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
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