Choices:  Episode IV – A New Hope

A blockbuster movie premiered in 1977.  Star Wars burst on the scene and seemed to launch a quantum leap in movie technology and storytelling.  We have traveled light-years forward since those days.  A very interesting detail of the first Star Wars movie was the subtitle – Episode IV:  A New Hope.  Some, perhaps many, were intrigued.  The first movie was number 4?  We all know now we began this epic saga mid-stream.  George Lucas was asked countless times why he chose this path.  Lucas’ mind had envisioned and developed a grand and expansive tale that needed an anchor point from where the timeline, past and the future, would not only make sense but capture the imaginations of generations.  Simply put, Episode IV had to come first.  From a much less romantic point of view, if Episode IV was a flop financially, then Star Wars would be just another sci-fi movie relegated to the pile of Hollywood dribble.  The overwhelming success theatrically and financially for Lucas paved the way for later episodes and even greater glory.

This weekend we heard two different messages but both compelling for me.  Pastor Jason Thursday evening intoned, “Control your thoughts:  Negative thoughts will never lead to a Positive Life.”  This one will resonate with me for a long time.  And guest speaker, Pastor Ray Johnston, unleashed on us a tremendous message of hope and renewal.  What you think dictates where you go and how you feel.  If you are feeling hopeless and your thoughts are of despair then defeat and decline are inevitable.  These days, it seems we are feeling a collective sense of despair and hopelessness.  If not this then a collective frustration about politics, culture, society and ultimately life itself.  More and more people believe the days ahead for our children and grandchildren will be lesser than days gone by.  “But wait,” as the infomercial proclaims.  Our time line takes to the sky with Episode IV.

In the beginning was God and in the end He is the Alpha and the Omega but 2000 years ago, our Episode IV, took place -- For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly (Romans 5:6).  And if we confess with our mouths and believe in our hearts that God raised Him from death, we shall be saved (Romans 10:9).  As Pastor Nick pointed out two weeks ago, we were dead in our trespasses.  But God being rich in mercy, because of His great love, made us alive together with Christ.  Therefore, not only do we have a new hope, we have the ultimate, eternal and overcoming hope.  The hope found in Jesus Christ takes care of our past and future and empowers today.  Our timeline on earth makes sense only because of this.

Whether you are within the body of Christ or still searching, are you in despair?  Are you experiencing unending frustrations with our state of life?  Are you living hopelessly and paralyzed?  

Then it is time to start thinking differently.  Negative thoughts will never lead to a Positive Life.  Recharge your spiritual batteries.  As Pastor Ray made clear, “get plugged in.”  Make the essential connection to Jesus Christ, the only hope that is real.  Stay connected in a Connect Small Group at GateWay.  You are not alone.

Shalom

Mike LorahComment
The Unholy Exchange

We humans have become very adept at trading the truth for a lie.  Pastor Nick in his excellent presentation this weekend on the “Best Policy:  Honesty” challenges us to stop this unholy exchange.  We are encouraged to see truthfulness as a process of wholeness and not simply what we say.  From the essence of which we are to living daily in connection with God and others and ultimately where we will end up, we must embrace the truth; to not do so results in bondage. Nick correctly points out in Ephesians that we are dead in our trespasses . . . but God being rich in mercy . . . made us alive together with Christ . . . and raised us up with Him . . . For by grace we have been saved.

 

One area of current culture caught my attention this past week.  Statistically we are more “connected” then ever.  Millions if not billions are plugged into social media, networks and smart phone enabled virtual relationships.  These technological advancementsboast how much closer we are as humans.  I submit this is just another lie of the enemy as we have become the loneliest cultureever.  We have exchanged a living, face to face life with one on a screen.  This life “disconnect” increases as age and generation gets younger (young children excepted).  Walk on a university or high school campus during non-classroom hours and observe the large percentage of students with their eyes focused on their phones. Lest you think this is simply the folly of the young, I am confronted with my screen that I spend hours a day watching – my high definition TV.  

 

Certainly there are good things with our technology but better relationships are not one of them.  In the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve’s disobedience they hid themselves.  God called out for his loved ones.  I take particular note that God wanted to be “face to face” with Adam.  I see this as the way that relationships are meant to be lived not hiding in a virtual world or isolated in front of a flat screen TV.  We are created for relationships; with God and others.  It is a lie to believe we can live apart from real relationships.  Satan would have us live apart from God hiding behind our screens.

 

As 2019 begins we begin a new season of small groups at GateWay.  Nick asked and prayed about living in honesty in 2019.  Let us live honestly.  Connect Small Groups are great places to have real, face to face, honest relationships centered on Jesus Christ.   Sign up for one today.

Shalom

Mike LorahComment
Born For This: Happenstance

Al Roker celebrated his 40th year on NBC this morning.  On the Today Show colleagues current and past and many notable people spoke highly complementary words and congratulations for a long career, well-done.  Many referred to his giving and selfless nature sharing the big difference such encouragement and welcome meant in their lives both private and professional.  It was said Roker was all about others and not himself.  Roker, a man of faith and prayer, commented on his good fortune saying he had the pleasure of working in a job he loved with people that he loved.  I could see in him this morning a face full of joy.

In his excellent presentation, Pastor Lance contrasted happiness and joy.  Happiness is based on circumstances – happenstance.  If something goes my way or satisfies a particular want then I am happy.  I think this is pretty much how most people on this planet operate.  We seek happiness and we want to control our circumstances so we can be happy.  The reality of life is there is little within our control.  If this is so how can we ever hope to be happy in life?  

The key is to seek joy, not happiness.  I believe we will experience happiness along the way if we pursue joy and especially if we find joy.  Al Roker seems to have found this in his career.  To have worked 40 years and say you love what you do speaks volumes.  What speaks even more is all his colleagues say he gave and he poured into the lives of those around him – he was about others.  This is the mark of man who is filled with joy and not merely happiness.  So if the key is to pursue joy where do we find it?  The answer is told and retold - the Angels sing of good tidings of great joy.  Jesus came for me; He came for all of us; He came for Al Roker.  In Christ we are loved, we have purpose and meaning and we can be free to love others.  This joy is not dependent on circumstances and transcends happenstance.

Christmas means many things to many people but what is or should be unmistakable is:  for today, in the City of David there has been born, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  Lance asked if we have felt ostracized, obscure or ordinary.  We all have been here at one time or another.  Folks who believe this of themselves or feel marginalized often have difficulty finding joy.   The shepherds, after they had seen for themselves told others.  Sometimes this is the only way one who has been ostracized, obscure or ordinary may find joy.  These ones need to be shown the way.  During this Christmas season and always, much like these humble shepherds, show the way. 

Shalom

Mike LorahComment
Born For This: Know Peace

            Including today, there are only 15 more shopping days until Christmas.  If you shop on-line there are even less if you want the item before the 25th. Not only are many people frantic about gifts there are countless people trying to get “things” done before the holidays and the end of the year.  For some it may be baking dozens of cookies for family and friends.  For others it will be finalizing the yearend report or completing the project.  And some will be desperately seeking employment or desperately seeking answers to a life crisis or facing the uncertainty of days ahead without hope. Even for churches this time of year is one of the busiest.  GateWay is no exception.  I wonder when did this happen to us; how did we let this come about.

            Pastor Ed read to us verses from Isaiah chapter 9 this past weekend.  Verses 6 and 7 state: 

 

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; 

And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.  There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.

We learn Jesus is the Prince of Peace and there will be no end to peace yet here we are living in our frenetic society.  I have seen this slogan often – No Jesus No Peace; Know Jesus Know Peace.  It is logical to Christ-followers in a world that ignores and dismisses the Creator of the Universe we would suffer the consequences of poor or uninformed decision making, the lack of power to do what is right and best, constantly seeking the fountain of youth but emotionally dying daily and ultimately living without inner peace.  The simple answer is to Know Jesus. 

But before we cast blanket judgment let us examine the log in our own eyes.  As American Christ-followers how are we doing in this Christmas season?  What is our own state of peace of mind?  Are we the same as many Americans frantically trying to get everything done before the 25th?  Are we absorbed in making this “the most wonderful time of year” even if it kills us? In the midst of all the activity I ask myself where is Jesus.  I must admit in many situations or times when I am “planning” what needs to be done there is No Jesus therefore No Peace.  And when there is No Jesus and No Peace not only do I suffer, many around me suffer.  God never intended us to live this way.   

This holiday season and throughout the seasons of life let us remember to Know Jesus is to Know Peace. Let our lives find rest and reflect that the government of our lives rest on His shoulders.  And as living witnesses may a society living with No Jesus and No Peace, may come to Know Jesus and thus Know Peace. 

Shalom

Mike LorahComment
Born For This: Time To Shine

George H. W. Bush passed into history last week.  The accolades, the review of accomplishments and personal accounts of encounters with our 41stPresident were glowing testaments to a public life well-lived. One aspect stands out in stark contrast to the political-social climate of today.  Even though there were disagreements, differences in thinking, clashes of perceived values, and hard fought political campaigns, President Bush embraced his opponents with respect, courtesy and a collaborative spirit.  There was no demonizing; no character assassinations; no garbage.  Many of us long for such discourse in the running of our communities, cities, states and nation.  Sadly, a survey of world history would reveal acrimony and division between people is the norm.  Christmas celebrates that into our “norm” a child is born and because of this birth, we sing peace on earth and good will towards men.

Fittingly for the season, we begin the  Born For This  series at GateWay.  Not to diminish the absolutely amazing fact that God chose to enter our world to redeem us, I wanted to focus on living out the five point characterization of our King, Jesus Christ, as related by Pastor Ed this past weekend.  Ed stated our King is inclusive, humble, unique, loving and liberating.  I as well as countless Christ-followers have experienced this in our personal relationships with Christ.  Into the midst of chaos, personal doubt, pain, anger or isolation, Jesus has stepped in. What is our response?  Gratitude absolutely; but also passing this love forward. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says to love one another as I have loved you.   

How different our community, our whole world, would be if we lived this out.  And we begin one person at a time.  Pastor Ed challenges us to take each aspect and look for someone with whom we can live out these characteristics.  Mental Health professionals often state holidays, especially Christmas, are some of the most difficult times for people.  Even in the midst of a group some feel isolated and alone. Instead of assuming inclusion, take the risk of inviting.  Instead of acting as if you have it all together, be vulnerable and thus express humbleness.  This may be key to unlocking a previously closed relationship.  Revel in your God created uniqueness and treasure and celebrate the same in others.  Such joy is contagious.  Random acts of loving kindness this time of year go a long way.  Remember Jesus came a long way to love us.  And when you put all of this together it can be the point where someone in the depths of personal bondage will find liberation in Jesus Christ.

In the coming days we will be reminded of the legacy of George H.W. Bush.  It is safe to say, he was born to be President.  Most of us were not born to become the President of the United States or many other super notable positions.  But I am convinced we were born for this – to be witnesses and proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ in actions and if necessary, with words. It is time to be lights on a hill. Let it shine!

Mike LorahComment
Focus: Between A Rock and a Hard Place

“Caught between a rock and a hard place” is a saying that goes back centuries.  In ancient Greek literature, Odysseus must sail between cliffs where a man eating monster resides and a ship swallowing whirlpool in sea. Either spells doom.  Many of us have been in places or positions in life where we must choose between two difficult and undesirable alternatives.  

This past weekend Pastor Jason Crabtree spoke on Psalm 136 as he wrapped up our current sermon series,Focus: A Perspective on Thankfulness.  He highlighted a twofold quality in this Psalm.  Throughout this song the phrase “give thanks” is answered with “his faithful love endures forever.”  I wondered how this applies in the “real world.” By real world I am thinking of those dilemmas of life where hardship and devastation are the only things one can see.  Perhaps this is what many folks who have suffered total loss in the fires that have burned our state or the parents mourning the death of a child at the hands of a maniacal gunman are experiencing.  It may be the heartache and turmoil of a marriage in the throes of dissolution or the fear that comes with a loss of a job and the prospect of not being able to provide for your loved ones.  As Christ-followers how can I or even why I should give thanks when all around me it appears His love is absent and the circumstances seemingly point to abandonment? I am caught between the situational painful rock of my reality and the whirlpool of hopelessness that lies just on the other side of me.

As humans, apart from the One True God, we are caught in this dilemma, stuck between a rock and a hard place.  As Christ-followers we must shift our focus, as hard as it may be, but shift we must. This series has been all about our perspectives on thankfulness.  I read a quote on Thanksgiving Day that sums this up well.  Ann Voskamp states:  “We give thanks to God not because how we feel, but because of who He is.”  Pastor Jason said, “We live in the reality of yesterday and today but God works in the reality of forever.”  Living through the challenges of life on this side of heaven requires us to wrap our minds around this profound and foundational truth.

Wrapping our minds around God in this way is not an easy road.  It is certainly the “road less traveled.”  But as in any journey, it begins one step at a time.  We can help you find the first step at GateWay. Furthermore, this is a journey you do not need to make alone.  We were created for relationship so go the distance with your brothers and sisters in Christ.  Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 reads:  Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor.  For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.  In Christ and at GateWay, you are not alone.

 

 

Shalom

Mike LorahComment
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