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

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?

Shalom

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. 

Shalom

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.

Shalom

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? 

Shalom

Manchester, My Heart Aches For Thee – An extra post this week

Once again, man’s inhumanity rears its ugly head; this time in Manchester, England.  My thoughts and prayers are lifted up for the killed, injured, parents and family, the community and the nation of Great Britain.  My most recent post spoke of atheists born of envisioning a God who cares not for the personal suffering of innocent people and allows such cruelty to have its torturous way.  This bombing only reinforces the BOP Atheist.  I felt compelled to post again because of the impact of the bombing but no words can comfort the agony of loss and the horror of going through such calamity.  Words right now are inadequate to explain even if an explanation were available.  I cry out, “God have mercy, please help.”   I post because I must tell myself to “be present.”  Be present in the presence of God that my feelings, insecurity, anger, hurt and fears can be met.  Be present in the presence of those I love whose hearts are troubled – present so I will share the embrace of relationship and if necessary use words.  Be present in the presence of strangers and acquaintances to hear their cries.  Be present in the presence of my community praying for God’s merciful intervention and justice prevailing.  Be present in the presence of humanity giving assistance in all manners to alleviate the roots of this sinister hatred.  Be present in the presence of the living, merciful and just God.  Will you join too?

Shalom

I Am Thirsty & The Problem of Pain

Jesus says He is thirsty in John 19:28.  Pastor Ed painted a compelling picture of Jesus’ agony that corresponds to this utterance in the weekend’s message, #6 in the Voice: 7 Statements of Victory sermon series.  In reflection I thought of thirsting, pain and God’s sovereignty in all matters of life which lead me to consider people who say they are atheists.  I have not done research on this and I do not know if there are studies examining what brings a person to a personal position of atheism but I do have an opinion based on my observations and conversations. 

Yes there are those who by thoughtful reasoning, philosophical study, and choice of moral assumptions have logically concluded holding a worldview without God is correct.  In contrast I have found that most people who assert an atheistic world view have struggled with the problem of pain.  A most difficult life situation, a tragic loss, death of a loved one, or a continual course of disappointments are the roots of their atheism.  I can picture their cry of “how could a loving and just God allow my child to die or I prayed for my spouse’s sobriety and he never changed.”  This pain eventually leads to “there must not be a God” or I would venture to guess more likely the sentiment of “I don’t want anything to do with such a callous God.”  Explaining or answering the problem of pain to a broken heart is a monumental challenge.  I think this is one place where logic, theological or philosophical, is not the best tool to repair that broken heart and replace atheism with a belief in a loving God.

It is clear from John’s Gospel account of the crucifixion; Jesus experienced unimaginable pain both physical and relational.  This is not to say in the context of this blog post “of course we have pain because even God’s Son suffered and why should we be exempt” but to offer the truth that Jesus understands and knows human pain.  This leads me to conclude the better tool to use is personal connection – forming relationship, active listening and eventually sharing our story.  There were many times I have been comforted in my sorrow because another patiently listened and understood then eventually told of their similar travail with God’s sovereign touch bringing them through.  It is no wonder 2 Corinthians 1:3 opens with Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  Connecting with a BOP Atheist (Because of Pain) may open their heart in an instant or more likely take a season of time or even a life time.  There are many souls around us yearning to have their thirst quenched.  God continually asks, “who will go for Me?”  I pray I will be a pipeline for the living water of Jesus Christ or at least a Dixie cup.

Shalom

Thinking of Mom

Jesus said to the disciple He loved, “behold your mother.”  Even on the cross, Jesus did not forget his earthly mother.  Pastor Ed poignantly shared photos of his mother this weekend.  In reflection of mothers everywhere, I dusted off a blog post from a few years ago as I don’t feel I could have said it better in a succinct format about my own mom.  Re-posted below from 2013.

Did you know there is a list of the top 100 songs about mothers?  When you read the lyrics of the songs, it is a very revealing look at the relationships of songwriters and their moms.  Also eye opening was an experiment conducted at a state prison a few years ago.  A large rack of Mother’s Day cards was set up.  Very quickly it was sold out.  Prison officials filled the rack several times and each time it was emptied.  Encouraged by such response, the same was done ahead of Father’s Day.  Hardly any cards were taken.  Whether imprisoned in a penal institution or in one’s own mind, we all have our stories about our mothers.   What is your Mom story?

John Lennon wrote in Mother, #20 on the list, released in 1970, “Mother, you had me; But I never had you; I wanted you; But you didn't want me; So I got to tell you Goodbye; Goodbye.” 

A Song For Mama, (#32) by Boyz II Men, goes, “You were there for me to love and care for me; When skies were grey whenever I was down you were always there to comfort me; And no one else can be what you have been to me; You will always be, you always will be, the girl in my life for all times.”  This is quite a contrast.  What is #1 you ask?  It is 2PAC’s Dear Momma, paying tribute to a mom who loved even in the face of great trial and tribulation, caused by both her own social environment and from her own son.  This is worth checking out. 

My Mom is a hero.  An atomic bomb survivor from Hiroshima, suffered through starvation and deprivation, she came to America with her G.I. (U.S. Soldier) husband, not speaking English, not a single friend, and not knowing how life would be.  While enduring much, she learned the language, became a citizen, loved and sacrificed without reservation, and admirably raised two children, and made a good life for her husband and family.  She is an artist and poet.  A devoted Christ-follower, filled with compassion and service.  And today, she continues this legacy by loving unconditionally, my grandson, her great grandson (now a great granddaughter also).  I am who I am today because of what God has done through her.  I have learned great compassion for others from her.  I have learned what it means to sacrifice for the sake of another from her.  I know how special family is because of her.  Yes, my Mom is a hero.  I am so blessed and forever grateful.

Good or bad, what is your Mom story?  I would love to hear from you.

Shalom