PROFOUND . . . “I AM” – PC §211

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep.”  We continue on in the Profound series with more on The Good Shepherd.  Here in John 10, Jesus makes definitive statements about the character and nature of the shepherd.  In contrast, the thief comes to steal, kill and destroy.  Furthermore, the sheep, despite the commonly held notion that these animals are dumb, do not recognize the voice of the interloper but in full trust recognize the voice of the shepherd.  Not so dumb after all. 

There is a distinction in criminal law between robbery and burglary.  Many people say when their home is entered and items were stolen while they are away that, “I’ve been robbed.”  These folks are the victim of a burglary, a violation of section 459 of the California Penal Code.  A robbery is defined under section 211 and involves the taking of something from the person or immediate presence of the person by force or fear.   Thus, if you are away from your home and a break-in happens, you were burglarized and not robbed.  So if the thief climbs the wall of the sheepfold and takes a lamb and the owner is not present, is this really a robbery or a burglary?  Was Jesus incorrect in characterizing the intruder as a robber? The answer is no. 

Jesus is speaking to us through metaphor and references to real-life activities and structures.  He is not a physical gate but He is the spiritual gate.  He is the shepherd to us metaphorical sheep.  The thief can be attributed to Satan and his henchmen. When the thief enters he comes to rob us of our peace, grace, and connection with Jesus.  He does this not by coming when we aren’t around, he attacks us personally in our hearts and minds.  The taking of our peace is directly from our person and certainly in our presence.  Therefore, this is a robbery. 

In too many life situations, the enemy comes and speaks.  The sheep cower because they do not recognize the voice of the shepherd but in fear, the enemy steals.  If they had heard the voice of the shepherd then they would have been at peace and the presence of the shepherd would have provided protection.  I feel that God is always speaking to us.  In every situation He is present.  Sadly because we do not know the voice of God we only can hear the fear-inducing tones of the enemy.  When you do not know the voice of Jesus, it is easy for the forces of evil to overwhelm.  The attack is always personal, never when you are away. 

The key to protection is to enter by the gate of Jesus Christ.  Learn to recognize His voice.  Attune your “ears” to the still small voice that comes from above.  So when the robber lurks around, you will be secure in heart and mind.


PROFOUND . . . “I AM” – El Buen Pastor

A number of years ago I was the guest speaker at a church where the predominant spoken language for the Sunday morning service was Spanish.  My words were translated from English to Spanish by the pastor of the congregation.  He was warm, friendly, and so generous with his time as well as his open heart.  I could not understand all that was being said after the service was over but it was clear to me from the huge smiles, happy tones of voice, expressions of affection being exchanged, these people loved their pastor and he loved them.  I had a wonderful time and left with great respect and admiration for this pastor and for the people there.  I also left wondering what the name of the church meant for it was Primera Iglesia Bautista El Buen Pastor.

I knew enough Spanish to know “el buen” means “the good” but I thought the name of the church could not mean the church of the good pastor even though I thought this pastor was really a good pastor.  (Several conversations with him over ensuing years confirmed this in my mind.)  It was a few weeks later I learned pastor in Spanish can mean shepherd.  I smiled that I was privileged to have spoken at the First Baptist Church of the Good Shepherd.  Such a fine name for a church as Jesus had said, I am “the good shepherd.”  And as Pastor Ed explained in the fifth segment of the Profound sermon series, Jesus is the ultimate good shepherd to His flock. 

Jay Vernon McGee once spoke about the role of pastors in God’s church throughout the world.  He said there was only one shepherd for the church and that one shepherd was Jesus Christ.  There are no other shepherds for the church and those who claim to be shepherds in the church are mistaken.  He said of himself that he was not a shepherd but more like the sheep dog doing the bidding of the shepherd.  I miss listening to Dr. McGee who is also in the presence of Jesus.

It is crucial that we know and recognize the voice of the shepherd much like the sheep back in the days of the early church.  There are many who are “pretenders” and can lead us astray unless we know what is real – what is the truth.  A great way to recognize the voice of the shepherd is to read the Bible and know it intimately.  One does not need to be a Biblical scholar or have gone to seminary to read His Word.  Surely there are interesting matters that come from the historical context, grammatical nuances and language idioms but the plain words, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, and then acted upon by the reader is better than a degree in theology without life transformation.  There are many ways to “get into” God’s Word but there is no substitute for personal interaction with His Word.  If you want to recognize Jesus’ voice, then get into His Word.  Jesus said I am the good shepherd.  The sheep hear my voice and recognize me.


PROFOUND . . . "I AM" - Riding Along the Interstate

Ever since I was a young boy I have been fascinated by freeways and roadmaps.  The Rand-Mc Nally Road Atlas was a constant source of entertainment and the Interstate Highway System was the magic carpet to transport me to locations I could only dream of seeing.  When not looking at road maps, I would draw my own with crayons on the fine print of the classified section of the LA Times.  A favorite activity with my dad was taking a ride on new sections of freeways in Los Angeles as they were being built during the early 60’s. And to this day, I still enjoy reading maps and anytime I am going to take a trip to a new place, I look at the relevant maps of the area firmly establishing in my head the way to go.  I rarely rely on GPS directions and find knowing the route ahead of time makes the journey simpler and I think safer. It’s best to know the way.

Pastor Ed explained that the Roman road system was extensive and vital to the Roman Empire.  Such a system was essential for maintaining the peaceful domination of the Empire.  An amazing factoid was hearing the length of the Roman system was only surpassed in total mileage only recently by the United States.  The 48,000 mile U.S. Interstate Highway System launched in 1956, first as a military defense necessity and then second, as essential to commerce not unlike the Roman Roads.   As Ed waxed on eloquently on the word, way, as in “I am the way, the truth, and the life . . . .” he put Jesus’ statement into the context of the expression, all roads lead to Rome indicating to all the people of that time, all of life leads to Jesus.    

Jesus’ statement of being the way, the truth, and the life is of monumental significance and consequence.  It is not politically correct today; make no mistake, it was not politically correct back in the day when uttered by Jesus.  Legions of well-educated, highly credentialed, many acclaimed philosophers, professors, politicians, writers, artist, scientists, sociologists, religious leaders have debated and attempted to debunk Jesus’ proclamation.  Throughout history, people everywhere have pondered these words.  Flowing from these words, Jesus asks all Christ-followers to be witnesses and make disciples everywhere in the face of immense resistance and hostility.  Pastor Ed makes the point of communicating this “exclusivity” to others.  This is what Billy Graham did so long and so well before entering into the presence of God.  Each of us looks in the mirror and we know we are not Billy Graham.  How do we convince people?  We don’t.  We are to be witnesses of what we have seen, heard and experienced and those who hear are the triers of fact and will decide.  So what are we faithful people of GateWay to do?

If God opens the door to a large forum like Billy Graham, then walk through the door.  But I think most of us will not face that prospect.  Yet each of us can “communicate” the way, the truth and the life to others just like Billy Graham did.  Much focus is on Graham’s speaking but equally compelling is his character that opened up opportunities for relationships.  Presidents would seek him out not the other way around.  In a recent op-ed piece in the New York Times, Jonathan Merritt wrote of Reverend Graham, “You’ve been talking about your time with the presidents,” I said. “I’m struck by the way you’ve been able to offer yourself as an encouragement, a resource, and a truth-teller to leaders from both parties. A lot of young people like myself today have witnessed how many Christian leaders got lost in the partisanship and the power that accompanies politics. What advice could you offer to a new generation of Jesus-followers? How can we be more like you?”  

In troubled times like these, people seek answers.  People seek peace.  People seek comfort.  As Christ-followers we know the Way and have His words, “Let your hearts not be troubled.” Even though we are not Billy Graham, we can be the same.  We can exemplify and live out Christ-likeness.  As we go about our daily lives we encounter any number of people, some of whom we have repeated contact.  Our God stories, our godly character, and our godly compassion can open doors to these hearts.  When we have those open doors then we can witness – communicate what Jesus has done in our lives which hopefully clearly states; I am the way, the truth, and the life.


PROFOUND . . . "I AM" - Imagining the Bread of Life

I confess; I am an Olympic addict.  Whether it is the winter or summer games, I watch as much as I can. I greatly admire the dedication and dignity of all the athletes as they compete and the amazing abilities they showcase.  There is such excitement, artistry, skill, drama, and trauma.  I am particularly fond of curling and short track skating this time around and not so much the figure skating competitions but it’s all good.  I also thoroughly enjoy the stories of the athletes or others connected with the Olympics shown each day during the TV coverage.  These stories are human, personal, and heartfelt.  They capture your attention and bring you into the lives of the athlete such that you can’t help but cheer for them.

Watching every day one sees the common and recurrent themes in the broadcasts and commercials.  Two have caught my attention.  The first is the frequent promotion of an upcoming NBC special presentation of the Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice musical, Jesus Christ Superstar, featuring John Legend.  This is being billed as Legend’s greatest role and who wouldn’t be labeled as such when playing Jesus Christ. The second is the use of John Lennon’s iconic song, Imagine.   It was part of the opening ceremonies, used in commercials and was the music for one of the figure skater's long programs. 

As we continue in our Profound series, it is clear and has been clear for 2000 years, Jesus Christ is “in your face” challenging us to decide who He is.  This past weekend’s message focused on Jesus’ statement that “I am the bread of life” in John chapter 6.  In essence, He is saying I am the ultimate sustainer of all that is good and worthwhile in life.  As Pastor Ed stated, “Jesus doesn’t have resources, He is the resource.”  We must choose for ourselves if He is the God of the Universe, Creator, Sustainer, and Savior.  I mention the promotion of Jesus Christ Superstar and Lennon’s Imagine because each depicts a response to Jesus’ challenge.  Please do not take away from this post that I am objecting to either or calling for their rejection or their ejection from the airwaves.  I simply use them to make a spiritual point that each has made a theological, philosophical and personal choice about Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ Superstar when boiled down to its essence states that Jesus is simply a man who achieved “rock star” status.  But stripped of the hype, he is a flawed man, like all of us, who is caught up, believes in and is swallowed up by the acclaim.  He is not the Great I AM, the Bread of Life, or the Resurrection and the Life.  He may have had good teaching and proclaimed lofty moral goals but in the end, he is simply a man.  Lennon asks us to imagine a world where there is no God; No heaven or hell, just the sky above us with all the people living as one and simply living for today.  It is very obvious in this song, Jesus Christ is not the Great I Am.  He is the great I Am Not.  Therefore we see two responses to Jesus as old as the days when He walked the streets of Jerusalem and as new as the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.

As finite human beings it is difficult not to come to another conclusion than propounded by Weber-Rice’s Jesus Christ Superstar or Lennon’s Imagine when we consider the mass shooting at Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida or think of nuclear-tipped missiles in North Korea a mere 50 miles from the Winter Olympics or the great political divisiveness that engulfs our American society.  God must be non-existent or Jesus is simply a man with nice teachings but no power for change.   Do we as Christ-followers succumb to similar thinking?  Do we react to Jesus as was depicted by King Herod in Jesus Christ Superstar as he sang, “So, you are the Christ, you're the great Jesus Christ.  Prove to me that you're divine; change my water into wine.  That's all you need do, then I'll know it’s all true.”   Not unlike those waiting for Jesus to feed people again with miraculous bread and fishes but all soon left.  So what are we to do?  How do we impact a cynical world?  It comes down to us understanding that it is not about me but all about Jesus, believing then and giving Him the credit by telling our God stories.  We may not have the forum like the athletes in the Olympics but telling our God stories, one person at a time, is powerful.  Heartfelt stories in the context of a relationship can move mountains.  And I didn’t say preach or debate but tell our stories.  Perhaps it would help Christ-followers instead of singing Lennon’s Imagine, sing along with Mercy Me and belt out the song, I Can Only Imagine.


PROFOUND . . . “I AM” – Dixon Ticonderoga #2

Back in the days when I was a student at Robert Hill Lane Elementary School in East Los Angeles writing with pencils was standard practice.  Having a good pencil was a big deal.  It wasn’t the appearance; it was the actual writing quality that I found most important.  The “gold” standard for me was the Dixon-Ticonderoga #2 pencil; yellow hexagonal body with an eraser top that was attached to the wooden body with a green and gold-stripped metal coupling.  When sharpened just right, it smoothly glided across the paper with a dark impression.  This was writing nirvana in the 5th grade.

This past weekend we delved into the first “I AM” of the Profound study.  Pastor Ed emphasizing again believing is of prime importance continued on to discuss the famous story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-46).  Jesus, in response to Martha’s statements, uttered, “I am the resurrection and the life.”  This event showcases Jesus and God’s relationship with us on so many levels.  Ed mentioned one in detail - the human connection of Jesus with the grief and emotion of Martha and Mary.   That day many believed.

What did “they” believe?  One thing appeared certain; Jesus has the power to return life to the dead.  Lazarus experienced resurrection power and hobbled out of the tomb.  That day, Martha and Mary, along with many friends, acquaintances, and curious bystanders, were eye-witnesses to resurrection power.  During my law school years, I recall listening to one of my pastors explaining the wonder of resurrection power.  He spoke from the Bible text of Aaron’s rod sprouting leaves, blossoms and producing nuts.  (Numbers 17:1-11)  Aaron likely had carried this shaft of wood for decades before he went with Moses down to Egypt.  Pastor Ken Gullicksen asked us to take a pencil (Of course, a Dixon-Ticonderoga #2 in my mind) in our hands.  He stated this was the state of life of Aaron’s rod, meaning it was a dead piece of wood.  I had no expectation whatsoever this piece of cedar I was holding would ever again be a living tree.  Such was Aaron’s rod but it sprang forth with leaves, blossoms, and nuts confirming that God is the great I AM.  As Dr. Frankenstein would shout, “it’s alive!” Ken said this is resurrection power.  He challenged us that each time we held a pencil in our fingers to believe that God, the Great I AM, could take dead things, be it a dream, a task or a broken relationship and bring it back to life.

Pastor Ed asked us how we handle disappointments.  It is clear how we do this is based on if we believe in the Great I AM, the resurrection and the life.  Jesus mourns with us and then invites us to wait on Him, to believe, and then see what happens.  Is this easy?  No it’s not but as it was for Martha, the more intimately you know Jesus, the sooner this becomes reality.  I wonder how many instances in your life, big or little, were times when deadness sprouted leaves and fruit and we simply missed seeing this “God-moment.”  I wonder how many situations where we gave up as dead when resurrection power would have meant a new life.  What is happening in your life right now? Is God calling you to believe and then act upon His resurrection power? Let us at GateWay, in our small groups, come alongside and encourage you as you grow in your belief.  If you see me around on the church campus, ask me for a Dixon-Ticonderoga #2.



The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word, profound, several ways -- Having intellectual depth and insight; Extending far below the surface; Coming from, reaching to, or situated at a depth; Characterized by intensity of feeling or quality; All encompassing.   Many people would simply say, “it is really deep, bro.”  When I think of profound I see something that has very important and virtually life-changing implications.  However you see the word, profound, it is “really deep, bro.”  With these sentiments in mind, we embark on a new sermon series, Profound, studying the seven “I AM” statements made by Jesus as recorded in the Gospel of John.     

In all of life, philosophy, science, politics, history, art and religion there is nothing more profound than this:  Jesus Christ, 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.  For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that as the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  Philippians 2:5-11 (NASB) Understanding that the Creator of the Universe wants a relationship with us is mind-blowing and life-altering.  Accomplishing this connection was the work and sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

We began with in the beginning was the Word.  The importance of God’s Word cannot be understated.  I do not know what Pastor Ed will present the next seven weekends but what I do know is the source material is GOAT – Greatest Of All Time and you will want to tune in.  Each “I AM” will reveal life-changing implications.  This series is part of an all-church study and to get the most I heartily encourage you to join a Connect Small Group this season.  All small groups will be tracking with Pastor Ed’s sermon notes and questions.  God built us for relationships and a small group is a great place to practice what God intended for us.  I challenge you to do something “profound” the next seven weeks.


GRIT . . . "Finishing Strong - A Tale of Two Doctors"

The final segment of the GRIT challenge is Taking Responsibility for Today.  One of four actions in Taking Responsibility for Today highlighted by Pastor Ed this weekend was to Always Finish. As illustrated by Ed, the Apostle Paul ran the race and finished the course. Paul finished strong.  Finishing strong has been on my mind for a number of years. Several fine Christian speakers, such as Steve Farrar, that I have had the privilege of sitting underemphasized the importance of not only living the Christian life well but finishing just as well.  A Godly man with true GRIT will finish strong. With this in mind, I write today A Tale of Two Doctors.

This past week we painfully observed Dr. Larry Nassar receiving a prison sentence of 175 years for the systematic and long-continuing course of sexual abuse of numerous members of the U.S. Women Gymnastic Team. Although the reports state the victims were part of the training program for women’s national team, most of those sexually abused and assaulted were young girls.  Instead of finishing a twenty-year career basking in Olympic success and positive impact on the lives of many young girls, Nassar ends in disgrace, humiliation, horror and a legacy of evil and lives severely damaged.  He is not finishing strong. 

This week I am thinking of Dr. Omar Franklin. Omar went home to our Lord a few years ago and no doubt in my mind, he was greeted with the words, “well done good and faithful servant.” Dr. Franklin served his nation in the armed forces and served faithfully at First Baptist/GateWay Church for decades.  He used his medical training and knowledge generously and without reservation for the benefit of untold thousands in Visalia and places I don’t even know.  If you ask anyone who knew him, you will hear stories of giving, Christian service, and compassion. A simple story illustrating Omar’s professional kindness was not too long before he passed away in 2012.  I had taken a spill while riding my bike and had a pretty nasty road burn on my shin.  I had washed it and tried to keep it dry thinking it would eventually heal. As I entered the church on the way to my office I happened to see Omar back by Room 120. He was there, once again, giving free vaccinations to several young people on their way overseas for missions work. After saying hi he noticed my leg and said: “oh my.” He immediately pulled me into Room 120 and gave me a tetanus shot – no charge, no fee, no guilt, with a big smile and the kindness of Christ so evident.  At his memorial service no one had any doubt, he finished strong.  I hope and pray I will be a man who finishes strong.

I see many who are finishing strong at GateWay such as Norris Jernigan, Tom and Judy Stahl and Fayrene Hofer, to name a few. We quoted last week Proverbs 13:20 – He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. I am convinced a great help in finishing strong is to have the influence and wisdom of wise people. While today is still today, seek out people like these and increase your chances of finishing strong.


GRIT . . . "He Who"

We continue at GateWay to delve into GRIT.  This week we are challenged with being responsible for one’s own wisdom.  It is interesting that this challenge is as relevant today as it was back when Solomon, inspired by the Holy Spirit, authored much of Proverbs.  We are surrounded by smartphones, smart TVs, very soon self-driving smart cars and as of today, a store that is so smart you pick up whatever you need and leave.  You don’t go through a checkout line and the cost is automatically charged.   Ironically, our devices are “smarter” but by so many cultural and societal indicators we certainly are not wiser.  For example, young people are eating laundry detergent packets and bragging about it on social media.  Not to be outdone, adults can’t seem to work together and have forced the shutdown of the Federal Government.

One way to be responsible for your own wisdom and show your GRIT is to read the book of Proverbs daily and not only study but put into practice what is recorded.  A simple plan is to read the chapter that corresponds to the day of the month.  Today is January 22 so read chapter 22.  One way to glean wisdom from the Proverbs is to pay attention to those passages that begin with “he who.”  (Substituting “she who” works equally as well)  What typically follows is great advice on what to do or not to do. Pastor Ed highlighted Proverbs 13:20 – He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.  Another great one is, He who guards his mouth and tongue, guards his soul from troubles.  How many times have we said things without thinking or considering the impacts and have had to live with the fallout.  A humorous favorite of mine is (especially before your friend has had their cup of coffee) He who blesses his friend with a loud voice early in the morning, it will be reckoned a curse to him.

No one wants to be a curse or have a curse placed upon them.  Seeking and living in wisdom is a sure way to avoid both.  Despite the culture of entitlement that seems to be increasing, what will you do to be responsible for your own wisdom?  One thing to do is to ask God.  He will answer you every time you ask.  Lean on the promise in the book of James:  But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.  (James 1:5)   This is a guaranteed answer.  Our task is to listen and obey.