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
Generous Living – Making the Dead Alive

In this weekend’s edition of the Generous Living series, Pastor Ed related several views of Jesus that have endured since He rose from the dead.  Viewpoints such as Jesus was a great teacher or a moral leader or a model of how to live; everything except Jesus is exactly who He says He is. Generous living can only succeed when Jesus is who He says He is.  Pastor Ed made a statement this weekend that is the epicenter of it all; “Jesus did not come to make bad people good; He did not come to make good people better; He came to make dead people alive.”  When we receive life from Jesus we receive life abundantly.  And this abundant life allows Christ-followers to live generously.  In Christ there is generous living in gracious relationships, gracious serving and sincere worship that beckons those seeking the peace that surpasses all understanding. 

            

            Earlier in the week I watched a recorded episode of Frontlineon PBS about the current rise of American Nazis.  It was a chilling portrayal of unChrist-like thinking, attitude, actions and relationships. As I see it, so much is based on fear. It is the starkest of contrasts to Generous Living.  Movements such as is happening with American Nazis as well as many ideologies, both leftist and conservative, sadly flow from the thoughts and writings of dead people. Some have been dead a long time and some, although still breathing, are walking dead.  Truth:  you do not need to be an extremist ideologue like the American Nazi movement to be dead in your thinking.  Any American churchgoer can suffer deadness when deluded by the siren call of the post-modern era that Jesus was just a good teacher and good example.  We need to experience transformation from churchgoer to Christ-follower.  Jesus did not come to make me better.  He came to make me alive.

 

 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.        Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.  But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  

                        Ephesians 2:1-7 (NASB)

 

Shalom

Mike LorahComment
Generous Living – The Fight For Love and Glory

By the time you read this post, Father’s Day 2019 will have come and gone.  Pastor Ed, as is typical for most American Christian churches, presented a message themed on being a father.  Ed’s sermon also raised the question which transcends fatherhood and focuses on the essence of who men are.  Alluding to the movie, Saving Private Ryan, Ed asks “what does it take to be a good man?”  We ask ourselves what it means to be a man in our culture, in our world, in the eternal cosmic matrix of life.  The ultimate question for many men (and women also) is what is my purpose and does my life mean anything.  

 

            Many lives have come and gone through the centuries with volumes written on this question.  In 2019 we still are in search of the answers.  It is simple yet vastly complex all at the same time.  I think the classic song, As Time Goes By, mostly remembered for its role in the movie Casablanca, sums it up — “It’s still the same old story, a fight for love and glory.”  We look for self-worth and for love.  We seek to love and to be loved and to know deep down we are significant.  

 

            I will cut to the chase.  Better yet, to the climax, an event that changes everything. An eye witness to this event summed it up succinctly recording, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” The same eye witness later writes that, “He came that I may have life and have it abundantly.”  John not only saw and knew something; he knew he was forever changed.  The life and resurrection of Jesus Christ changes everything.  In Him and through Him men everywhere can experience on every level of life - physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and eternal — victory in the fight for love and glory.

 

            Jesus gave His life for me.  I am a child of God.  I have value and meaning and I am loved.  Greater love has no man than he lay his life down for another.  Just ask Private Ryan.  Another eyewitness writer, the Apostle Paul, stated, “For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die.  But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  Jesus says love others as I have loved you.

 

            So, in our modern culture, what does this fight for love and glory look like?  Simply put, it means we as Christ-followers are guided to love God and love othersbut in the wonderful diversity and richness of life it is a journey of complex discovery.  What can I do or where do I go for guidance, wisdom and knowledge.  Fortunately we are not in it alone.  The sacred writings reflecting the life and love of Jesus are full of directives that conclude with the phrase, one another,as in pray for one another or bear one another’s burdens to mention two.  This is who we are at GateWay.  Connected by Jesus Christ, we are all about the one another. Come join us as we discover who we are, why we are loved, why we have meaning and how to live it out.

 

Shalom

Mike LorahComment
Generous Living – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Back in the 60’s a genre of films labeled “Spaghetti Westerns” came into vogue.  These movies about the American Wild West were directed and produced by Italians and Italian companies hence the label.  Arguably the most famous of the genre was a 1966 movie starring Clint Eastwood titled, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.   I never have watched this movie but I am a big fan of the title.  It has served me well as the framework of written articles, closing statements in court and in sermons.  Once again it rises from the cinema grave and gives wings to this week’s post on money.

 

            This past weekend’s message continued our series on Generous Living.  Pastor Ed skillfully and eloquently talked about the place of money in the life of a Christ-follower.  His four-fold perspective is an excellent guide.  One passage Ed referenced was 1 Timothy 6:5-11.  Verse 10 reads, For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. The major take-away from this verse is money, in and of itself, is neutral.  It is the love  of money that injects the characteristics that lead to the Good, the Bad and the Ugly of modern living.

 

            Money, when viewed and used in a holistic, Christ-centered way, leads to valuable and meaningful results – The Good.  It provides for our daily needs, creates opportunities for greater works, is a means to meet the needs of those less fortunate and is a medium in which we can honor God.  Money begins to take on the Bad when our spiritual compass strays and we focus on money itself as the sole means of provision.  We go down the path that the dollar is the mighty one in our lives rather than Almighty God.  We become self-focused, less secure, and seek means to make more money to the detriment of our inner peace.  It is Bad to live stressed out about making more.

 

            Finally, when our hearts turn to the point of loving money rather than loving God, the Ugly settles in.  In subtle and not so subtle ways we worship money and believe in its power to “save.”  In our worship we buy things, buy experiences, buy relationships, buy emotional security, and buy self-worth along with inner peace but the end is always the same – it is never enough.  We do things, sell things, work harder, ignore loved ones and sometimes become entangled in ugly ways we could never have imagined.  Pastor Ed warned, “Be careful what you buy, it has the capacity to OWN YOU.” Slavery is ugly.   We are wise to know the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil.

 

            We are often reminded in the New Testament to focus on good things.  This holds true regarding our view of money.  As Ed relates when we view money well it is inspiring so be focused; money is a tool so use it appropriately; money is a crutch so lean on it carefully; and money creates opportunity so spend it wisely.

  

 

Shalom

Mike LorahComment
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