GRIT . . . "John Wayne Still Rides Into the West"

As we embark on this three-week journey to discover GRIT at GateWay I feel pulled, like a moth to a candle flame, to delve into a spiritual mish mash of Ed’s sermon, John Wayne, True Grit and Dr. Ben Carson.  Believe it or not, the movie, True Grit, was first released in 1969 staring John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn and featured the rhinestone cowboy, Glen Campbell.  Many folks today are only familiar with the 2010 remake starring Jeff Bridges.  The original was one of the last 10 of over 170 films made by John Wayne in his career before he succumbed to cancer.  His career spanned decades and his place in Hollywood stardom is legendary and subject to much symbolic rhetoric.  For instance, resolving an issue or coming into a situation with bravado, force, and a no-nonsense “my way” thinking is referred by many as acting “John Wayne.”  The symbolic nature of John Wayne is indelibly etched in America.

The recurring theme of True Grit, John Wayne-style, revolved around one’s character reflected in the true content of the heart.  It was more than courage.  It was wholeheartedness that followed through in action come injury, life or death.  As in many of Wayne’s movie characters, being responsible for your choices and one’s heart was key.  It appeared this held true whether John Wayne played a role in the cinema or lived his life in society or politics.  Perhaps his views on white supremacy can be in part explained by the notion that leadership and governance are conferred when ability and personal responsibility are shown.  His 1971 comments in an interview if made today would result in a firestorm of outrage.  As it were, an Assembly Member’s attempt back in 2016 to declare a state-designated John Wayne Day fell far short of necessary votes in the halls of the Legislature.  One way or another, John Wayne, was always “in your face.”

This past Friday I was on the treadmill again at the gym watching the Dr. Martin Luther King Day proclamation ceremony at the White House on the screens overhead.  (If you go to Atlanta, I truly encourage you to go check out the MLK National Historic Center, The King Center and the original Ebenezer Baptist Church all adjacent to one another.  I believe you will be impressed as I was about the Christ-centered and powered life of Dr. King.)   President Trump, flanked by members of his staff, relatives of Dr. King and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Dr. Ben Carson, spoke then signed the official proclamation.  I was particularly interested because of the current political frenzy over the President’s alleged racist-fueled remarks about Haiti and African nations and how this would play out in commemorating one of the greatest American heroes for truth, justice, and racial equality.  The President spoke with laudable and appropriate words of praise and reference to racial equality followed by gracious remarks by Dr. King’s nephew.  Finally, Dr. Carson was given the podium and in his brief remarks was the picture of poise, grace, competence, and peace as he quoted, “all men are created equal . . . endowed by their Creator” with emphasis on Creator.  In the midst of the storm, here is Dr. Carson working out his faith and working through his Salvation.  I have the feeling when the Sower cast His seeds, Dr. Carson was the “good” soil.  Half-hearted, he is not.  In his stratospheric context, Dr. Ben is growing, influencing and continuing to bear fruit in his illustrious career. 

As we begin 2018, Ed challenges us to assess if we are cold-hearted, half-hearted or whole-hearted in relationship to Jesus Christ.  We do not need to run around in the highly charged, high atmosphere and highly visible circles such as Dr. Carson to make a difference.  Whole-heartedness makes all the difference in your workplace, social circle, marriage, parenting, family context or your engagement with the community of people who do not know the one and true God.  As you move ahead in 2018 will the Truth and Life of God’s Holy Word fall on good soil? 


Foreshadow . . . "Mary Knew!"

Judy and I have a dear friend in Napa who is “irritated” each time she hears the song, Mary Did You Know?  Kelly screams out (hopefully internally), “YES SHE KNOWS!”  The Christmas story continued this weekend with Pastor Ed focusing on Mary, the mother of Jesus.  Throughout history, art, culture, and Christianity, much has been written, painted, spoken and revered regarding this young woman.  And, yes, I agree with my friend, Kelly, Mary knew.  And as Ed pointed out her initial doubt led to the truth that “nothing is impossible with God.” 

I have been intrigued a long time with the mechanics of how a conception took place and virgin birth happened.  Since my time handling DNA evidence I wondered what the genetic composition of Jesus was.  Did He have mixed DNA, which is the combination of human chromosomes and God chromosomes?  Or was it wholly God chromosomes from a divine placement of a completed egg much like in vitro fertilization and implantation?  Perhaps because this is a “God Thing” it is way beyond my comprehension.  What is undisputed amongst Christ-followers, is Mary, was the life that was used by the Almighty Creator of the Universe, to bring Jesus into this earthly realm.  

Ed asked us to consider how we could be like Mary.  He mentioned four ways to imitate what Mary went through as the Angel spoke to her: 1) Ponder; 2) Doubt; 3) Surrender; and 4) Connect.  I encourage us to think of one more. 

This morning at the gym as I did my routine time on the treadmill, I watch and listened to ESPN, the national news, and local news.  I was saddened to again hear of a terrorist-style attack on people in New York City as they traversed a transit station near Times Square.  My heart aches for those many people in Southern California who have lost “everything” in cataclysmic fires tearing through the land.  I experienced mental fatigue as once again another accusation of sexual harassment/misconduct hit the airwaves.  I was feeling the weight of knowing there is too much truth to the stories.  Just to let you know I am not totally lost I did despair that the Yankees traded for Giancarlo Stanton.  What all of this tells me is how desperately we need a Savior. 

Through Mary, Jesus entered this world.  He is the Savior!  As I see the world struggle around me I am challenged to be a “Mary.”  Who in my circle of contacts – Oikos List for us GateWay folks – will I be the one who brings or introduces Jesus into that life or lives?  How will I impact my neighborhood and community by bringing Jesus into discussions, community action, and good deeds?   What will I do in my church family to encourage, uplift, disciple and serve so that one brother or sister in doubt will see Jesus?   Mary knew – do you?


Foreshadow . . . "No Room"

December is upon us and many, like me, have a hard time accepting another year has come and is almost gone.  It seems each year the pace quickens and the pressure increases.  Holiday parties, Christmas cards and photos, a winter getaway, the perfect family dinner and paying homage to the most consumptive and material season of all combine to contradict the sentiment that, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”  Pastor Ed asked us this weekend which character in the Christmas story we relate to the most.  In a slight twist to the question, I ask if we are like the “Inn” where Joseph and Mary sought shelter for the night.  As the story is told, there was no room at the Inn

When that seldom heard from friend calls and suggests coffee or lunch does our day planner say there is no room at the Inn?  When the call comes from the bereavement meals coordinator for another broccoli salad for an upcoming memorial service at the church does our mental schedule say there is no room at the Inn?  When that sought after item comes up for the “one day only” sale does the invisible there’s no room at the Inn “force field” go up blocking out all else?  When the idea enters your mind to call the son or daughter or the mom or dad to just say, “I love you and appreciate you,” does your mental gatekeeper say I will do it later as there is currently no room at the inn?  When Pastor Ed asks “who can you encourage this week?” does your heart say there is no room at the Inn to encourage anyone?  When the Holy Spirit nudges your heart to give the gift of praise to Jesus Christ as a birthday gift does your spiritual tank say there’s no room at the Inn?

Yes, these are busy days and only twenty or so shopping days until Christmas, but even though there was no room at the Inn, the Innkeeper found a place for the baby Jesus to be born.  I am challenged this year to be an Innkeeper and not just be an Inn.

A final thought for this blog post.  This is not for everyone since we all have different circumstances.  Ed presented us with the challenge on Saturday, December 9th, to place a $20 bill in a GateWay giving envelope and slip it into a Salvation Army Christmas Kettle as an anonymous generous donor will match dollar for dollar every $20 bill that is given on that day.  For those of us who can, let not my wallet say there is no room at the Inn.


Foreshadow . . . “Pressure and Pesher”

Many notable men in prominent places be it Hollywood, Sacramento, Washington DC or the corporate board room are feeling intense pressure these days.  And rightfully so! It seems every day someone resigns from their position due to past indiscretions involving sexual assault or harassment.  What was secret or conveniently swept under the carpet is now exposed in the light of a new day.  Sadly this behavior has been happening for a very long time and is not something that has taken place because of our current moral climate.  Some may say “back in the good ol’ days” when God was honored in this nation this “stuff” didn’t happen.  Truth be told, it has been happening a very, very, very long time and in my opinion back then, God was honored superficially and not in substance. Pastor Ed spoke of the Jewish concept of Pesher – the present embodiment of past Scripture.  The Jewish prophets of old were tasked with keeping the people’s eyes focused on God.  The million dollar questions were “did they embody it and do it in the future?”  How we treat one another as a result of being rightly related to the Creator of the Universe is not new information.  Respect, restraint and righteous relationship with one another actually carried out would certainly be categorized as Pesher.  Clearly this has not been embodied.

We have all done things we regret and hope never see the light of day.  Fortunately most of us did not commit sexual assault or harassment and fortunately we do not live with the scrutiny of our intense media environment but even then within our circles, not living out Pesher has its consequences and impacts.  Our choices and actions affect all those around us.  The daily barrage of accusations and revelations should serve as a “prophetic” warning to all of us to rethink our relationships especially our relationship with God.  Paul wrote to the Galatians, “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”  Let us not merely bemoan the behavior of our “leaders” let us examine ourselves and resolve to do better.


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?


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?


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.


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.