Just Like Jesus – A Kingdom Church for the Ages

The countdown of the final week of Jesus’ mission is upon us in our journey through the Gospel of Mark. With Pastor Ed’s able guidance, we have traveled from Jesus’ baptism to the streets of Jerusalem.  During this final week it seems the questions, the scrutiny and destiny come to a head.  Those who hoped to trap Jesus with questions found themselves trapped and silenced. (Yes, Pat, Jesus can hit the curve ball.)* Mark 12:34 reads:  When Jesus saw that he had answered intelligently; He said to him, You are not far from the kingdom of God. Finally Jesus was asked a meaningful and insightful question and in response to Jesus’ answer, Jesus finally heard good and thoughtful words.  This unnamed Scribe of Israel was not far from the kingdom of God.  In reality (and picturing this in my mind) this Scribe was merely an arm’s length away.  I wonder if this gap was ever closed.

            This leads me to wonder if we at GateWay have closed the gap and live in our community as a KingdomChurch.  Pastor Ed lays out a four-fold criterion for us following the passage in Mark 12 to be a KingdomChurch.  Are we excellentrenters; are we excellentcitizens; are we excellentstudents; and are we excellentlovers.  GateWay/First Baptist has tended the Visalia “vineyard” for 150 years.  Will God look on us and say well done good and faithful servant or will He say we are evil and cast us aside?  Is our witness and testimony as a church body in our community one that generates goodwill and a good entrance into the lives of our neighbors?  Have we faithfully, truthfully and gracefully taught the genuine Gospel?  And have we loved the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength and loved our neighbors as ourselves?  

            A KingdomChurch only will exist if its people are Kingdompeople.  Ed points out the “church” isn’t a building, it is us.  I believe God’s design for His church is organic.  The New Testament repeatedly uses biological metaphors and imagery.  The church is His bride not His bridge to the world.  The church, aka the Body, is made up of different parts naming hands, eyes, etc. not gears or microprocessors.  We are an organism not an inanimate institution.  It is not our by-laws or large auditorium that loves our neighbors; it is our people.  Therefore, GateWay is a KingdomChurch only if its people are Kingdom people.  

            I gave a ride home after service this past Sunday to an elderly lady I often see on Sundays entering our “gates” for the early service.  It wasn’t my plan for the morning but as I was greeting in the courtyard between services I said goodbye to her and engaged in a brief conversation.  She mentioned to me she wondered how she would get home.  Her friend, who was supposed to give her a lift home for an unknown reason had left her behind.  I’m sure this was simply a miscommunication.  I told her I would be very happy to give her a ride.  On the way to her home, she let me know again she did not drive due to her age.  I said that my sister and I also do not let my mother drive. At 91 she deserves to be driven around.  We both laughed.  She thanked me for driving her home and said GateWay is the best church she has been to in all her life and she was 88.  It is the friendliest church she has attended and she loves that we have the full range of life – babies to senior citizens.  As she walked away she said she hoped she didn’t need a ride like this too often.  With full confidence, I let her know we would always give her a ride home if she needed one. 

            This confidence made me smile inside.  I knew I would not be the one to give her a ride next week if she needed one, but without doubt in my heart, I know another person at GateWay would provide one because we are a church of Kingdompeople.  Truth be told, I have not always felt that way about GateWay/First Baptist.  The Scribe was an “arm length” away from Jesus. Very close but still a gap.  As a church I have seen GateWay closing the gap and thereby transforming into a Kingdomchurch.  Where did this begin?  I think part of this journey began when I, a long time member of GateWay/First Baptist, decided to close the gap and no longer be one who was merely close to the Kingdom of God.  Using our motto from baptism, it was time to be “all in.”  Of course this is not all about me because around me many at GateWay were closing the gap and many are closing the gap today.  As the metaphor reads, we are one body but many members – feet, hands, eyes, ears and every vital part that makes an organism alive. Each of us has a function in the body of Christ.  

            So (1) let us not be terrible renters of the vineyard as depicted in Mark 12 being insular and concerned for our own comfort and well-being; (2) let us not be those who are only against the “world” and fighting off its intrusion but be good citizens with hands willing to serve; (3) let us not be dogmatic and arrogant in our knowledge but let us speak and live the TRUTH always wrapped in LOVE, never wavering but forever gracious and merciful; (4) let us not look out merely for our own self-interest but instead Love God and Love Othersthus fulfilling the greatest command.  Finally , brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. (Philippians 4:8)  Dwell on this - Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.  Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.(Philippians 2:5-8)

Shalom

* In the baseball movie, Major Leagues, a story of a team of misfits, has beens and in one case ‘a never was,’ wins the American League Championship.  This inserted line is a reference to a scene where one hard-hitting outfielder cannot hit the curve ball.  He tries everything including pleading to a Caribbean Voodoo deity with incense and incantations.  A caricature “hypocritical Christian” pitcher comes up and says “you don’t need that, you need Jesus.”  The outfielder remarks his inability to hit a curveball is beyond Jesus’ power. Enraged, the pitcher attempts to start a fist fight while screaming, "are you saying Jesus can’t hit a curveball?!” I always laugh thinking about this scene.  I laugh because it is a stupid question but also laugh because it hurts.  Too often this is how we Christians react when questioned about our faith.  Of course Jesus can hit the curveball.  Not only that He can throw the curveball and then instantly hit the same pitch he just threw.  Mark Chapter 12 is one of many good examples in the Bible of Pharisees, Sadducees, and other pseudo-religious intellectuals throwing Jesus the curveball.  Not only does He hit it, He hits it out of the ballpark all the way to Heaven.

Mike LorahComment
Just Like Jesus – Child of God

  Our society is obsessed with who is the greatest or spinning the notion of somehow we can be the greatest or at least purchase something that will make us feel that way.  Jesus settled this issue a long time ago and in his weekend message, Pastor Ed, laid out a plan on how we can be the greatest.  I hear whispered in my mind “the least of these.”  How we relate to those in our society that are relegated to the “least of these” designations is a good indicator of our level of greatness. In his second point Ed stated: “Be KIND” referencing Mark 9:37:  “Whoever receives one child like this in My name receives Me.”  Years ago I heard the saying, “When you touch the heart of a child you touch the heart of God.”  Despite how our world esteems children it is unmistakably clear Jesus loves children.       

 

            Allow me to relate to you two stories from this past weekend where a child or children were central.  First involves baptism.  A friend of mine’s daughter was baptized Sunday.  This was wonderful.  I am so happy she and her husband come to GateWay.  An amazing aspect was years ago she had told me she was not interested in “spiritual stuff” and here she was, in the baptismal pool, baptizing her daughter with Jen, our tremendous Children’s Director.  I mentioned this to her and she said having her daughter made such a big difference.  I smiled and said, “It sure does.”  What also went through my mind was how the daughter’s involvement with our Children’s Program led to this moment in eternal time.  Touching the heart of child can lead to the touching of a parent’s heart.

            The second story centers on a family visiting GateWay for the first time this past Sunday.  I was on the lookout for a man who was scheduled for baptism in a few minutes when I met this family of six walking into our Gathering Space.  I stopped and said hi and welcome.   I asked if this was their first time here and it was.  The mom asked where they would check-in the four children as the dad smiled warmly at me. As we walked toward Children’s Check-In I asked how they heard about us.  She said they live across the street with their children attend Conyer School and she continued to say, “This Church does so many nice things for our kids at Conyer School so we just had to come here.”  I immediately said, “We love Conyer School and the kids.”  I was very encouraged and happy to see one result of loving on Conyer.  Again, when we love children as this is the heart of Jesus, we have the opportunity to love on their parents.

            As we journey though our individual life and as we at GateWay seek ways to impact our community, expressing kindness by receiving children makes a big difference.  If we desire to be a great church for Jesus in this community then we will work in humility, be kind, walk in honesty, serve altruistically and live obediently.  If we are all about Jesus, and at GateWay we are, then touching the heart of child touches the heart of God.

Shalom

Mike LorahComment
Just Like Jesus – 7 Loaves

            Two weeks ago Judy and I went to see The Green Book, this year’s Oscar winner for best movie.  Before the movie, we ate a very nice dinner across the street from the theater.  The movie is based on the true story of two men on a journey of discovery, enlightenment, and the shifting of human paradigms against the backdrop of a concert tour through the Deep South in 1962. In a very powerful scene Dr. Don Shirley, a world class African American pianist, is refused service in the dining room of the posh country club where he will be performing later in the evening. Although he will be welcomed to play the piano a mere few feet from where he would like to be seated for a meal, his “kind” is not welcome to dine.

            In our day of Food Network TV, selfies with plates of food at the trendy spot or knocking down a few tacos with your friends, there is still a primal place in our psyche for eating in our post-modern age. Because of the primal nature of eating, who you eat with or choose to be with as you eat is so basic to our humanity. I think that is partially why Jesus says He knocks at the door and goes on to say if the door is open He will come in and dine.  We relate to dining on a very basic level.  Sharing a meal is a very intimate and connecting aspect of relationship. Eating together means something. Perhaps this is why in America of 1962, Blacks could not sit and dine in the same space as Whites or why the continuing story of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark is so compelling.

            Mark Chapter 8 opens with Jesus feeding thousands of people with only 7 loaves.  As Pastor Ed made very clear, Jesus, is going where no respectable Jew would go.  Not only is Jesus teaching in the region of the Decapolis but He dares to touch the people and He dines with them!  Jesus previously fed a crowd of Jews but here He is feeding the “dogs,” Gentiles.  This juxtaposition of food miracles is another exclamation mark of His grace and mercy in the story of salvation.  All are invited and welcome to dine with Jesus.

            In his 5thpoint, Pastor Ed states, “knowing Jesus means we attempt to be like Jesus.”  There are many ways to approach this point but maybe the first one is how Chapter 8 begins – Jesus said, “I feel compassion for the people. . . .”  I think we can use a healthy dose of compassion for one another in our world.  There are seemingly infinite places where a little compassion can make the biggest difference.  Where to begin?  How about at home.  

            How about feeding people in the character and nature of Jesus?  A big shout-out goes to our GateWay family for supplying tons of food for Visalia Emergency Aid to help those in need.  On a smaller and more personal scale, how about if you reach out and invite a new person for a meal or simply coffee?  It would even be more like Jesus if you did this with someone outside your comfort zone. Perhaps this can be a person of a different race or ethnicity.  Whether with a new person within your sphere of contacts or person who doesn’t look like you, it can open the door for a shift in your or their human paradigms – maybe eternal paradigms. 

Shalom

Mike LorahComment
Just Like Jesus – Cleaning Up Your Act

            Mark Chapter 7 opens with the religious leaders asking Jesus, "Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?"  This was much more than why don’t they wash their hands before they eat.  This was the “religious thought & culture police” laying down the law.  Yes, the Pharisees and Scribes were critical of the disciples but it was a direct rebuke of Jesus Himself.  Jesus did not conform to “the traditions of the elders.” He seemingly did not practice the rituals of the “church.”  Pastor Ed described an important distinction when he remarked that ritualism is the dead faith of living menwhereas rituals are the living faith of dead men.    Jesus is all about real faith in real relationships having a vibrant and personal connection with the One True God first, then second, through our daily lives, with one another – living faith.  

            Mark Chapter 7 goes on to the story of the Syrophoenician Woman.  Here is a woman desperate for help with her daughter.  She knows Jesus holds the answer because she knows who Jesus is. But she is not a Jew and far outside the “traditions of the elders.”  Yet, she receives what she came for.  Her daughter is made well because she came to Jesus.  This makes me think how we look upon and treat those who enter our “gates” seeking help, be it physical, mental, emotional or spiritual. Many come to GateWay looking for that “something” to fill the empty spot in their hearts.  I wonder in the practice of our faith do we demand of seekers they need to clean up their actbefore they can receive Jesus’ grace and mercy.  Do we ask conformity to our church culture as a prerequisite for salvation? Do we include them only if they are part of the “in crowd” as determined by race, color, economic level or other external measure forgetting that in comparison to God we are all “dogs?”  

            Let’s not be as the disciples were in their early walk with Jesus where He remarked, “Are you so lacking in understanding.”  In contrast can we be like the Syrophoenician Woman who understood that it is the will of God that all people be saved and know the truth.  What are we doing in our personal life and all together in the life of GateWay that fosters knowing Jesus?  Let us have rituals that evidence living faith and not ritualism stinking of death.

Shalom

Mike LorahComment
Just Like Jesus – Passing The Baton

This past Thursday evening, Pastor Ed was wrapping up the current weekend sermon.  He reflected on a time when Pastor Bill Wilson spoke of taking risks for Jesus to spread the Gospel.  Pastor Bill waved a blue aluminum baton before the gathering asking if anyone would accept the baton and carry it on in the race of spiritual life. No one stood up and took the baton. As Bill sat down next to Ed, he handed the baton to Ed and Ed took it in his hands.  The same baton was waved before us this weekend with Pastor Ed asking who would take the baton.  I was afraid he was going to hand it to me.  

 

            I have been thinking a lot about that blue aluminum baton.  A number of meaningful and symbolic analogies have filled my mind.  The Apostle Paul writes in 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.”  Paul took the baton in a marathon race to spread the Gospel truth of Jesus Christ.  This reminds me that as a Christ-follower my life-journey is a marathon race in contrast to a sprint.  I carry the baton of Jesus Christ my whole life here on Earth, day in and day out.  Just as Ed says he will not give away his baton, this precious marker of his faith, we cannot separate ourselves from the love of Jesus Christ.  I will hold to Him and finish the course.

 

            The baton also reminds me that in track and field there a number of relay races with different distances and characteristics such as high hurdles.  In our journey with Christ we are called upon to participate in a variety of endeavors for Him.  The duration, type, requirements and difficulty all vary.  I think we should try many things in and out of our comfort zones.  A good place to learn what may be your “best distance” is in the GateWay Discover seminar going on right now on Sunday evenings.

 

            An important analogy for me and I think all of us is we are not on this journey alone.  We are part of a relay team that began thousands of years ago.  Another aspect of this is we are on team today surrounded by fellow Christ-followers that God has brought into our lives.  A GateWay Connect Small Group is a great place to run the race of life.  Sharing burdens and passing joy is what we do.

 

            Although not the last analogy it is the challenging one. I am faced with the fact that when I am passed the baton, I must run my leg of the race.  No one else can run it for me.  My faith journey is not alone yet it is intensely personal.  I have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I do not get carried along by someone else’s personal relationship with Him.  I must individually accept His gift of grace and mercy.  I must receive the baton into my hand and in doing so all what it means to be a Christ-follower then flow.  This is the rub; am I willing to risk my preference for His will and His glory? Am I committed to laying down control of my life and being directed by the Holy Spirit?  Am I willing to wash feet as Jesus did with His disciples?

 

            I do not know where He will direct you.  Again this is intensely personal.  Maybe He is asking you to walk down the row at Sunday Service and warmly engage a new person in relationship.  Maybe He is asking you to walk down the street and help a child read at Conyer School.  Maybe He is calling you to go across town and help feed hungry people alongside Visalia Emergency Aid.  Maybe He is asking you to walk on a jet plane and go quench the thirst of a family in Guatemala with our Living Waters Team.  Maybe it is as simple, not easy, as forgiving and letting go of a hurt with a loved one. Whatever it may be, I know I have been handed the baton.  I pray I will have fought the good fight, finished the course and kept the faith.

 

 

Shalom

Mike LorahComment
Just Like Jesus – The Only Thing We Need to Fear Is Fear Itself

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his first inaugural address in 1933 uttered these famous words:  “The only thing we need to fear is fear itself.”  The United States was in the midst of the Great Depression.  Over 25% of the nation was unemployed.  Many people had lost their life savings and a large number had lost a fortune.  Banks and other financial institutions long considered secure had collapsed and went into insolvency.  People killed themselves.  Families were torn apart and a nation was full of fear and uncertainty.  FDR had the task of turning the nation around and restoring stability and prosperity but he understood that the great fear which had settled on the country was making things worse.  Roosevelt knew bold and untried strategies were needed but the willingness of a nation and its leaders to follow was being strangled by fear.  FDR was saying the fear that is felt is not rational but breeds greater and paralyzing fear.  In essence - “Fear not; trust me and my New Deal,” a sweeping set of public programs and social reforms.  Whether or not people trusted Roosevelt, this was great oratory.  History and politics aside, mankind has struggled with fear from the start.  As nicely presented by Pastor Ed this past weekend, Jesus goes directly to the heart of the matter and brings us face to face with our fears.

The four stories recited in Mark Chapter 5 are connected in many ways but the glaring point brought forth by Pastor Ed is phobos or fear.  Interestingly so much of our human condition is captured in these four vignettes.  We see fear multiple ways; of losing a dear family member; of our true self being uncovered; health fears; of change in life circumstances; of economic loss; of losing one’s own life; fear of the unknown; fear of control; and most importantly fear of Jesus.  Fear is universal and everyone of us comes face to face with our own phobos  at many points in our lives.  Right now I am fearful of changes in family, of losing a dear one, and of uncertainty for the future.  What fears are driving your life?

Most times when I have felt the oppression of “fear” it boils down to lack of control.  I want to control everything and have life go just right.  But as I have stated in past blog posts, there is little in life that I can control and the possibility of the bad “stuff” frightens me.  What I have learned from numerous times of fear over the years is to reset my focus on Jesus and to trust that He is in control.  Jairus had to trust Jesus for the life of his daughter.  The disciples had to trust Jesus with their lives as the storm crashed into their boat.  The woman had to trust that not only would Jesus heal her affliction but embrace her in loving-kindness.  I have heard Jesus’ voice in my head asking if I would trust Him.  And each time that I said yes and acted like I meant yes, His peace that surpasses all understanding covered me like a soft and warm blanket on a cold winter’s night. 

Having faith is only as good as the object or focus of your faith.  Faith in a New Deal  is pointless unless it can be delivered.  Pastor Ed relates the antidote to fear is not courage but trust – trust in the One who is worthy.  Have fear?  Who do you trust?  If it is you, think again.  Jesus says behold I stand at the door and knock.  Whoever opens the door I will come in and dine with him.  His meal is comfort food at its best. 

Shalom

Mike LorahComment
Just Like Jesus – SOTU: State Of The Union

Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution directs the President to periodically “give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” Finally, after much political wrangling with the majority leadership of Congress, President Trump delivered his State of the Union address this past week.  I recorded the presentation as our Connect Small Group was meeting during the time frame of the speech.  As I played back the SOTU, the video images of the members of the Senate and Congress from the floor and the people in the gallery, the commentary, and the Democratic response delivered by Stacey Abrams, former Democratic legislator from Georgia, I wondered how all of this would be received.  The next day, much as I expected, not much had changed.  Minds were still made up, lines continued to be drawn in the sand, and distrust had not been lessened.  One thing stood out.  Despite lofty words by all sides, calls for unity, good goals and claims to want the best for all, everyone seemed to have a cynical opinion about what was really the SOTH – state of the heart.

            The state of our hearts does matter.  It mattered 2000 years ago.  Jesus approaches the SOTH through the Parable of the Sower.  The soil type directly relates to our State of our union with Christ. Rocky soil, shallow soil, weed-infested soil, or good soil; what is condition of your heart?  A heart restored by the blood of Jesus, resourced by the Father and regenerated by the Holy Spirit, in the hands of Christ can change lives, families, communities and nations.  The question is:  Is my heart a hardened heart?  Pastor Ed challenges us to be responsible for our own hearts.  

Modern society and culture have rendered its opinion on the church’s State of the Heart.  The designation of our current era, Post Modern, essentially meaning the church is no longer relevant, says it all.  I wrote in April of 2018 in this Blog column, I wonder if the post-modern age flourished because American Christian Churches and their membership failed the soil test starting in the early 1900’s and continued failing through the 1960’s resulting in several new generations of “truth is relative or optional” thinkers and believers.   Of course, such sociological shifts are complex and not the result of one “thing” but the idea that the “salt” lost its “flavor” is compelling in my mind.  Let this not be said of GateWay Church of Visalia. What is GateWay’s State of the Union with Christ?  GateWay is only as good as its people.  Again, as Pastor Ed has challenged, we are responsible for our own hearts.  Why is this critical?  Almost a year later in 2019, people everywhere still are seeking; they still are searching for what is real.                                                                                                      

Shalom

Mike LorahComment
Just Like Jesus – GOAT: Greatest Of All Time

The New England Patriots once again prevailed in the Super Bowl and the ensuing conversations about the game, players and coaches are endless.  As I did my early morning session on the treadmill at the gym this rainy Monday morning a major debate was taking place on ESPN.  The question was who is the greatest of all time in sports; Michael Jordan or Tom Brady.  For those who do not follow sports Michael Jordan is considered by most basketball aficionados the greatest player to have graced the NBA.  Tom Brady has quarterbacked the New England Patriots to 6 Super Bowl titles, most in NFL history.  I had two major thoughts as I listened.  First, it is difficult to compare players who compete in different sporting activities and second, aren’t there more important matters to be discussed? In keeping with debating the greatest of all time we embark on a study of the book Mark.

 

            Pastor Ed, back in the saddle, left no doubt in presenting the first two chapters of the Gospel of Mark, Jesus Christ is the greatest of all time since He is God.  The list of the “amazing” in Mark 1 and 2 is amazing.  In our culture, an event is notable when the celebrities, the rich, the politicians and the pop stars show up. Now think of the baptism of Jesus.  This is one of the few times recorded in the Bible where the Trinity - Father, Son and Holy Spirit show up at the same time.  The significance of this is mind boggling.  It doesn’t stop here.  Healing after healing; Miracle after miracle; demons cast out; and lives forever changed. 

 

One act of faithful friendship recorded in Mark 2 captures my respect and awe.  If we believe Jesus is who He says He is, how would we respond?  Four men bring a paralyzed man to be touched by Jesus.  So convinced are they of Jesus’ compassion and power these men carry their friend and when blocked by the crowds find a way to get him before Jesus. Jesus seeing their faith healed the man. Each of us as we go through life will need at times faithful stretcher bearers to bring us to Jesus when we ourselves cannot.  I hope and pray I will be such a faithful friend, stretcher bearer and brother in Christ.

 

Another aspect of this story intrigues me and impresses me.  The Pharisees, Sadducees and who knows what other intellectual wannabes are present.  Jesus says “your sins are forgiven.”  From what the eyes can see, this is all internal and spiritual.  From one perspective anyone can say this and who can challenge if this takes place as it is unseen to the human eye.  Jesus asks “which is easier?” I can imagine the murmur in the crowd, saying “sins are forgiven” is easier.  Jesus knowing our unbelieving hearts says what is plainly visible – get up and go home.  There is no hiding here.  The paralyzed man does just that, picks up his pallet and goes home and the crowd goes wild.    If you were there and saw this happen, would you believe?  What would you do different now that you know?  

 

GateWay is bringing a Women’s event in March called IF.  This conference asks the question “If God is who He says He is, then . . . .? The stretcher bearers participated in a miracle because they answered the question of IF.  What miracle do you need in your life?  Ladies, this will be a learning event not to be missed. Register at www.gatewayvisalia.com/women

                                                                                              

Shalom

Mike LorahComment