post-modern age flourished because American Christian Churches and their membership failed the soil test starting in the early 1900’s and continued failing through the 1960’s resulting in several new generations of “truth is relative or optional” thinkers and believers.   Of course, such sociological shifts are complex and not the result of one “thing” but the idea that the “salt” lost its “flavor” is compelling in my mind.

I have been told that Millennials are not concerned if my Christianity is the truth they are concerned if my Christianity or faith is real.  I am convinced if my heart condition is that of good soil, then the truth of Jesus Christ will flourish and how it impacts those around me will be real.  And a church of real people can change the world.   And a church of those whose heart is diseased will suffer an MI and likely die or certainly have a diminished impact.  What is your heart condition?

Shalom

Bill YoshimotoComment
Easter Sunday 2018 . . . A Twist in the Plot

What a gorgeous day this past Sunday.  Easter 2018 was everything a good church going person could ask for.  The skies were blue, the temperature “just right” warm, the coffee smelled scrumptious, the music in all services superb and the message meaningful and refreshing.  Our church campus was resplendent with families together, friends reconnecting, and the hope of beautiful afternoon. All of this on top of an “over the top” community Easter Egg hunt festival the day before that included a helicopter drop of colored plastic eggs.  GateWay, you did yourself proudly. 

It’s Monday, the day after Easter 2018, and now comes the twist in the plot.  What if by some indescribable force, the seven acres of land and all the buildings and facilities of GateWay Church of Visalia, were lifted away and a massive hole left behind.  Mind you, this is not a second coming, “left behind” twist in the plot.  This is simply a sci-fi “moving” event of epic proportions with GateWay no longer in the picture or returning later.  The neighbors are in shock, emergency services are completely perplexed, and the community of Visalia cannot believe their eyes. But in due time, all returns to “normal,” the questions become questions of legend rather than of trauma and life goes on.

In this twist, the cavernous hole is filled, and a new neighborhood park named Conyer Oaks fills the emptiness.  After 150 years of continuous existence, GateWay is but a fleeting memory.

Back to reality; the doors will open on Tuesday and services will be conducted Thursday and Sunday.  Small groups will gather, the choir and orchestra, as well as the worship band, will practice, AWANA will convene, Venture will meet and a wedding will take place this week on the GateWay campus.  But I am compelled to ask and think through, what if GateWay was gone?  Would Visalia miss us?  What are we adding to our neighborhood and our city today that if we no longer were here, people would feel a great void?  The Easter story is the good news of the Gospel; of life instead of death; of renewal and redemption; of transformation; of relationships and connection.  Is this what we are adding to our community?  Is our city prosperous because we are here?  Would there be an economic decline if we are absent because God’s blessing on this town has been removed?  Or are we merely taking up space, albeit stylishly?

In communities across the country, city planners and civic zoning officials are reluctant to grant building permits to churches because churches do not add any value to a city.  Churches do not generate an income stream for the public.  Churches do not pay property taxes.  Churches consume city services but contribute little.  Churches are seen as takers and not givers.  Is this who GateWay is?   I am hoping GateWay will be bold in declaring, living out and embodying Jesus Christ such that God’s blessing is poured out on Visalia.  I am hoping because we honor God, it would be felt deeply by our community if GateWay were suddenly taken away.  It’s in our hands. 

Shalom

PROFOUND . . . “I AM” – Beating the Mendoza Line

PROFOUND came to a close this past weekend with the story of Peter’s encounter on the beach with the risen Jesus Christ – a series of three questions and responses paralleling three denials and failure.  Peter is restored and shows immediately why he and also all of us, need a Savior. 

Baseball season is once again upon us.  For this lifelong baseball and Dodgers fan, it’s a great time of the year.  I know no other sport where numbers and statistics are kept for every aspect of the team and a player’s performance and his impact on team success.  For example, stats are kept on a team’s winning percentage when playing on Sunday, during daylight, when the skies are blue and if the groundhog has seen his shadow (just kidding about the blue skies and groundhog).  The metrics are astounding.  One highly watched and revered metric is batting average as expressed in “hundreds” – “he is a three hundred hitter or he’s batting 292.”  What this really means is he is hitting .292 as this stat is the calculation of the number of official at-bats divided into the total number of hits a player has made.  The best players have averages in the 300’s during the season and over a career, a lifetime batting average in the 300’s is like the Holy Grail.  Ty Cobb holds the career record at .366 and among thousands, less than two dozen players have achieved a season average of over 400.

From a mathematical perspective, it means the best players fail 7 times out of 10 to get a hit.  It seems ironic that those who find success only three times in ten are hailed as heroes.  But miss that mark and one is relegated to the forgotten.  Carl Furillo, who played his whole career with the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers achieved a career batting average of .29942 which meant he was one hit short of being a career 300 hitter and obtaining the Holy Grail.  For most people, even fans, Carl Furillo, is long forgotten and rarely ever remembered.  In metaphorical contrast, Peter has three chances to acknowledge Jesus at a crucial point in time and three times he swings and misses.  Peter is batting not just below the ignoble “Mendoza Line” (.200) but he is batting zero.  He is a total failure.

But in one of the greatest “turn arounds” in history Peter is restored and takes the Good News of Jesus Christ to thousands in person and to millions by written word and testimony.  One might say this is not for me.  It’s only for superstars and Hollywood movies.  This is the truth; Jesus Christ died and rose again from the grave once and for all.  If you believe in your heart and confess with your mouth that God raised Jesus Christ from the dead you will be saved and in relationship with the almighty God.  And we must have faith that in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  You may be batting below the Mendoza Line in life but when you get connected with God through Jesus Christ you are restored and your name is written in the hall of fame.

Come this weekend to GateWay and celebrate Easter with us.

Shalom

Bill YoshimotoComment