Generous Living – Sense and Non-sense

It would be easy to dismiss this past weekend’s message as another church money talk especially in a culture where seemingly, money “talks” and talks loudly.  Wrapping our minds around the idea of the Tithe  where we would take the first 10% of our earnings and give it to the church is a stretch.  We think of the demands of modern life and its cost; we think of the “good life” and how to pay for it; and some think of the future and how we can financially secure it.  A 10% assessment in this light makes little common sense.  Yet we learn from Pastor Ed’s explanation of the Book of Malachi this makes great and abundant spiritual sense.  What we are going through in Biblical teaching in the Generous Living  series is not simply about money, it is about relationship and trust with gratitude.

 

            Our currency is imprinted with the words, “In God We Trust.”  I think for a long time it is in the currency itself that we trust as American peoples. When we consider the 10% off the top of all our production as gift back to God we have difficulty envisioning how this all fits into His plan for living because it certainly does not fit the culture. As Christ-followers we are called to give in response to His giving to us first and foremost.  Malachi calls us to trust God even to test Him on this particular point.  This isn’t God’s fiscal plan to fund the church or because He needs the money.  If God is who He says He is, a.k.a. the Creator of the Universe and all that is in it, I submit that He does not need our 10% because His resources or bank account is limitless.   This is God’s plan to allow us to live out our purpose of bringing glory to Him and enjoying our relationship with Him.  Bring in the tithe as your grateful response and enjoy that we have an awesome God.  Part of the enjoyment will be benefiting from His promise of abundant life.  

 

            This is also not an investment plan as made quite clear by Pastor Ed.  We don’t give our 10% looking for a return on investment of 100%, 200% or more.  Those who give their tithe on this basis miss the mark totally.  The tithe is a relationship action and the motive is worship, gratitude, and bringing honor to God.  We may not see a monetary return on investment but His response will bring fullness of joy in all its glory and satisfaction in our lives.

 

            So why is it appropriate to give money for our tithes? It is appropriate in our society as this symbolizes the giving of our life.  Most of us earn a wage by giving our time in a paid for activity.  Whether you labor in a business, own a business, work in factory, serve in a governmental entity or any context where you are paid for your time and effort you have given your life in exchange for monetary value.  Thus, when you gratefully give 10% of your earnings you are giving to God part of your life as symbolized by the cash value of your time.  When you do this right off the top of your earnings you are giving your “first fruits” before the taxes, the bills and the discretionary spending have taken their bite.  Jesus gave us allof His life.  In response and gratefulness we can give 10% of our lives. The wondrous thing about this is that it is not the end of the story.  God promises to come back and provide abundance.  The one thing He has provided me in abundance is true peace of mind and heart.  In our world this is priceless.  Many millionaires and billionaires still are searching for this.  

 

Shalom

Mike LorahComment
Generous Living – Raising Dough

Over 56 years ago, Ricky Nelson sang the words, “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”  Way before that, people in the United States in casual conversation spoke of money as “dough.”  Perhaps this may have been a reference to the saying “the bread of life.”  Back then as it does today, life in America takes dough – money.   In order to make bread you need to allow the dough to proof (rise).  In order to survive you need to raise some “dough” or money.   It seems the modern day main line American Church has shied away from taking about money.  The common perception by our culture of the Christian Church, besides being judgmental, is the constant asking for donations – raising money.  Even for American Christians on the inside talking about money is distasteful and uncomfortable.  No wonder pastors everywhere fear to tread on the subject of giving but not our Pastor Ed.  And mark my words, Ed is no fool, and I surmise any Angel would not fear this subject. Jesus clearly did not.

 

            The sermon series, Generous Living:  Going Above and Beyond,is an expansive journey that is so much more than giving money. This is about abundant life. Generous living will call into focus several foundational matters such as fear, security, self, gratitude, graciousness and faith.  Looking through this lens changes how we consider money and giving.  I love what Ed said about giving at GateWay.  God’s way is about raising people not money, combating selfishness, creating generosity and reinforcing gratitude.  At its core is faith in Jesus and our gratefulness for where He has placed us in life.  Understanding more of what He has done and is doing should lead to more gratitude and an overflow of graciousness.  It pleases God when you give willingly and gladly in reflection of His love for you.  It is never the amount but the heart.  As the heart grows so can your giving, be it time, talent or money. It is the transformation from the inside out brought about by the mercy and grace of God that fuels generous living.  Rick Warren, Lead Pastor of Saddleback Church in Southern California, said “giving is not what we do, it’s who we are.”   Jesus Christ gave.  God the Father gave.  The Holy Spirit gives generously.  Likewise, do the same. 

 

As stated earlier, life in America takes “dough.”  Ed also mentioned being responsible.  Caring for self, loved ones and providing sustenance are important matters.  I believe no matter one’s income or financial level, it is essential to honor God in gratefulness and to honor Him consistently. To our GateWay Church family, if you have never given an offering or a tithe of money, start and give regularly. A dollar given with gratefulness, thankfulness and in worship will be treasured by God and be assured; He will raise people with that dollar.  

 

            Are you feeling overwhelmed and not knowing how to cope with finances?  We can help. We run Financial Peace University through GateWay and we have people who can come along side and help you budget and chart a financial path.  Abundant Living is so much more than having a great financial bottom line; it is about living in the peace and joy of the Lord.  As the Apostle Paul said, I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am . . . I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

 

Shalom

Mike LorahComment
Just Like Jesus – Who Moved the Stone: Probabilities & Improbabilities

The vintage hymn proclaims:  “Up from the grave He arose.  With a mighty triumph o’er His foes.”  Although a long time Easter favorite it is the anthem for Christ-followers every day.  It is the eternal event and the ultimate question for humankind.  Our study through the Gospel of Mark drew to a close as we celebrated the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ this past weekend.  The Gospel of Mark concludes in a manner that leaves it to us to decide if we will follow Jesus.  Pastor Ed challenged everyone to make a decision.

An interesting and compelling point discussed by Ed was illustrated with a probability study. 

The fulfilling of a mere eight prophecies of the coming Messiah in the Old Testament by Jesus was calculated to be 1 x 1017 – that is one chance in 1,000,000,000,000,000,000.  I have no idea what that number is called but Ed gave the example of what it looks like using the entire State of Texas covered two feet deep with silver dollars and finding one specially-marked silver dollar mixed in by a blindfolded man on his first attempt.  This would be astounding to say the least.  The idea and probability of Jesus fulfilling exactly more than 60 prophecies is beyond imagination but is exactly what He did.  Who is Jesus?  He is exactly who He says He is.  Who is Jesus in your life?    

Was Jesus merely a highly successful soothsayer or orchestrator of events?  Since Ed mentioned gambling consider this:   The chances of winning the Powerball Lottery are approximately 1 in 300 million.  This number is based on picking all six of the numbers correctly out of the numerous combinations possible.  For most of us, this is seemingly an out of the reach accomplishment yet we spend billions for the chance of winning.  People do win.  We say how lucky these people.  What about fortune tellers, psychics, or others who purportedly know future events?  But if our current crop of fortune tellers were so all-knowing wouldn’t these individuals constantly win all the lotteries in this nation?  We all know the answer to this.  Yet Jesus fulfilled all prophecies, predicted His death and resurrection then actually did it and we humans dismiss this as fable or myth even though the probabilities far, far, exceed those of winning the Powerball.

Questions of existence, meaning and purpose are on the minds of many people. Everyday life is full of challenges and struggles.  Having a good life, living well, experiencing fulfilling relationship is so desired but often are difficult to obtain.  Whether it’s making the right decision in the board room or in the living room depends upon where our faith in life resides.  Ed quoted Dallas Willard.  “There is no problem in human life that apprenticeship to Jesus cannot solve.”  Becoming a Christ-follower is a faith decision.  Faith is only as good as the object of that faith.  Many of us would never stake our lives, in other words, put our faith in life on winning the Powerball because the probabilities are so “astronomical” in our minds.  The probability of Jesus fulfilling all the prophecies, including the most important of them all, rising from the dead make faith in Jesus more than compelling.      

Shalom

Mike LorahComment
Just Like Jesus – The Temple of the Living God

It was fascinating listening to Pastor Ed speak on the significance of the Temple during Jesus’ days on earth.  Proclaimed one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, this 35-acre complex of courtyards, inner courtyards and sacred central rooms, high atop the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, was an imposing edifice casting a huge shadow on faith, culture, commerce and daily transit.  The outer and largest courtyard, the Courtyard of the Gentiles, was a place where the “nations” could come and encounter the One True God.  As Jesus entered the Courtyard of the Gentiles this final week before His crucifixion, He saw a cross-city transit route used by people to get from one side of the Temple Mount to the other – a business and social shortcut.  He observed a hustling, usurious marketplace of money changers, animals-for-sacrifice dealers, other peddlers and the all too important Temple Tax collection boxes. What once was a place where truth-seekers could freely meet the One True God had become a pay-per-view profit center. Connecting with God had become much more difficult, expensive and perhaps now unattainable.  The barriers were formidable.  It is no wonder Jesus dramatically cast out this unholy commerce.

 

            Easter Week is upon us.  Inviting and welcoming the many who do not know Jesus as Savior is a foundational pillar of GateWay.  The obvious question in my mind is what barriers have we erected at GateWay that makes it difficult to enter our “courtyards?”  The significance of this is immense given that 80+% of the population of Visalia do not attend a church on any given Sunday.  We have a huge opportunity to make a difference in our community.

 

            A question perhaps less obvious but more compelling for me follows from this verse.  1 Corinthians 6:19 reads:  Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?  I am a temple of the One True God.  He is in me and works through me.  Therefore, what sort of “marketplace” mentality inhabits this temple?  Are we loaded with mental, emotional, relational or spiritual “vendors” that make it too “expensive” for me to connect with Jesus? Do we feel we do not have the correct type of “holy coins” to come close to Jesus?  Or are we simply on the transit route going in one time a week as we traverse our busy week?   And what of those we are in contact with daily that really need to know Jesus? Most often people come to church and to know Jesus because they are invited by someone they know.  It is the personal connection that opens the channel for the eternal connection.  Is our temple “outer court” where connection with Jesus through our story can take place so crowded to an extent that these divine appointments are excluded?   Maybe we can use a little “Jesus cleaning out the temple” action.

 

            Fellow sojourners we are indeed fortunate. While we were yet sinners, Jesus died for us and rose from the grave.  We need The Savior daily.  Let us let Him clean out our temples and let the light shine.

 

 

Shalom 

Mike LorahComment
Just Like Jesus – The Final Answer

I recall a recent game show where the marquee catch phrase was, “Is this your final answer?” At this point the contestant’s choice would be locked in and in moments would know if the answer would propel them forward or out of the game.  We find ourselves, with the guidance of Pastor Ed’s message, recounting the final week of Jesus’ life before He is crucified.  The Scriptural passage covered this week ends with Peter’s denial of Jesus as recorded in the Gospel of Mark.  Peter’s final answer was a denial of relationship with Jesus, punctuated as Mr. Spock would put it, “colorful metaphors.”  The cock crows and Peter’s failure is complete.  But it is not the end of story.  We know Peter is restored and renewed after a conversation on the shore with the resurrected Jesus.

 

            There have been countless messages based on Peter’s denial of Jesus and later restoration.  The applications of this story to our lives are varied and very rich with personal meaning.  No doubt in my mind, Peter’s failure and Jesus’ forgiveness and restoration is the picture of Jesus’ resurrection personified.  He died to cover the failure.  He rose again to cement the forgiveness and reconciliation.

 

            This past week I participated in a conference in Southern California.  It was an excellent and moving gathering of Christian leaders and workers.  One of my several “take aways” from the conference makes me think of the “final answer.”  Peter’s denial of Jesus goes to the very core of who we are.  In what do I base my faith and from where do I justify such faith.  I have often heard spoken in Christian circles my faith is based on the Bible or my church.  Perhaps in a time long past such an answer would suffice.  I submit for your consideration today, if this is your final answer, then it is a denial of Jesus Christ.  Before I am “crucified” let me concisely explain.  

 

            In our post-modern age people are questioning the validity of the “church” and Christianity in general.  Never before in history have we had access to all kinds of input regarding the validity of Christianity.  The thoughts of theologians, scholars, philosophers, scientists, skeptics and atheists are at anyone’s finger tips via the Internet.  The widely proclaimed failures of the church fill volumes.  The validity of the Bible has been questioned, dissected, and judgment proclaimed. In this clash of ideas anyone can easily conclude the Bible is questionable at best and an utter fabrication at worst.  Therefore, reliance on it as the basis of faith falls short.  What does not fall short?  The Christian faith today, as well as for 2000+ years rests on an event.  It is this event and the person central to the event  that forms the substance and bedrock of our faith.  The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:14, “and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.” Furthermore, Paul states in Galatians 6:14, “But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . .”  The Disciples and many others learned and understood who Jesus is based on His resurrection from the tomb.  He was exactly who He said He was – I Am.  These first Christians saw, heard, touched, and experienced life with the One True God before and most importantlyafterHe rose from the dead.  Their faith and the subsequent faith of thousands in the first four centuries after the resurrection of Jesus was fueled and anchored in the event.  It had to be because the “Bible” as we know it today did not exist.  The substance and basis of our faith is the event.  To proclaim our faith is based on the Bible, certainly the church, is modern day apologetic denial.  Our final answer in faith must be based on the event– the resurrection of Jesus.

 

            How do we know the eventis true and real? There is evidence – a lot of evidence. I encourage you to know what the evidence is.  Ask us and we will guide you to where it is and why it is valid and substantial.  So, GateWay, what is your final answer?     

 

 

 

Shalom 

Mike LorahComment
Just Like Jesus – The Bell Shaped Curve

Thinking of the bell shaped curve brings back memories from my University days.  One professor in particular comes to mind.  He drew the bell shaped curve on the blackboard at the beginning of the semester.  At either end of the curve he drew a perpendicular line indicating the 10% and 90% level.  He proceeded to state this is how he would grade and indicated only 10% of his students would earn an “A” and 10% would fail.  The rest of the class would fall in between with a proportional representation of B’s, C’s, and D’s.  For a guy intent on getting A’s I was intimidated and contemplating transferring out.  Grading aside, the bell shaped curve finds itself in many places.  Statistical studies on a variety of issues often find the population largely fitting the bell shaped curve.  One way to view this data is to say most of us are in the middle regions meaning it is the norm, thus, another name for the bell shaped curve is the Normal Distribution Curve.  For someone or an organization that is trying to impact the population it makes sense to target the message at the midsection of the bell shaped curve.


Pastor Ed in this weekend’s installment of the Just Like Jesus  Sermon Series in the Book of Mark once again emphasized the Hebrew structure of storytelling.  Ed has made this point a number of times over the years as he expounded on the Word of God.  Different from “Western” or contemporary American storytelling, the Hebrew style follows a bell shaped curve.  Material parts of the story are set at the beginning and end but the main point or purpose of the story is contained in the middle.  There is a building up to the high point of the bell shaped curve then a descent to the end of the story.  The lesson is to look at the middle of the story to see what is most important.  Pastor Ed makes this point again because understanding the literary style of Hebrew storytelling will help us understand the Bible more effectively and therefore allow us to be better Christ-followers.


I wonder if our knowledge and understanding of the Bible were charted like data points what would that chart look like.  On this chart one end would be no  knowledge and the other end would be extensive  knowledge with categories of little, some, fair, good and much, spaced in between.  Following the traditional bell shaped curve most of us as Christ-followers should land in the middle of the curve, middle category being fair.   But is that what the data would really show?  From my reading of various books and studies, listening to presentations and my own observations, our American church-going population is largely uninformed when it comes to Bible knowledge.  The chart would reflect the high point of the curve pushed significantly toward the bottom end of the knowledge scale and looking more like the shape of a rollercoaster’s first climb and descent; steeply up and steeply down then flattening out to the end instead of the traditional bell shaped curve.  One cultural touch point that indicates this to me is we have become a society of non-readers.  This is sadly reflected in the American Church’s living out God’s Word in private and community lives.


What would GateWay’s chart look like?  Pastor Ed said he wanted all of us to better understand the Bible.  Week in, week out, he brings us excellent teaching but that is only one day a week.  What are we doing the other six days?  We want the bell shaped curve of GateWay to have the highpoint of the curve at the level of good  understanding.  What is your level?  Want it to increase?  Connect Small Groups, Women’s Bible Study, Men’s Small Groups or Venture for 55+ are places to start.  Reading good Christian books is another.  And there is no substitute for reading the Bible.  We have daily reading plans that will get you through the whole Bible in a year.  Our bookstore has One-Year Bibles for sale.  Another possibility is getting into a discipling/apprentice relationship.  Maybe this is the way for you to go to achieve Bible understanding and application.  Ask us?



Shalom 

Mike LorahComment
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

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