Heritage Series: One Thing

I thought of the movie, City Slickers, during the weekend sermon.  This 1991 movie of three best friends successfully crossing the mid-life crisis rapids together through a fantasy vacation cattle drive is a favorite of mine.  There is so much to like in it.  Jack Palance won an Oscar for best supporting actor in his characterization of the tough as nails, old as dirt and simple but deep, iconic cowboy, Curly.  In a standout scene, Mitch, portrayed by Billy Crystal, is talking with Curly while working the cattle drive.  Curly asks the confused and searching Mitch if he would like to know the “secret of life.”  Curly holds up one finger and says, “One thing, just one thing.”  Mitch asks, “What’s the one thing” and Curly replies, “That’s what you have to figure out.”

The great news for us is we do not have to figure out what the one thing is.  Pastor Karl Roth ignited the stage this weekend with the answer.  He pressed us to look at and live out what Jesus said was the one thing we must do.  Pastor Karl directed us to John 13:34-35 where Jesus is holding up one finger and saying “one thing” – love one another . . . as I have loved you.    

Pastor Karl shared the impact First Baptist/GateWay has had in his life and launching a lifetime of Christ-focused service.  Different people in the church body poured out love upon him and poured love into Karl’s heart.  He says it wasn’t the programs, the facilities or the teaching.  It was the grace and loving kindness he continually received from individuals at First Baptist that made the difference.  At one point in his sermon speaking of the American Church in general, Pastor Karl remarked somewhere along the line there was a transition from being about loving to being about learning; being right was more important.  The result is the church has lost its relevance and its standing to speak into the lives of people. 

Please do not take my remarks to mean learning is irrelevant.  The opposite is more appropriate.  We must learn more and more deeply who Jesus is and what He brings into our personal relationship with Him in order that we can live out “the one thing.”  This is not learning for learning’s sake or knowledge for knowledge’s sake.  It is learning to be like Jesus and acquiring more knowledge that we can better connect with one another like Jesus.  After 150 years of continuous ministry in Visalia we are challenged to renew and re-imagine how we make a difference in the lives of people and our community.  Are we living out Jesus’ “one thing?”

For many the cycle of life begins anew in a week or two.  School starts and families once again order their lives around the school calendar.  This time provides a great opportunity to reach out and connect with people who do not have Jesus in their lives.  People are more open to try something different at the beginning of a cycle rather than mid-cycle.  Pastor Karl said if we know of anyone who does not know Jesus we need to love that person profoundly and invite them to GateWay.  There are over 100,000 people in Visalia who do not attend a church.  Jesus once remarked that the fields were ripe and the harvest plentiful but the workers were few.  Our community is ripe.  As we enter the next 150 years of ministry in Visalia and beyond let us love profoundly.


Bill YoshimotoComment
Heritage Series: The Voice

A momentous event took place before the beginning of the baseball season in 2017.  Vin Scully, THE VOICE of the Dodgers, stepped into retirement.  The Hall of Fame broadcaster’s career with the Dodgers began as the understudy to another Hall of Famer, Red Barber.  This was back in the days of the pre-Jackie Robinson Brooklyn Dodgers.  For over 70 years, Vin Scully, universally acknowledged as the best of the best brought to life on the radio and TV, the ebb and flow of the game together with the richness and personality of Dodger baseball.  Any Dodgers fan will recognize The Voice.  The New York Yankees are legendary because of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and other players. It is said by many, the most valuable player in making the Dodgers one of the premier and most popular baseball organizations in the country, is not a player.  That distinction belongs to Vin Scully.  I grew up listening to Vin Scully.  Much of my love for the Dodgers can be attributed to him.  If you come to my study, Vinny’s photo hangs proudly on my wall along side Robinson, Koufax and Drysdale.  Like so many baseball fans across the nation I would know that voice anywhere.   


We welcomed back Pastor Jody Bowser this weekend.  We were so blessed to have him with us for a handful of years as Pastor of Youth including junior high, high school and college.  In the eyes of many, he is the “gold standard” for youth pastors.  He has since become a vibrant senior pastor.  He began his presentation by reminding us that the definition of heritage includes something transmitted by or acquired from a predecessor: a legacy, a tradition.  What stands out in his recall of times spent in Visalia are the people; the relationships.  Yes, as an organization or institution, First Baptist/GateWay Church left its mark on him but it was the impact of people that endures in his mind.  And likewise for us, Jody’s impact is felt deeply as he had transmitted the Spirit of God that continues in the hearts of many today.

Pastor Jody delivered an excellent, stirring and multi-faceted message of Jesus Christ as the good shepherd.  As my lead-in portends, I focus today on one metaphor – the voice.  The sheep know the voice of their own shepherd and follow him.   Jody painted a memorable picture with a story written by a visitor to the Holy Land back in the early 1900’s.  The author observed a large number of individual shepherds pitching their tents for the night in a large circular pattern with each of their flocks of sheep enclosed and intermingled within that tent circle.  The next morning he wondered how these men would separate the thoroughly co-mingled sheep and lead them on their respective paths.  To writer’s delight, each shepherd called with his distinctive voice and each animal moved towards the sound automatically.  They separated themselves and then followed their own “good” shepherd to the still waters and green pasture of the day.  John 10:4-5 states: the sheep follow him because they know his voice.  And a stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.  John Chapter 10 makes it clear Jesus is our good shepherd and comes to bring life abundantly.  The pretenders come to steal, kill and destroy.

We all want the good life.  This doesn’t mean we all desire uncountable economic riches and wealth but we do desire the place where we can peacefully and freely enjoy all of our most precious relationships.  This would be one version of abundant life.  When it comes to abundant life and living there are seemingly many options and paths out there for us to select.  Certainly there are infinite voices in the world that beckon and tempt us.  The ultimate question and answer is whose voice do you follow?  I submit for your consideration we should follow the voice that leads us to the life that provides peace and joy amidst the inevitable uncertainty and chaos of this world.  I asked last week if you had The Peace of the Rock.  The answer and voice we should seek and hear is the voice of the good shepherd, Jesus Christ.

As Christ-followers how do we recognize the voice of the good shepherd?  It happens as we grow in our familiarity with Him.  We can do this by reading the Bible, connecting in study groups, hearing good sermons, listening to podcasts by excellent Bible teachers, reading good Christian books and by praying.  Worshipping, encouraging and serving together in a solid church go a long way.  GateWay has existed for 150 years because its people sought and heard the voice of God.

I recognize the voice of Vin Scully because of years of listening.  I remember lying in my bed at night as a youngster listening to my transistor radio when I should have been sleeping.  Vin’s play-by-play account interspersed with great stories and tidbits filled me with delight and love for Dodger baseball and baseball in general.  In later years when TV came into its own and was the medium to view important games, especially the World Series, I would turn on the set but turn off the sound then turn on my radio shunning the voice of the network announcers in favor of the voice I trusted, Vin Scully.  Our world culture calls out with many voices speaking of peace and abundant life but like the pretenders in John 10, they seek to steal, kill and destroy your spirit.  Listen for the voice of the good shepherd.  He comes to give you life and life abundantly.


Alan AdlerComment
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?”


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Bill YoshimotoComment