Genesis . . . “Esau, ESPN and El Shaddai”

I watched and listened earnestly to the discussion between ESPN personalities Monday morning while walking on the treadmill at the gym.  On a media network devoted to sports the conversation was highly charged by the weekend events in Charlottesville, Virginia and the continuing saga of sports stars refusing to stand for the National Anthem.  I found this repartee intelligent, honest and valuable.  I soon finished my time on the treadmill and went on to my yoga class where the instructor called on us to breathe and empty our thoughts to focus on the yoga practice.  This was hard today.  I despaired for lives lost and injured and for the graphic picture of peoples driven to extremes, to confrontation and doing harm motivated by beliefs based on moral equivocation.  Sadly down dogs, triangle pose or planks do not change current events, debates about moral equivalence (moral equivocation in my opinion) or the heart of man.

 

Genesis tells many stories of lives changed and unchanged.  As Pastor Ed alluded, Esau disrespected his heritage, his lineage and value even selling his birthright for a bowl of stew.  Disenfranchised, Esau likely harbored deep hurt, hate and heartache for Jacob.  After all, he did come to “the meeting” with 400 hundred of his men.  If revenge was on his mind, if righting a relational wrong was in his heart, or proving his superiority was his aim, then Esau approached with moral equivocation.  Jacob approached with similar moral equivocation.  Jacob made his way through life with conniving, con jobs, and conspiracy mixed with some righteousness.  Although not clearly stated in Scripture, haunted by his past choices, Jacob likely felt fearful, guilty and exposed in seeing Esau.  He did come to “the meeting” putting his wives and children first in line, in harm’s way, thus protecting him. 

 

In the 24-hours before “the meeting” Jacob has his pivotal encounter with God – El Shaddai.  Jacob is profoundly changed.  He has a different physical stance; he has an altered view of himself and a new and deep understanding of the nature, character, principles and person of El Shaddai.  Jacob steps up and forward humbling himself and opening his heart to Esau.  As Pastor Ed describes, Esau is literally and figuratively disarmed.  Connection, reconciliation and restoration of family and relationship happen.  There is no more equivocation because the moral view is now God’s view.  This clarity yields wholeness and worth.

 

Racism is wrong; hatred is wrong; revenge is wrong; violence in response to opposing views is wrong;  disrespecting another human is wrong; refusing to listen is wrong and justifying and excusing wrong is wrong.  It is wrong because it is not who God is and what He sets forth as right living.  How do we Christ-followers respond and act in the face of such divisiveness?  We speak up and clearly proclaim the love of Jesus.  We also must show the world what Christ-likeness does.  Esau stood down when he saw Jacob step up as a changed man.  I may not be able to change the KKK or the “far left” but I believe I can be an instrument to change the view of one disenfranchised, discouraged, discounted or damaged human being in our community.  How about you, GateWay?  That person is likely sitting right next to you at Sunday Service. 

 

Shalom.

Genesis . . . “Where Everyone Knows Your Name”

One of the most popular TV shows from 1982 to 1993 was the sitcom, CheersCheers was the name of the neighborhood bar in Boston where an interesting and eclectic group of characters would gather daily.  (You can go to Boston today and visit the actual bar that was the TV façade for the exterior shots.  The owners quickly adopted the name and signage making this spot a destination for tourists) Every week the theme song would play and the catch phrase from that song would find its way not only into the American psyche but also psychological studies, theological writings, leadership and management seminars, and church growth plans.  “Where everyone knows your name,” was the un-academic way of saying what sociologists termed a third place.  The first place was home and the second was the office or work site.  It was stated that everyone is looking for their third place, a space for community, bonding and hanging out because the first place, home, was stuck in dysfunction and the second place, work, was enveloped with dehumanizing monotony.  Even if home was wonderful and work was fulfilling, a place where “everyone knows your name” fills a special void.  Everyone is looking for their “Cheers,” just ask Starbucks.

Pastor Ed stated this weekend in continuing the Genesis series that God called Hagar by name.  With this simple gesture, assurance, value, and hope are transmitted to the struggling Hagar.  It is remarkable that the Creator of the Universe, the Infinite, and the Alpha and the Omega, knows names.  Psalm 8:4 records, What is man that You take thought of him expressing wonder that God does take note.  Psalms 139:13 reads For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother's womb.   Verse 16 goes on to say, Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written.  With this intimate perspective, it is no wonder that God knows my name.  Being called by name can make a difference.

I visited my friends, Don and Bonnie, in Birmingham, Alabama two years ago.  Judy and I took the opportunity to attend Sunday service at Brooks Hills Community Church, at the time the church where David Platt, author of the transformational book, Radical, was the senior pastor.  As I drove our rental car on to the church property signs directed me to first-time visitors’ parking and there we parked since this was the very first time.  We were immediately greeted by a friendly man who introduced himself and asked my name.  He directed us up the stairs towards the main entrance to the Worship Center.  Once we climbed the stairs and walked a short way down the sidewalk towards the entrance, another unknown to us but friendly looking man approached.  While still several footsteps away he said, “good morning, Bill, welcome to Brooks Hills.”   He must have seen the perplexed look on my face when he called me by name and said the Holy Spirit works in many ways.  He then held up a walkie-talkie and we both laughed.  But I was greatly impressed and touched to be greeted by name at a church I have never been to before.  Maybe everyone at Brook Hills did not know my name but surely the first two people I met walking in did.  This sure set the stage that had I been a local, Brooks Hills easily could have become my home church, my third place.

I am not the best at remembering names these days but I am inspired to do better.  Even though Cheers was canceled in the previous millennium, people are still looking for their Third Place.  Is it possible that GateWay can be a Third Place?  We certainly have a great start since God already knows your name.  How much more special it would be if everyone at GateWay knew your name.  Let’s make the effort to get to know one another by name and by living life together.

Shalom.

Genesis . . . “Four Score and Seven Years Ago”

The life of Abraham is full of twists and turns.  One of the amazing facts about this narrative is it begins with a man who is 75 years old and ends when he is 175 years old – one hundred years; just thirteen years longer than the age of the United States at the time of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address (which I contend is one of the greatest speeches ever given if not the best but I digress).  God tells Abraham to load up the camels and donkeys and go west “young” man and remarkably he does.  Over the next 100 years, we observe an imperfect man struggle with fear, shortsightedness, failure and family dynamics yet Abraham lands on the “A” list of men of faith.  Immediately three things jump out at me to consider; 1) God is gracious and merciful; 2) God partners with and uses imperfect people to carry out His plan; and 3) It is never too late, as long as one is still on this side of eternity, to get going with God.

I have observed many people avoid “Jesus” and church because they wrongly assume it is all about “religion” and not relationship.  They see “religion” as requiring perfect people living by the rules and doing no wrong so they see their shortcomings and feel disqualified.  (There are those who do not want to follow anyone’s rules but their own so they don’t but that is better suited to a lesson to take from the Tower of Babel.)  And there are always people who do come to church but are burdened with things, labor greatly to assuage the guilt and cannot connect.  Abraham’s life illustrates it’s all about the relationship and not the religion since it is clear Abraham had plenty of struggles and failures yet he walked with God.  God’s grace and mercy followed Abraham all the days of his life.  Thus, for those who struggle with inadequacy, disqualification issues, and failure, take heart, God is about the relationship and not the religion.  Jesus says, “Come to me all who are heavy laden and I will give you rest.”

Finally, it is not too late.  Abraham began his true faith journey at the age of 75.  Perhaps in those days, 75 was the “new 45” but I am thinking 75 is still 75.  Encourage your friends who may be older it is never too late.  This week we will bury my wife’s mother, my mother-in-law.  Grace was 91 but it was only a few years ago she opened her heart to Jesus and stepped into relationship.  My dad was in his later 60’s when he came to faith.  But this is not only a story of it’s never too late to receive Jesus, it is also the story of it’s never too late to become engaged in service with Jesus.  At age 75 God said the nations would be blessed through Abraham.  Maybe whole nations may not be blessed through you but one child, one friend, one co-worker can be.  I just turned 6ixty 6ix a couple of weeks ago. I am on Medicare and I am fully retired from paid employment.  I am challenged that my relationship with Jesus on this faith journey is not a spectator’s sport.  He is not just looking for fans, He wants players.  Whether you are twenty-five or seventy-five, as a Christ-follower the choice is yours.   Be in the game!  

Shalom

Genesis...“Babbling in the Dark”

The Tower of Babel is an incredible multi-layered account of how the peoples of the earth came to inhabit the whole world and how the diversity of language arose.  As a youngster I recall watching an old Hollywood movie of Nimrod shooting an arrow into the sky declaring human supremacy then literally seeing the sky fall down and the Tower of Babel around him.  The aftermath depicted people screaming at one another in a multitude of languages beneath a blackened sky.  The inability to connect through language must have been a terrifying and dark episode but as Pastor Ed explained, the darkness was in opposing God.  Interestingly, the name, Nimrod, comes from a Hebrew word meaning rebel and encapsulates what we as humankind have done throughout the ages.

 

We now find ourselves at the beginning years of the 21st Century.  Communication, electronic connection, information, entertainment, and a host of services are literally at one’s finger tips and soon to be on your lips.  Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant will soon control everything you can imagine at the command of your voice.  I asked Siri if we are better off than we were 100 years ago.  Siri pulled up a number of articles on various topics and a variety of time frames, such as 6 years ago or 50 years ago.  Quickly skimming over the articles I observed that determining if we are better off than timespast is dependent on context, for example, food safety.  From a regulatory perspective, at least in the United States, standards and practices are at an all time high, yet just recently Chipotle suffered another incident of food borne illnesses.  Admittedly, the sampling of articles was very small but I didn’t see any that said we are better human beings than we were 100 years ago.  I suspect, as a human race, we are no better, generically speaking, than we were when Nimrod “shot his arrow into the sky.”  Perhaps we no longer sacrifice humans to satiate our godsas some cultures did upon their ziggurats but genocide is no stranger to our modern times.  Although this is not “politically correct” to say, we practice genocide in the United States through the killing of thousands of unborn children annually.  Even though God created us to be equal we still see, hear, and feel the divide between races and cultures.  On the micro scale we are dysfunctional families with struggling relationships.  The opposition to God continues.  We are still babbling in the dark.

 

But take heart, all is not lost.  God still loves and still acts.  Amazingly, God throughout the ages has been calling us back and calling us upward.  Stick around for the story of Abraham as our Genesis series continues.  Ultimately, God the Father sent God the Son, Jesus, to once and for all restore the relationship.  He has used countless “messengers” empowered by God the Holy Spirit to proclaim good news and light in a darkened world.  He still sends His messengers.  He still maintains lighthouses, hospitals and places to be fed also known as His churches.  He still sends messengers into the darkened world and in fact anyone who calls on the name of Jesus is a messenger of light.  The crucial question is will we serve as messengers?  Will we maintain His house of healing, feeding and knowledge?  Will we continue to be His GateWay in a darkened world?  I vote YES.

Shalom.

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.

Shalom.

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.

Shalom

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?

Shalom