Focus: Fire and Rain

For Californians, starting last week and extending on, the drama and trauma is seemingly unending. I still hear the anguished voice of a mother angrily shouting into the camera, “I don’t want your prayers, I don’t want your thoughts; I want gun control now,” in the aftermath of the shooting rampage in Thousand Oaks.   We are burning up from the North to the South.  Whole communities are totally destroyed.  Dozens of lives have been lost.  We are reeling from fire and a rain of bullets.  How can we, especially those directly impacted, keep a perspective focused on thankfulness at times like these and under such circumstances?  How do we comfort one another?

For many of us Christ-followers on the “outside looking in” I think the first place to start is at the foundation of our lives.  James Taylor wrote and sang in Fire and Rain, his iconic song about deep life struggles and losses, “Won't you look down upon me, Jesus.  You've got to help me make a stand.  You've just got to see me through another day.  My body's aching and my time is at hand.  And I won't make it any other way.”  I do not know if James Taylor was a Christ-follower at the writing of this song or if he became one, I do feel this poetic stanza is the heartfelt cry of a man desperately in need.  Taylor reaches for strength and hope outside himself.  We too, must do so.  We too must seek Jesus and trust Him to see me though another day.

In the Bible we see that David was a man of great passion and experienced great struggle through the fire and rain of his life.  Pastor Ed this past weekend gave us a glimpse into this life and insight to how David navigated such troubles.  Psalm 63 proclaims David’s intimate relationship with the Creator of the Universe, the One True God.  And it is this relationship that not only sustained David; it empowered him to greatness despite an avalanche of hardships.  As we traverse difficulties or see those around us in trauma, we must remain steadfast and focused on the One True God.  We must sing our own Psalm 63, praising and thanking Jesus.

In times like these, in the presence of those who have lost much, we sing our Psalm directly to God and not to them.  To those who have suffered greatly we adopt the words in Romans 12, “Weep with those who weep.”  And when the right time comes, we “rejoice with those who rejoice.”  Until that time comes, we give the gift of grace, of silent embrace, and loving presence.  As appropriate we take action concretely and compassionately.  And even though this distraught mother said she did not want prayers, we in our personal time, pray that God will bless them and the Lord would keep them; the Lord’s face would shine on them and be gracious unto them; and lift His countenance upon them and give them peace. 

Shalom

Mike LorahComment
FOCUS: Entering His courts with praise

The other day I happened to turn on the TV in the afternoon to check my settings to record the fifth game of the World Series.  On screen was one of the several “reality” shows depicting a courtroom dispute between two people.  Each side presented their case.  The TV Judge listened, commented and asked questions before making a decision.  I wondered how these folks get on TV to air out their problems.  One thing I observed, these people certainly did not come into this Judge’s presence with thanksgiving nor entered the court with praise.

Psalms 100 was an excellent place to begin a sermon series directed at thankfulness.  Pastor Ed commented our thankfulness towards God manifests itself in seven ways.  One aspect was our attitude as we walk onto the GateWay campus for our corporate time of worship.  Are we coming into the presence of God with a thankful heart and with a mind set on praise?  This made me think is this the only time we enter His courts and come into His presence? 

I wondered how different court TV would be if the antagonists entered with thanksgiving and praise.  I am sure it would not be the “entertaining” programming that was being sought by the TV producers.  It seems the audience who subscribes to this type of programming thrives on the acrimony, name calling, inane actions and sad conduct of people.  What if the people initially entered into whatever dispute or situation causing the court case with thanksgiving and praise.  I am confident it would have not found its way on to TV.

I wonder how each of our encounters during our normal day would be if we entered each situation as if we were entering into the presence of God and His court.  Would we enter with thanksgiving and praise or could it be the start of a case that could wind up on Court TV?  My attitude and actions toward people are radically different when I am full of thanksgiving and praise to Jesus.  I think my wife and children were very happy when dad would be full of praise to God.  

I wonder if we got out of bed each day with thanksgiving and praise what impact it would have for the rest of the day.  Years ago I heard Pastor Jack Hanford at a Promise Keepers event at the LA Coliseum give a simple process using the word PRAISE.  This can take as little as a minute.  I did this for a while but stopped.  I think I will take it up again and see what difference it makes.  Try this each morning first thing as you get out of bed.  P - present your heart to God; R - raise your hands to the heavens; A - acknowledge God; I - invoke His name (say His name out loud); S - sing a song of praise (a simple chorus will do); E - then enter your day.  

As Christ-followers this is our reality.  Psalm 139 reads in part, “You have enclosed me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me . . . .  Where can I go from Your Spirit?  Or where can I flee from Your presence?”  We are continually in the presence of God.   Therefore, wherever I am, whomever I am in connection with, whatever circumstance I may be found, or whichever way I go, I walk into His court and in His presence.  Let us sing out in actions, Psalms 100.  I would do and be so much better, if out of my gratefulness and appreciation I walked in His presence with thankfulness and praise.



Shalom

Mike LorahComment
This Is Us: Eye Witness News

Growing up in East Los Angeles shaped my thinking and perspective of culture and the human condition. Each of us has been influenced and conditioned by where we were raised.  There are many forces that impact us.  Just as when I was a youth, we are influenced by the evening news or in this day and age, social media outlets.  Fifty years ago, Channel 7, Eye Witness News, in LA reported three times a day on TV the happenings of the day. This has not changed.  The title, Eye Witness News, is still being used today.  In fact this is a popular title for news departments across the nation in markets big and small.  Like it or not, we are influenced by what is presented as eye witness news accounts of events, activities, calamities, tragedies, or accomplishments in our communities.  Like it or not, eye witness accounts are compelling.

 

Before I came on staff (retired now) at GateWay as Pastor of Discipleship, I served the community in the District Attorney’s Office.  As I presented cases in court to juries, I sought to be the best attorney I could be but always in my mind was, “it’s not about me.”  Whether a defendant was guilty or not, depended on the evidence. Eye witness testimony was a powerful and major part of the evidence to sustain a conviction.  It would be a gross injustice if I gained a conviction because I was the most eloquent lawyer in court that day.  Defendants were guilty because of the facts.  And for the most part, juries were very good in demanding evidence.  As humans in making decisions, we want evidence.

 

The greatest decision we can make as humans is about God – Jesus Christ.  There are many important and vital decisions but ultimately the success or failure of our choices will be determined by what we decide about God. In our current era, termed Post-Modern, TRUTH, has become truth.  Many people, stereotypically, Millennials, no longer ask about TRUTH as there are many “truths” and it just depends upon the individual.  What is being asked is, “Is it real.”   As Christ-followers rather than bemoaning the sliding scale  version of truth practiced today we should seek how best to answer the question, “Is it real?” Is Jesus Christ real in my life?  When this seminal question is answered satisfactorily, then we can talk about TRUTH.

 

Jesus states in John 13:34-35:  “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”  As Pastor Ed so clearly presented we are witnesses.  We are witnesses to the love of Jesus Christ and how this grace filled relationship has transformed our lives.  We are witnesses by living in integrity through the hard stuff and choosing to do right even when no one is watching.  We act with compassion and service gently making no excuse for our motivation in Jesus Christ.  We are witnesses in word and deed.  Because we live in a culture that wants to know what is real God has called on us to bring into homes, work places, schools, and in our relationships the Eye Witness Good News.  

 

Shalom

Mike LorahComment
This Is Us — Shazbot

Robin Williams was a brilliant comedic performer and tour de force.  One of his early roles was Mork from Ork in the TV sitcom, Mork and Mindy. When something would go wrong he would say, “shazbot.”  Although I did not follow this show, when I would have something bad happen or go wrong, I would say “shazbot.”  This was a better alternative to my uttering, as Mr. Spock in Star Trek IV would describe it, “a colorful metaphor.” I have found over the course of my life and from observing the human journey shazbot moments, be it big or small, are the normal state of life.  The book of James states, “whenyou have troubles or tribulations — not if underscoring the inevitability and common nature of difficulties, failures, troubles and calamity.

 

The Apostle Paul was no stranger to calamity and troubles.  Pastor Ed in his weekend sermon highlighted Paul’s surviving a major shipwreck.  Amazing story enough but all the more “crazy” since this journey was in the midst of his multi-year, unjust imprisonment for a crime punishable by death.  I wonder how many times Paul said shazbot over the course of his many travels, church plantings, and relationships as he shared the Gospel. Based on Ed’s presentation I have the feeling instead of “shazbot” it was “you’ve got this Jesus.”  Paul knew what it meant to be content in the context of a world separated in relationship with the Creator of the Universe.  His contentment flowed from his unshakable faith that nothing could separate him from the love of God.

 

We would all love to have lives without troubles or difficulties but we are confronted with the reality that life is not that way.  I believe one of the issues keeping us from learning contentment and successfully negotiating the storms of life as Paul understood revolves around our desire for a lifestyle of “perfect” fulfillment.  We look for, seek after, work at obtaining the perfect relationship, perfect job, perfect house, and perfect looks and all the wealth necessary to keep up with the Kardashians.  We think if we have “the thing” we will be fulfilled and complete. Instead of asking why do bad things happen to nice folks, a more primal question would be are meant to attain the perfect life here on earth.

 

The answer is no.  As good as life can get, as rich and fulfilling a relationship may be, or as rewarding a vocation you may have, it still falls short of perfection.  It is this way because we live in a “fallen” world and nothing can ever reach the level of fulfillment that existed in the Garden of Eden as Adam and Eve walked side by side in the coolness of the evening with the Creator of the Universe. We expect to find that ultimate fulfillment in a spouse, job or wealth but that level of fulfillment was only meant to be found in a personal relationship with God.  Anything else is but an incomplete version of the real. As long as we look toward anything other than God we will eventually be disappointed or confront an endless season of “shazbot” moments.  This is not to say we cannot have good marriages, jobs, relationships or experiences and we should work hard at doing better.  But to place our trust in anything less than God leads us to place expectations on people, jobs, or whatever that are unattainable in this fallen world.  With such expectations, shazbot is an inevitability and handling the storms much more difficult.

 

Storms clarify your values as Pastor Ed stated.  The storm endured by Paul resulted in everything on board that ship being tossed, crushed or sunk except the 276 people on board.  For God it is all about people and the relationship.  Our fulfillment and perfection is only found in Him and He desires this relationship above all else.  Jesus gave up everything that we might walk side by side in relationship with Him.  And this is where my “all else” must be refined and clarified.   Jesus said to seek first His kingdom, and His righteousness, and all else would be added unto you.

 

Life comes at each one a little differently from the next person.  I do not understand and am mortified at the extent and depth of suffering so many experience.  I ask God why and am often left without a clear answer.  I am convinced that I cannot judge why troubles arise in people or glibly attribute causation.  I pray for mercy and rest in the hope that God is still in control.  I move ahead knowing that my storms are coming.  The storms in life I go through clarify where I am in relationship with the Creator of the Universe.  I may say shazbot today but I am hopeful I will say “you’ve got this Jesus” tomorrow because He has said that nothing can separate me from the love of God.

 

 

Shalom

 

Mike LorahComment
This Is Us: A Friend Loves At All Times, And A Brother Is Born For Adversity Proverbs 17:17

Two iconic songs from my younger days still resonate in my mind:  Paul Simon wrote and sang A Bridge Over Troubled Waters,  a deeply thoughtful and moving anthem to friendship and You’ve Got A Friend  written by Carole King made famous by James Taylor.  The granddaddy in me hears Randy Newman’s You’ve Got A Friend In Me  from watching the classic Toy Story  with my precious grandkids.  Whatever the generation, genre or genetics having a faithful friend crosses time and culture.

 

Pastor Ed’s weekend’s message on Biblical Friendship began with discussing research conducted by Dr. Robin Dunbar, British anthropologist and the director of the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology at Oxford University. Although, according to Dr. Dunbar, we may have as many as 1500 acquaintances, the famous Dunbar Number holds a person can have meaningful relationships with approximately no more than 150 people at one time since that is the capacity of our brains.  We have layers of relationship circles surrounding us; the closer to center (me) the tighter the level of friendship.  Dunbar theorizes the next level is around 35 and then 15.  As the level of intimacy and closeness increase this number is whittled down to the number 5 when it comes to your best, best, best friends.  Pastor Ed mentioned the ultimate number of the most, most, most closest was 1.5 friends.  Furthermore, Dunbar holds this numeric progression is unchanged even in this day of social media.  You may have thousands of “friends” on Facebook but you only respond to a handful.

 

If this is true and I have little doubt it is, then how do we as Christ-followers impact our community and the world.  There are so many people out there.  Even at GateWay we number around two thousand.  We do this through the power of the One and the ripples that emanate from layer to layer.  Paul Simon sang, “Like a bridge over troubled water I will lay me down.”  Jesus stated, I lay my life down for my sheep” and went on to say, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”  Jesus is our bridge over troubled waters.  Because He laid His life down for me, starting with our layer of 5, I must with resolution intentionally “lay my life down” through my acts of kindness, truth, and commitment.  Within this circle I must promote the cause of doing likewise to others in the next layer of friends.  Each person in this next level has concentric circles of relationships surrounding them. Impacting one person who then impacts a person in their circles sends ripples through multiple layers of people not in my layers.  We do this intentionally, continually and faithfully “winter, spring, summer or fall” as James Taylor sang and we can move a community.  And what if I go outside my circles?  Jesus’ parable points to leaving the 99 to find the 1. This would be revolutionary.  

 

Don’t have a circle of 35, 15 or 5 to start?  Connect Small Groups at GateWay is a great place to begin.

 

 

Shalom

Mike LorahComment
This Is Us: The Unholy Exchange

In his weekend message Pastor Ed quoted Dr. Tim Keller on idolatry.  This is a great statement.  Keller stated: “Idolatry is taking good things and making them ultimate things.”   We are familiar with our American idols such as money, fame and beauty or as illustrated in Ed’s sermon, workaholism, but we also idolize thoughts and beliefs.  

 

We have created idols throughout our history and in our personal lives.  Sadly, in the name of God, we have constructed idols believing we are so smart and holy.  Idols have been used to batter people into submission and cause people to conform. They justify behavior and promote as truth values identified in the idol thereby cementing its power.  Paul eloquently reflects the mind of God in detailing the human condition in Romans 1:21-25:  For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.  Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.  Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them.  For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever.  

 

Because man’s ideas and religion can become idols I think Christ-followers should conduct a self-inspection of ourselves and of our church and see if we have exchanged the truth of God, Jesus Himself, for a human construct – a lie.  Oswald Chambers in the timeless classic, My Utmost For His Highest, writes:  “Today we have substituted creedal belief for personal belief, and that is why so many are devoted to causes and so few devoted to Jesus Christ.”  We run the significant risk of driving people away when we are devoted to a cause or creed rather than to Jesus Christ.  I believe it prevents us from seeing a person because we are so caught up in our rhetoric.  What are those doctrines, rituals, statements of faith or professions of “family values” that no longer are simply a reflection of God’s truth pointing us to a relationship with Jesus and now is the basis of judgment and condemnation? Which of the Ten Commandments have we crystallized into an ultimate thing that prevents us from connecting with someone with Christ’s grace and mercy?  What “value” do we hold that blocks dialogue and seeking solutions?  What thoughts about righteous living do we idolize such that someone visiting GateWay Church believes they must be spiritually clean or living “clean” before they can receive the Salvation of Jesus Christ? 

 

I am doing an “idol” check this week.

 

Shalom

Mike LorahComment
This Is Us: The Earthly Trinity: Seeker, Dysfunctional, Caustic

Words From The Back Row Thoughts on the Weekend Sermon @ GateWay Church

A friend of mine (and member of our Connect Small Group) is traveling the path of making racial unity a reality. One way he has explored the trail is going to a local church for Sunday service where most of the people are of a different racial background. He relates the odd and perhaps fearful feeling of being the “only one” never having been in such a situation before. Being a “white” man, he was acutely aware of his uniqueness in this Black-African American church. It made him wonder how person of a different race or color would feel coming to GateWay. Of course he was greeted warmly and made to feel welcome. He says he would like to go again. And this is how it should be in the family of God.

The beginning of the church at Philippi is a great story of outsiders becoming insiders and of welcome and redemption. It is the story of European gentiles and racially different people becoming part of the chosen family of God. It is all the more wondrous when put in the context of the three characters described by Pastor Ed in Acts Chapter 16 – the Seeker, the Dysfunctional and the Caustic. This is amazing as each personality is united in Christian community and becomes the church and people treasured by Paul. Interesting to me as these three types represent what I now term, the Earthly Trinity.

Throughout history, humans have been Seekers wanting to know our origins and our connections and how to live life better. From the beginning we are the Dysfunctional as in every aspect of human discourse we have struggled and limped along. And sadly, our history and current events reveal how caustic we are in all our relationships from the personal to the public; from the local to the international. This Earthly Trinity encapsulates the human condition. We lament this condition and we think of people in our circle of contacts that fall into each of these categories. And perhaps we despair even more because the Earthly Trinity is three-in-one: Me! I am an outsider looking in.

We have all been outsiders looking in ever since Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden. The cascading consequence of incorrect thinking, faulty assumption and very bad choices caused the severing of the intimate and personal relationship Adam and Eve possessed with the Creator of the Universe. Cast out of the presence of God, they were now outsiders ever burdened with the unattainable desire to be insiders again thus the rise of the Earthly Trinity.

But as any good late night TV infomercial would say, “Wait, there’s more.” In contrast to the Earthly Trinity stands THE TRINITY. Romans 5:1-10 reads, Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 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. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. Because of God’s great mercy and grace, we now can be on the inside not on the outside looking in.

I was on the outside and I am so grateful to be an insider now. I came to be an insider because someone else already on the inside invited me, an outsider, to come meet Jesus. Through grace and mercy and persistent relationship, the Earthly Trinity is fading in my life and THE TRINITY is becoming more evident. The Seekers, the Dysfunctional, and the Caustic are everywhere in our community, our workplaces, schools, and in our families. People need the Lord. Who are you inviting?

Shalom

October 1, 2018

Mike LorahComment
This Is Us: enCOURAGEment

I am amazed and sometimes utterly dumbfounded at what passes for courage or courageous acts on media these days.  Micah posed the question:  What is good; And what does the LORD require of you?  His answer quickly follows:  But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God.  Other Bible translations say do what is rightand to love mercy.  One version says and don’t take yourself too seriously.  What I do know takes much courage in our hyper-emotional, over-dramatic, super-sensitive and utterly flamboyant culture is to do what is right, just and loving in the sight of the Creator of the Universe.  Now, more than ever, we would do well to ask and actually carry out, “What Would Jesus Do?”

First of all I will say this:  The andis crucial and vitally important. We are to do justice andlove kindness.  Andis a conjunctive meaning it joins together as opposed to separating or setting apart.  God’s way is always the and.  Too often in church history this has not been lived out resulting in much harm, death and disillusionment.  I think it is a big reason the church has been relegated to irrelevant status in the modern age.  Furthermore, our personal relationships have suffered because of the separation of truth and kindness.  A healthy, thriving and fulfilling relationship always embraces the and.

Carrying out Micah 6:8 takes much courage.  This is where encouragement is a big deal.  Many times we will do the right thing when we are encouraged to do so despite our fears.  We will do the right thing when we are encouraged by understanding why.  For this reason I believe God is all about relationships.  He created us to be in relationship with Him foremost.  In order for us to comprehend the Heavenly Relationship He made us to be in relationship with one another.  This is why  encouragement becomes so important.

As Pastor Ed so well stated this weekend Barnabas was all about encouragement.  I truly wonder where Paul would be or if he would have had the huge ministry had Barnabas not come along side and encouraged him.  In God’s perfect plan and strategy, Paul’s unrivaled knowledge and intellect refined and given legs by Barnabas’ wisdom, people experience and relational skills made Paul the most amazing Apostle of all.  Together and individually, Paul moved human mountains. 

Perhaps you are thinking, I am not an earth mover like Paul, not a community “mover and shaker” like Betty Anthony but just a simple person, simply trying to live my life.  I think it takes great courage to live the routine, everyday life.  The great Christian Pastor/Teacher/Writer, Oswald Chambers, repeatedly talks about the true test of the Christ-follower being how he lives in the mundane.  It is sometimes easier to rise up to a huge crisis rather than do the Christ-like thing in the day to day of family, workplace or school.  It is in the quietness of one’s heart, unseen by others, where the true test of courage resides.  From examining my own life, Chambers is spot on.

What is good; And what does the LORD require of you? But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God. I can do this if I have encouragement.  We at GateWay can do this if we are encouraged to do so.  Within our fellowship, in your circle of relationships, in your Connect Small Group, I encourage you to find a Barnabas for your life.  We all need an encourager.  Perhaps more importantly (borrowing from a children’s story) if you want a strong body and a strong body at GateWay, take your vitamins – Vitamin B-1 to be precise. Be one; an encouragerthat is.

 

Shalom

Mike LorahComment