Genesis . . . “A Flood Story Derivative”

Pastor Ed was right.  This past weekend’s sermon was like drinking from a fire hose.  Geology, biology, anthropology, theology and psychology all mixed in with a dose of healthy relationship basics plus a naked body.  This was certainly not your “old school” sermon about Noah and the Flood.  In today’s cultural climate a blog would likely discuss the naked body but I am going a little old school and talk about water.  There is the literal and obvious story about the water and there is the symbolic. 

Noah and his family plus the animals are all saved from drowning by being inside the ark.  One could say they survived by going through the water and eventually being raised out of the water on to a dry mountainside.  With the fountains of deep opening and the sky bursting forth with rain one could just as easily say Noah was buried in water.  All this makes me think of one of two sacraments Jesus commanded us to do in His church.  I am speaking of baptism.

Baptism brings to mind that Jesus was crucified, buried then raised up out of the grave – under the water representing the grave and coming up out of the water, the resurrection into new life and salvation for humankind.  Baptism also symbolizes a person who is dead in his trespasses being buried (under the water) then because of receiving Jesus in his heart being raised out of the grave (up and out of the water) into new life by the resurrection power of Jesus. 

Noah was able to survive being buried in the flood of water because of God’s provision, the ark.  But before the ark, before the flood, it was Noah’s relationship of faith with God that established his righteousness, thus, going through the flood and coming up dry was a Genesis baptism story.   

It is quite interesting that with all the traditions of the “church,” of all the rituals that have developed over many centuries and the practice of many diverse methods of worship in the church, Jesus speaks of only two things we continually should do:  communion and baptism.  This tells me that so much of what we deem sacred is really preference and that baptism, is sacred.  I am not saying what we practice in our churches is not valuable, worthwhile or meaningful; I am saying baptism is something to be excited over, cherished and celebrated.  And not coincidentally, we will be baptizing at the 10:30 AM service this coming Sunday.  Come praise God for salvation, cheer for those proclaiming their relationship of faith, and celebrate with us one of the two sacraments proclaimed by Jesus.


Genesis... “The devil made me do it”

This week we ponder another question that has plagued philosophers, writers, theologians, scientists and also characters in movies.  The interaction between Adam and Eve and the serpent, aka, the devil, Satan or in some circles, lawyers (just kidding about lawyers) begs the questions, “Why free will?”  Why would God set up a “world” where created beings could go against the commands of God?  Jim Carey and Morgan Freeman discussed free will in the film Bruce Almighty.  God, portrayed by Freeman, both lamented and celebrated that humankind was created with free will:  the ability and nature to choose.  Later in the movie, Bruce, played by Carey is given all the power of God to do as he pleased but one thing he cannot do is override free will.  He ultimately discovers the great dilemma of having omnipotence but at the same time total impotence in controlling another’s heart.  Sadly for those of you who read this blog hoping for a resolution you will leave wanting.  I am so sorry; I just don’t know the answer.  But I do know that having free will is the state of our existence and I do know God has ever since The Fall worked on restoring our relationship with Him.  

In a twist of perspective in looking at free will as exercised by Adam and Eve, I submit they refused to acknowledge the “gift” of free will when confronted by God.  Each stated they had no free will as another being dictated their choice and action.  Adam quickly blamed God and Eve – “the woman You gave me . . . .”  Eve directing fire at the serpent essentially said, the devil made me do it.  In one form or another, we have been abdicating our free will in this manner ever since that fateful moment.  I recall a case I prosecuted a number of years ago where choices were poorly made.  An estranged couple ran into each other at a convenience store in Tulare.  Quickly this encounter became an argument.  She said something and just as quickly, in a fit of anger, the man struck the woman, breaking her jaw and knocking her to the ground.  Others got involved.  When the ruckus was over, one man lay dead (the estranged boyfriend) another man hospitalized with a gun shot wound in the head, a woman with a broken jaw and arm, and a third man doing life in prison for manslaughter and attempted murder.  Most of us have not taken another’s life but Jesus did equate our hateful thought life with murder.  Life and relationships are often very complex but reduced to its simplest elements we each have a choice on how we act and respond in any situation.  We can claim someone else made me angry or wounded me so my reaction was justified.  All this says is the other person’s action dictated mine or I didn’t have any free will in this.  This notion of always having a choice is simple but so difficult at times to live out.  I have fallen short many times.  You may claim this is impossible to do as I am only a human.  This is why we need a Savior.  We always have free will and as followers of Christ we always have the opportunity to choose Him.  How many times have circumstances spiraled badly because we did not choose Christ-likeness?  God implores us to “walk in a manner worthy of the high calling of Jesus Christ.”

Whether or not God laments or celebrates free will or really is incapable of overriding free will, is another blog but I know He did create man and afterward said of all He created, “It was very good.”  I think He was referring to all the relationships He had and has with us.   Shalom.

Genesis . . . Musings on the Higgs-boson or Why the Big Bang Theory Is No Laughing Matter

As we begin a study on the book of Genesis it brings front and center a debate that has raged since the earliest of days of humankind.  Who created all of “this,” and if God did it, how, how long and why?  Pastor Ed succinctly laid out several viewpoints on the Genesis 1 account of creation and deftly pointed us to connection with a loving God.  My “back row” thoughts took me to a time a few years ago when I posted thoughts on the creation of the universe.  It just seems appropriate to drop them in here, this week, and for your consideration. 

The search continues in science, cosmology to be more specific, to discern the origin of the universe as we perceive it to be.  Atoms are smashed to observe smaller and more fundamental sub-atomic particles that physicists hope will explain how it all came together.  Somehow in this highly technical and academic pursuit, the question of God comes up from time to time.  The chance collision of bosons, leptons, or quarks is way above my “pay grade” so I have landed on a simpler, non-scientific, philosophical and down-to-earth perspective on the origin of the universe.

God created the universe purposely and purposefully.  The universe is not the chance collision of particles nor is the existence of living beings, especially we humans, the “lucky” combination of chemical molecules coming together in a primordial puddle.  Setting aside my faith in Christ for this discussion, my philosophical logic and legal experience alone lead me to this conclusion.  If we are the product of chance collisions then what results, no matter the length of time since inception, dictates a value system that has no basis in truth or righteous justice.  The resulting system is totally arbitrary.  No human value, no law, no code of behavior, is better or “more” right than another because who we are is merely by happenstance.  If a particular human value is enumerated, it is because societal forces have dictated it should be so and when those societal forces shift a new human value is enshrined.  Those who oppose the change can only protest based on their preference for what existed not on any absolute standard of truth or universal right or wrong because there is none.  What was legislated as child abuse last year can easily, with a change in the law, become the freedom of one “consenting” adult engaging a child in an act many would have deemed reprehensible, but that was last year. There is no crying “it’s unfair” in this universe. 

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth . . . and He said it was good.  God’s purposely and purposefully creation of the universe lays the foundation of what is truth, what is right and what is just.  Take away this fundamental point and we are left with the amoral abyss of chaos.  Defining who is God and what He says is for another post, but for today, I choose God for the other alternative is absolutely unacceptable to me.  I choose to love because God is love and it is right to do.  I choose to not murder because God is not hate and it is wrong.  Who created the heavens and the earth matters greatly.  Come and see.


Why Give? . . . Call the Cardiologist

The final message in the “Why?” series was interwoven with our annual church business meeting.  We learned this weekend GateWay is doing well by many measures.  We were challenged to get involved and not merely be a spectator of what God is doing through GateWay.  Part of the challenge is to support the work financially, a topic many Pastors these days find challenging or even scary.  It seems an often spoken criticism of the “church” is it is always asking for money.  “Always” is a very encompassing word.  I find it is used in many instances by those who lack clarity, or sensitivity, or wisdom, or who speak out of ignorance or self-centeredness or perhaps all of the above.(I am an expert in making this assessment from many years of looking in the mirror and having my own words played back to me.)  “Always” seems to come up when one is engaged in a confrontation with another or when one is approached with a task, request or challenge to act.  So when I hear of “the church is always asking for money” I wonder where that sentiment is coming from.

At GateWay, specifically asking for money is an occasional request,but stating everyone has the opportunity to honor God through their tithes and offerings is weekly.  Dr. Howard Clark, former senior pastor at GateWay, who I admire and greatly respect, stated Jesus often talked about money/treasures and one out of every six passages in the New Testament concerns money/treasures.  Financial matters in the church are not a forbidden subject and we should not avoid it but place it in its appropriate context.  And that context is the condition of your heart.  Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”  When challenged to give we likely should consult our “cardiologist” first to see what shape our heart is in.

I believe everyone who is part of GateWay, whether you are a member or not, if you are regularly part of our body andnot a visitor checking us out, then you need to share in the financial support of GateWay.  You may be facing severe financial challenge and feel you have nothing but even then, I think $1 or less, given periodically, with the right heart-attitude, is called for.  Jesus spoke highly of the widow who gave a few cents focusing not on the amount of money but the bigness of her heart.  It is not how much but how committed she was to God.  There are others who are amply blessed thus Jesus’ words, to whom much is given, much is required may be appropriate. Oswald Chambers draws a distinction between giving impulsively and giving from fixed determination.  The determination Chambers refers to is giving for the sake of Christ and no other reason.  Thankfulness and gratitude for our relationship with Christ leads to heartfelt giving.

And finally, this heartfelt gratitude extends to the whole picture.  As Pastors Ed and Brian so well stated in presenting the church annual report, we are one body in Christ.  There are multiple ways to give and share in the life of the body. Ed and Brian pointedthe better way is love.  How will love manifest itself in your lives and in your participation in the local body of Christ known as GateWay?


Why Pray? . . . “Who You Gonna Call?”

Continuing in the “Why?” series Pastor Brian spoke of praying for the Giants or the Dodgers to win.  As a life-long Dodgers fan, I would say it is the Giants who are in need of prayer but it is a long season.  Just ask any member of the 1951 Dodgers or fans like me who hate hearing over and over again about Bobby Thompson’s home run.  In his excellent sermon, Brian mentioned several situations where humans, Christians included, turn to prayer.  Cutting to the chase, Brian adeptly made the point we usually are trying to get God in line with our personal agenda.  Guilty on all counts!  I don’t often pray for myself (I do come to Him for wisdom, guidance, and comfort).  My petitions for others, though well meaning, are my perspective on what I would like God to do for or in that person’s life.  Oswald Chambers put it this way.  Am I willing to adopt God’s interest in this person or am I going to continue in my interest in this person?  I have such a limited view and my solution that I want someone to see or do is just that, my solution.  Sometimes my prayer for relief from a problem is exactly the opposite of what the person needs and what God is trying to accomplish.  In my human aversion to pain, I substitute my view of the situation for God’s omniscient vision.  Please do not take this as my saying not to pray compassionately, for mercy and grace because we do need to do more of this, it is to reinforce the notion of praying “Thy will be done.”  As scary as this may be to some, it is the point of faith and the place of trust.

This reminded me of a presentation made a number of years ago by one of my favorite pastor/teachers, Erwin McManus, speaking on connecting with God in prayer.  He said, “These days everyone prays.  Muslims pray, Buddhists pray, even Congress prays.”  Using the text of 1 Kings 18 and the story of Elijah vs. the 450 prophets of Baal, McManus highlighted the fact that the prophets of Baal were very animated in prayer, extremely devoted to prayer and even mutilated themselves as evidence of their sincerity in prayer.  Their prayers did not bring down the fire even though they prayed all day.  Elijah taunted the prophets of Baal and just maybe asked them, “who you gonna call?”  Elijah called on the One True God and the fire came down.  I encourage you to read the account in 1 Kings 18 and you will see Elijah’s prayer was for God’s will be done.  In book of James it is recorded in chapter 5:17 that “Elijah was man with a nature like ours.”  Elijah trusted in God despite the odds of 450 to 1.  In our day to day struggles or times of desperate needs who you pray to makes all the difference in the world.  And when you pray, can you trust that the one you pray to will have your best interest in mind and even more so, His best for you in mind?  Our God is worthy.

The bottom line is who you gonna call?


Why?...21 Ways To Cook Shrimp

Bubba Blue stated in the movie Forrest Gump:  “Anyway, like I was sayin', shrimp is the fruit of the sea. You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, sauté it.  Dey's uh, shrimp-kabobs, shrimp Creole, shrimp gumbo.  Pan fried, deep fried, stir-fried.  There's pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich.  That- that's about it.”  Only 21, Bubba?

This weekend Pastor Brian continued the Start with the Why series with why read the Bible.  He offered several excellent reasons and as any good sermon should do, it made me think a little more.  Like Bubba, the Bible itself lists numerous reasons why reading, studying, meditating, memorizing and absorbing the Holy Scriptures, be it the Law in the Old Testament or the Sermon On the Mount in the New Testament, is a very fruitful endeavor and worthy of praise.  I name several more and after reading the list, you may ask, “only 21, Bill?”  

Psalms 1 relates that delighting and meditating on the Law yields being:  1) securely rooted in life; 2) fruitfulness; 3) success in living.  Psalms 19 gives a handful of reasons:  4) it restores the soul; 5) makes wise the simple; 6) rejoices the heart; 7) enlightens the eyes; 8) better than gold; 9) sweeter than honey; 10) warns of danger.  In Psalm 119 which is all about God’s Word many reasons are given such as:  11) blessings; 12) assistance in maintaining moral purity; 13) structure to not sin against God; 14) provides counseling; 15) gives illumination to not stumble; 16) light to see the path of life.  In the New Testament His Word provides many benefits including these listed in 2 Timothy 3:  17) profitable for teaching; 18) reproof; 19) correction; 20) training in righteousness; and 21) equipping for every good work.

As wonderful as each of the above reasons are for getting into God’s Word, the most compelling and worthwhile is the Bible opens the gateway to knowing who God is and that we can have a relationship with the Creator of the universe.  Finally I close with this.  I love to read maps, especially road maps.  When I travel or am planning a trip, I look at the maps.  So when I go I know how to get there and have an idea of what to expect.  The map is not the destination and is a mere shadow of what is there.  The format, the printed words themselves or the compilation of the sacred writings in and of themselves is not “magic” nor are they to be worshipped.  It is the person of God who is characterized and described who is to be worshipped.  I encourage you to read His Word so you can know who He is in person. 


Why?...To Get Something

Many years ago Three Dog Night sang “One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do.”  It was and still is a haunting song of love and love lost.  And many years before 3DN the Cowboy/Western themed comic strip Rick O’Shay, was wonderfully written and penned by Stan Lynde (I do wonder if Millennials and those younger know what a comic strip is).  I recall one particular recurring story line only appearing in the full color, multi-page Sunday comics section of the newspaper featuring the tough as nails, good to the core, silent but wise, doesn’t miss, fast draw, Hipshot Percussion (picture Curly from the movie, City Slickers).  Hipshot was high in the mountains, deep in the beauty and wonder of the wilderness, all by himself, sitting on his trusted horse talking with God.  “Here I am again, Lord,” were his words.  This was his church; in nature, solitary, silent and still.  This notion of “High Sierra Chapel” seems to resonate with many.  I recall talking with a number of people who didn’t attend church saying this is the “church” for them, where they felt the closest to God.   I wonder if they ever listened to Three Dog Night.

Pastor Brian kicked off the new sermon series Start with the Why with an excellent presentation on why church is the place to be.  Using Hebrews 10:23-25 for the Scriptural text, Brian outlined three answers to Why Church.  The second answer was, “to get something.”  This week I experienced a wonderful instance of getting something from being a part of our church.  On Thursday I began teaching a six-week class on the book of Philippians at our Venture Ministry.  I love teaching from the Word of God and sincerely believe this is one of the things God created me to do.  It’s the feeling that “I was made for this.”  (The other instance where this feeling overcomes me was when I would make my closing arguments in a jury trial.)  Even though I have this confidence in my heart and mind, I still feel the trepidation of presentation.  Beginning the session I asked why everyone was here for the Philippians breakout sessions.  All answers were excellent but one reply was priceless.  Bob Hefner said he was here to “support me.”   

Bob and Sheila Hefner have been “supporting” me ever since Judy and I came to First Baptist/GateWay Church.  I believe we have a very welcoming and friendly church.  Bob and Sheila epitomize this trait.  I have been encouraged, blessed, stimulated to good works, inspired and just plain old loved on by Bob and Sheila for well over 20 years.  Last Thursday was simply another instance of countless many.  I would never have experienced “getting this something” unless I was a part of GateWay Church.  Although the connection between the Hefner Clan and the Yoshimoto’s go far beyond when I first arrived in Visalia back in 1977, the spiritual encouragement and challenge, has only come about because of our being together at GateWay.  Even though solitude and time alone with God is essential from time to time, we were made for relationship.  I love that I am getting something from church, that something being Christ-infused relationships, like the one with Bob Hefner.  I like too, that I get to give something and be a part of something.  Why Church? Because we were made for this.  Let’s go deeper together at GateWay.


Father, Forgive Them . . .

In the concluding sermon on the final words of Jesus, Pastor Ed and the gospel writer, Luke, paint a picture of the end.  Darkness, a veil torn, earthquake and rocks splitting was an event to behold and shake with fear if not wonder.   Jesus never stopped impacting those around Him, even as He hung on the cross.  Politicians, religious leaders, soldiers, mockers, convicted criminals, curious on-lookers, depressed and scared followers, to closest family and friends, all were touched by Jesus as His breathing grew labored and the spikes tore deeper.  Before He gave up His Spirit, Jesus connected with his mother and friend, He eternally changed the life of a repentant criminal, He forgave mockers, killers, betrayers and humans everywhere.  Despite what had to be absolute human agony, Jesus lived out mercy and grace.  So much so that it enlightened the heart of a Roman centurion. 

Reflecting on this past weekend’s message, I asked myself this week, “How am I impacting those around me?” The darkness that fell for three hours during the crucifixion made me wonder if when I show up somewhere, does a metaphorical darkness fall in the lives of the people around me.  Are my interactions bringing lightness to lives touched by me or do I bring dark clouds?  Are people impacted positively?  Being anonymous and invisible does not count.  Not making an impact or leaving no trace as I interact is not an option:  Jesus clearly said we are to be the light of the world.  Even in the most mundane of encounters do I do well?  And in those times when I am oppressed, emotionally injured or wronged, do I live out mercy and grace?