Freedom: When Religion Becomes Unreasonable

Words From The Back Row | 23 and Me

            A popular activity made possible by advances in scientific technology is having your DNA profile analyzed then compared against a worldwide DNA database.  Companies such as Ancestry.com and 23 and Me offer genetic tracing to allow you to see the ethnic/racial mix of who you are.  This combined with researching your family tree can provide entertainment, insight, discovery and hopefully enlightenment for your journey through life. It seems knowing where you came from and who you are makes a big difference.  This weekend’s installment from the Freedom series goes back in time to Abraham as Paul in his letter to the Galatians does a little ancestry work.

             Pastor Ed detailed an encounter Abraham had with Creator God involving covenants and animal sacrifices.  The crucial “take away” was a personal relationship with God, initiated by Him, validated by Him, sealed by Him and ultimately completed by Him. It was not the work of Abraham, his character, or his human value.  What mattered was Abraham’s belief and faith in the One True God. 

            As Ed relates, Paul takes the early Christians on a journey back – perhaps the verbal DNA and ancestry search.  For the Galatian Christians Paul traces their spiritual lineage back to Abraham who found relationship with God through faith; Not the keeping of rituals, codes, laws or religious rites.  This is critical information as the Jewish Law had yet to be established.  Relationship with God, therefore, has always been on the basis of faith.  Paul jumps ahead in time to speak of the prophets of Israel and again faith is reiterated as the basis of relationship.  Ultimately relationship rests, for the Galatians and for us, on Jesus Christ.

            In the 2000+ years that have passed since the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the “church” in many iterations and expressions, has sometimes lost their way in living out relationship by faith in Jesus Christ and layered a variety of rules and customs as prerequisites for relationship. Pastor Ed calls us to the simple truth – the atoning work of Jesus Christ is the “end all and be” all of reestablishing relationship with God.  This is the question, “do you know Him by faith?”  If your final answer is Jesus plus anything else, then it’s time to think again.  The final answer for Paul is in Christ alone. 

Shalom

Jessica RondonComment
Freedom: When Religion Becomes Unreasonable – Oneness

I read an article on the feelings of current and former employees of Apple retail stores.  The feedback from numerous people interviewed by the writer reveals an overwhelming degree of love and satisfaction.  Perhaps this is one factor why Apple Stores continue to thrive while most brick and mortar outlets selling electronic have gone the way of the dinosaurs.  Much of the satisfaction of working in an Apple Store was the universal attitude held by staff that what they were doing was not selling electronics but making a positive difference in the lives of their customers.  This attitude is promoted by Apple ownership, administration, management and reinforced through training and peer relationships.  One staff member remarked he was supported at work by not just one or two people but by 20.  What is remarkable is the degree of unity around purpose and product at an Apple Store.  Their environment speaks of oneness, not a place simply to punch a time card.  Such success; such oneness; does not come by accident.  It is intentional.

 

            Continuing in the Freedom series, Pastor Ed, unpacked a key event in the travels of the Apostle Paul.  Not only was this key for Paul, it was fundamental for the unfolding and spreading of the Gospel throughout the world.  As Ed relates, Paul made a journey of substantial proportions to meet and confer with the Apostles in Jerusalem.  It was intentional, purposeful, and vital.  It was for the sake of unity of the new church.  The outcome of this momentous conclave was oneness in the message of Jesus Christ – The Gospel.  Jesus Christ opens the gate for restored relationship with God, bridges the chasm that exists, and makes the necessary full atonement.  It is not Jesus Christ plus Old Covenant rules, rituals, sacrifices or racial exclusivity.   This is worth being unified; this is essential oneness.

 

            We continue in the footsteps of the Apostle Paul and the Jerusalem Apostles.  Jesus Christ and in Christ alone is our salvation.  As recipients of such unfathomable grace and mercy we are compelled to pay it forward to our new generations.  At GateWay we have been guided this way by Pastor Ed.  This weekend he encouraged us to get on the same page. Ed delivered a message with a simple process to achieve such unity.  We have a story of priceless value and importance.  Let us be unified, GateWay.  Let us not be individual workers but a team supporting one another with a unified message.  Let us be intentional in making a difference because the One makes a difference in us. Apple sure embraced the unity message. Paul and the early Christians absolutely embraced unity and in oneness they turned the world of that time upside down. We can do the same, GateWay.  In unity we can turn Visalia upside down with the greatest story ever told.

 

 

Shalom

Mike LorahComment
Freedom: When Religion Becomes Unreasonable – Thoughts From Graceland

Last Friday, August 16, marked the 42 year anniversary of the passing of Elvis Presley.  How Elvis died is still the subject of discussion and speculation.  (Of course there are those who say he is still alive)  What is certain to most, he succumbed while at his Memphis estate, Graceland.  It appears that Graceland was the place Elvis could find solitude, shelter from the constant media drone and perhaps some peace.  I think many of us, in that regard, would like to find our own Graceland, the place where rest, peace and wholeness reside – the place where grace abounds.

 

            Pastor Ed in this past weekend’s continuation of the Freedom series highlighted grace as one of the key points to consider.  Ed stated a mark of Christian maturity was how we handled grace.  Have we received grace from God?  Do we live in grace and give grace to others?  The answers to these questions are a good indicator of our level of maturity. 

 

            Our current culture, whether it is in entertainment, politics, news stories, social media posts, or everyday interaction, evidences a significant absence of grace.  It can be said we live in UnGraceland.  Just this morning as I plodded on the treadmill at the gym, ESPN was carrying on a debate on whether the action of a notable and very successful man was an act of “selling out” his convictions.  What seemed clear to me was many who did not know or have all the information spoke in very ungracious ways.  Even among Christians leaders confrontation, argument, accusations of heresy, labeling, and scholarly assassination takes place.  Our communities also reflect this lack of grace.  And as in many issues, it often begins in the home.  So how do we break this cycle of ungraciousness?

 

            We live in a world that operates on what I term the “exchange theory.”  Businesses count on this, offering service or product in exchange for a return of value, usually, money.  Unfortunately we conduct our relationship in a similar fashion.  You are kind to me I will be kind to you.  You do me wrong I will return wrong.  I will give you “love” in exchange for something I need. You get the picture.  Pastor Ed states the first place we need to go is to encounter grace; grace as in the person of Jesus Christ.   Jesus first loved us and gave Himself for us in the ultimate act of graciousness.  We are undeserving and do not merit this level of unconditional love.  Having received it, it is the work of Christ-followers to pay it forward out of respect and appreciation for Christ.  I think it is easier for recipients of grace to give grace.  If this is true, then our acts of graciousness can set the tone for gracious relationships.  Although transforming this nation into a “graceland” may be unreachable, there is little doubt in my mind that in our homes, our church and in our workplaces, we can establish mini-gracelands.  Attached to and empowered by Jesus Christ, our acts of grace will change lives.

 

            The question is as Pastor Ed asked, have you encountered grace?

 

 

Shalom

Mike LorahComment
Freedom: When Religion Becomes Unreasonable – The Litmus Test

Way back before the digital revolution I learned in chemistry class one could do a check on the pH level of a solution using Litmus Paper.  By dipping a slender piece of tape into the solution and observing the paper turn different colors would quickly tell me if the solution was acidic or alkaline and to what degree.  The term “Litmus Test” found its way into our culture’s language and signifies the defining characteristic or position that indicates one’s political or social or religious credentials.  Truly, a “Litmus Test” of one form or another has been a part of our Human discourse for thousands of generations.

 

            Pastor Ed Kemp, fresh from his summer sojourn, launched the new sermon series, Freedom: When Religion Becomes Unreasonable.  This exposition from the Epistle to the Galatians exposes the gritty and dark doctrinal underbelly of historic Christianity and, sadly, contemporary American Christianity.  Too often a point of religiosity has become the Litmus Test differentiating between allegedly “true believers” and “lukewarm pretenders.”  Those who failed the test were met with argument, ridicule, shunning, ostracism and demonization.  Such practices have taken what Jesus died for, a personal relationship, and instead, created a “religion,” returning grace to the grave.  As were the Galatian believers with the imposition of the circumcision litmus test, contemporary Christ-followers, likewise, have been subjected to tests based on music, clothing, political affiliation, inerrancy, abortion, gender issues, creation accounts and the list goes on.  This is not to say some of these matters are insignificant, it is to say as Paul penned, “But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me.” Galatians 6:14  We must, therefore, ask ourselves, are we Christ-followers or the keepers of our religious constructs?  Furthermore, how are we treating one another?  

 

            In the post-modern culture of today such wrangling forms the justification for ignoring Christians and even branding them as “haters.”  We are accused of bashing people with the Bible, to them a book of lies and fictionalized accounts, and imposing our litmus tests of the “truth” and right living. To the post-modern culture the American Church has nothing of value, little to attract and much to repel the citizens of this world.  What was it about the first century Church, unlike what is experienced today, that was so compelling that within a short time, historically speaking, the whole fabric of society was changed.  It certainly was not the imposition of religious litmus tests such as circumcision. It was then and it is still the same now, Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected resulting in changed lives.  

 

            Paul, writing of the preeminence of Jesus, essentially said those who would say differently were to be accursed.  GateWay, let us not be accursed; let us not major on the minors but let us always major on the only one worth pursuing.  And let us connect with our culture under the new covenant of Jesus Christ which calls on us to not merely love our neighbor as ourselves but to love others as I, Jesus Christ, have loved you.   

 

 

Shalom

Mike LorahComment
Pursuit – Of Happiness and Beyond

The second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence indicates the pursuit of happiness is an unalienable right endowed by our creator.  This can mean many things but I think this means as humans, we are creatures continually seeking after something – in constant pursuit.  For many people happiness, however it is viewed, is the prize.  Even those with little or no ambition, it still is the pursuit of not being bothered, left alone and to live as one pleases.  Thus, everyone is pursuing something.  What are you pursuing?  

 

            Pastor Lance Ainsworth’s excellent message painted a compelling picture of what Christ-followers pursue this past weekend at GateWay.  He emphatically declared the only One worth pursuing is Jesus Christ.  And it is still the same old story; since the beginning we pursue everything but Jesus Christ.  For some American church-goers it’s the pursuit of self-satisfaction protected with the Jesus fire insurance policy.  This is far from running the race as spoken of in Hebrews 12 and described by Lance.   What are you pursuing?  

 

            Speaking of running the race, the race we Christ-followers run is a marathon, not a sprint.  It is a journey of faith, failure, relationship and renewal.  We train, we rest, we run, and we join a relay team carrying the baton handed to a group of untrained, uneducated, journeymen and women over two thousand years ago.  We run in the pursuit of holiness by seeking to love God and love people. So what does this look like in our day? We can provide direction at GateWay Church.  Come and see. One thing to consider is this. Jesus stated greater love has no man that he lay his life down for his friend.  Who are you laying your life down for?  When you figure out who, or perhaps it’s what, you’re laying your life down for, you will see what it is in life you are pursuing.

 

 

Shalom

Mike LorahComment
Community – Moving From Week to Week to Day to Day

I believe the number one binge-watched show on Netflix is Friends. I find this fascinating since Friends  is an “old” sitcom from the mid-1990s.  It did run for 10 seasons so I can understand it developed a large and loyal following and likely a new generation of viewers.  I must confess I have never watched an episode of Friends and truly have no clue why it is popular.  I do know the show revolves around lives and relationships of six friends in their 20s and 30s who live in Manhattan, New York City.  Thus, I take literary “liberty” in extracting meaning and connection between this highly viewed modern comedy and the excellent message delivered by Pastor Jason Crabtree this weekend on Community.

I think Friends is all about relationships and “doing” life together.  I imagine the many different plots all revolve around how these six people struggle, cope, despair, thrive, and overcome and succeed in a variety of life challenges.  I imagine Friends showcases very deep and close ties formed between the six that withstand crisis, misunderstanding, self-centeredness and maybe even betrayal.  I speculate for millions of viewers, underlying the comedic aspects of the show, there is deep subliminal satisfaction that comes from vicariously living in this close knit community of friends.  I think these are the same emotional undercurrents that propelled the 80’s show Cheers, “Where everyone knows your name,” to the top of the TV ratings.

Whether you are from the generation of the 1980s, 1990s, or today, or back in the First Century during the time following the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we all hunger and thirst for meaningful and deep friendships.  I submit Friends showcases a small group in action.  As humans it is only natural that our viewing habits reflect this yearning.  The sad reality for many may be the only place they get this sense of community is on a TV show.  It is said we are a 24/7 connected culture but all too often living in disconnected isolation.  The Church (the people not the buildings) of Jesus Christ stands in contrast and Christ-followers need not live in such seclusion.  And not only do Christ-followers need not live this way, we can include the many who do live that way by inviting them in.   

The First Century Church, as illustrated by Pastor Jason, lived life fully and practiced hospitable inclusion.  Changed lives lead to lives being changed and community being formed.  Jesus is still changing lives today.  A great place to witness, and not just witness, but “be” an intimate part of life change, is in a GateWay Connect Small Group.  Although the weekend service at GateWay is a wonderful gathering of real people, it is not a place “where everyone knows your name.”  A GateWay Connect Small group is a place “where everyone knows your name.”  We sincerely encourage you to join a small group, lead a new group and if you are in a small group, invite someone new.

Shalom

Mike LorahComment
Pour – Living Through A Drought

We experienced an unusually wet Spring season in California.  The rainfall and snow pack totals were impressive.  Yet we know California’s normal weather pattern is marked by frequent periods of drought.  Typically these periods extend for years at a time.  The one we just had lasted for five years.  The reality, economics and politics of water will determine if we will have enough available to pour into our cups and quench our thirst.  

 

            Pastor Nick Zavala began a new summer series this past weekend with an apropos follow up to Generous Living.  By personal story and by Scripture passage Pastor Nick challenges us to pour into someone who needs you.  It is clear to me we live in a culture that thirsts for Living Water but lives in spiritual drought.  Jesus poured out His life that we may have life.  As Christ-followers one way we honor Jesus (and model Generous Living) is by living out what He has done for us.  In living out “Christ In Us” we demonstrate and channel Living Water to a parched land.

 

            Two questions confront us.  First, will we pour into others?  Pouring into others is the Christ-like thing to do.  Yes or No?  The issue here is not if there are those who need pouring into, it is which do I select? Christ stated the harvest is plenty, the workers are few.  We have many ideas and opportunities at GateWay if you need input.  Second, are you in a time of spiritual drought?  

 

            It is very difficult or impossible to genuinely pour into someone when your spiritual reservoir is low or empty.  This is not merely questions of energy, ability, willingness or timing.  The issue is what is the source filling the reservoir. Some people pour out of their own personal energy, charisma, or effort.  Some people actively and liberally pour into others but do so as a means of filling their own tanks.  Some work out of obligation or guilt.  Although outwardly, in these scenarios, there can be great benefit, the reservoir gets depleted and emptiness sets in.  I find too many “Church Goers” fall into one of three scenarios or say no to pouring into others.  Christ-followers are different.

 

            Christ-followers are different because of Jesus Christ. We can pour out because He is the vine and we are the branches.  Our source is the Vine and as long as we are connected His living water flows through us. Cut off or in spiritual drought what pours out is a trickle.  Psalms 1 paints a picture of what staying in connection looks like – a tree, firmly planted, by a stream of continually running water, yielding fruit in its season, whose leaves do not wither and lives fully.  We can only truly pour into others from our overflow of God’s grace and mercy poured into us.  

 

            The challenge, therefore, is to be in a constant spiritual wet season.  Are you living in spiritual drought and thirst for a different season?  Ask sincerely and He will answer.  Need help asking?  We can’t do the asking for you but we sure can give you hints on how. We are ready at GateWay to come along side you with buckets to catch God’s living water.  

 

 

Shalom

Mike LorahComment
Generous Living – WWJD – A Glimpse From the DPD

This past week I watched half of the 2019 DPD - the Democratic Presidential Debates.  Twenty individuals, ten candidates per evening, all vying to be the next Democratic Presidential candidate, stated their positions on several subjects in an attempt to distinguish themselves in a crowded field.    

The evening I tuned in, one candidate in particular caught my attention with what he said. My interest had little to do with immigration, the economy, gun violence or police shootings; it had much to do with WWJD – What Would Jesus Do.  Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg, after prefacing his words with an affirmation of the separation of church and state stated, “And for a party that associates itself with Christianity, to say that it is okay to suggest that God would smile on the division of families at the hands of federal agents, that God would condone putting children in cages, has lost all claim to ever use religious language again.”  Regardless of one’s political affiliation or perspective as a Christ-follower, Buttigieg’s words point out the increasing chasm in our culture’s spiritual/religious underpinnings.  

 

            I read into Buttigieg’s comments multiple layers of meanings and implications.  First, God has affirmative attributes which set a standard for how people are treated. Second, invoking the name of God, God language or God values in political or policy matters (which many advocate one shouldn’t do because not all people believe the same or even believe at all) subjects you to focused scrutiny.  Interestingly, many Democratic leaders invoke religious/faith language. Thirdly, the Republican Party, as viewed by Buttigeig and I strongly suspect by many in our nation, in claiming association with Jesus is the modern equivalent of the legalistic, self-serving, Scribes and Pharisees.  And finally, due to actions, policies and views of the Republican Party and the “religious right” Christianity is unfairly characterized as bankrupt and invalid.

 

            Thus, it is so appropriate we concluded the Generous Living series this past weekend with the question, What Would Jesus Do.  So, what would Jesus do?  Pastor Ed outlined four areas:  1) Jesus would honestly care about people and His church; 2) Jesus would be apathetic about power, fame and ego; 3) He would get emotionally angry about bad religion, mistreatment of children and neglected justice; and 4) Jesus would recommend sacrifice for the Kingdom and for the community.  This is what Jesus did and what He continues to do in this world.  And in Jesus’ name, I must do the same.    

 

            We live in a complex society with serious and deep rooted problems.  How to overcome these matters is a highly contentious argument.  Addressing the issues and meeting the challenge as a Christ-follower, whether one is a Democrat or a Republican, living out WWJD is not only the test administered by a non-believing culture, it is who we are. My faith is personal but it is not private.  Paraphrasing St. Francis of Assisi, I am called to preach and make a difference for Jesus Christ everywhere and sometimes, if necessary, do this with words.

 

 

Shalom

Mike LorahComment