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
This Is Us: Discipleship

This past weekend, Pastor Ed began describing what discipleship looks like.  It made me think of one of my all time favorite Baseball movies is the Sandlot.  It is the story of a band of nice young boys living in the San Fernando Valley in the early sixties.  As we all are given to say, life was so different back then especially in this burgeoning suburb of Los Angeles.  Life for these boys revolves around playing baseball on an open lot turned into a makeshift baseball field.  The bonds of friendship and loyalty run deep.  Benny (The Jet) Rodriguez is a bit older than the rest and the leader of this team.  He is a very talented baseball player and an all around good guy.  Benny passes along not only his baseball knowledge but what it means to be a friend.  The team is more than glad to follow and emulate their leader and for one young boy it is a life changing experience.          

A fundamental construct of living out faith in Jesus Christ is discipleship.  As illustrated by Ed with the life of the Apostle Paul, it begins with a choice to enter into relationship with Jesus Christ.  Saul of Tarsus’ Road to Damascus encounter with Jesus dramatically changed the course of his life and the world has not been the same.  As profound and utterly transformative as this face to face meeting with Jesus was, the process from Saul to Paul was a journey of understanding and applying the grace and mercy of God.  A very important point to note was Paul did not journey down this path alone.

Discipleship has at its core RELATIONSHIP.  As Pastor Ed stated one would get into a relationship with a master then follow the master and do whatever the master would do for three years. Long before his encounter with Jesus, Paul studied under and was the disciple of Gemaliel, one of the foremost scholars and practitioners of the Hebrew law.  Paul fully understood the process of discipleship by the time he was ready to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.  The 12 Apostles followed Jesus for three years and practiced saying what Jesus said, did what Jesus did and loved as Jesus loved.  Just as it was for a journeyman fisherman to be a disciple one must enter into relationship and choose to go down this path. It is not automatic.  

Discipleship has been written about, debated, defined and redefined for centuries.  Regardless of the nuance, I believe discipleship is the pattern for Christian growth we are to embrace.  The crucial element in discipleship is getting into a relationship with someone who is more mature and knowledgeable in the faith and then meeting regularly to do life together.  I think one-to-one is optimal.  This is not as intimidating or as out of reach as one might fear.  The key is finding someone who is just ahead of you in their journey of faith whom you can follow.  He need not be a Biblical scholar, Pastor, or Christian superstar only someone who is seeking God sincerely and is willing to travel that path with you.  Of course having good Spiritual input is important.  Taking in Ed’s sermons regularly is one tool to use.  A good tool is to go through a book or material on Christian living together.  Another aspect of discipleship is once you are down that path a bit, then you need to disciple another who is starting the journey.

I believe the early church in Acts functioned in this manner.  The Apostles would teach and the people would listen.  Then those further along in the faith would be in relationship with new believers helping them down the path.  Think of this, in the beginning of the church there were no buildings, seminaries, Sunday schools, podcasts or even the Bible as we know it today. What they had was their relationship with Jesus Christ, the difference He made in their lives and then living out that difference together in community.  They passed along the faith one-to-one.  The early church changed history besides transforming lives.  I know we can grow and change the world if we are willing to be in relationship and disciple one another.

We are in need of people willing to be disciples and people who are further along in the faith to come along side and be a disciple maker.  Are you one of these or both?

Shalom

Mike LorahComment
This Is Us: Good News

“We will bury you,” shouted Nikita Khrushchev, the Premier of the Soviet Union, at a 1956 reception with diplomats from the United States and Europe.  The Cold Warwas ramping up and the clash of cultures, political philosophy, nations and peoples slanted towards Armageddon.  Mere twenty or so years earlier, Adolph Hitler was contemplating the “final solution” to eliminate Jews from the face of the earth while planning to cleanse the world of “undesirables” and secure the supremacy of the Aryan race.  100 years before the Nazi’s were in power, the United States Congress debated the morality of slavery and the human value of people of color - black, brown, red or yellow.  The debate eventually turned into the bloody Civil War.  We can go back in history for ages and see a consistent pattern of segregation, marginalization, dehumanization and violence.  Not much has changed.  A viewing of the evening TV news testifies to this.  In stark contrast to man’s history and the evening news is the Good News.

The Grace and Mercy of the triune God is the Good News.  All are welcome.  All are loved.  All are included in the offer for eternal relationship.  There is no ethnic cleansing.  There is no political correctness.  There is no superior qualifying race.  Just the Good News.

Although ignored, altered and denied by “historians,” the Good News is the basis for so much positive change throughout the centuries.  The list is endless.  Institutions such as hospitals, schools and universities, orphanages, disaster relief agencies have sprung forth from the hearts of men and women transformed by the Good News.  The elimination of societal sanctioned slavery as well as our democratic values is based in the Good News.  The Declaration of Independence clearly states, We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.  Beautiful art, music and literature find their inspiration in the Good News.  Countless acts of selfless sacrifice flow from the Good News.  As Pastor Ed is given to say, “So What?!”

 We live in a society and culture that is rapidly declining into elitism, fragmentation and alienation.  We have become people accustomed to inconsiderate comments and diatribes. Civility and respect are in short supply as illustrated so blatantly in our political discourse. Facebook or Twitter has given cowardly cover for personal insult, diatribe and meanness. Yet social media is an indicator of our deep seated need for community and relationship.  Everything about us yearns for Good News.

Christ-followers everywhere are called to take the Good News to everyone.  The individual believer may not start an international charitable agency or found a children’s hospital but every believer can start a relationship with another person.  I encourage us to form relationships with people outside our comfort zones, with those who do not “look” like us, or with those considered “untouchables.”  The sermon this past weekend illustrated two examples of seeking and reaching people outside the circle.  The Samaritans were untouchable and unclean but Philip went to them and later the Apostles came and laid hands of them to receive the Holy Spirit.  Philip sat and spoke the Good News to a Gentile and a Black man at that.  The Ethiopian Eunuch was never the same and neither was his nation.   

As Pastor Ed indicated, the welcome mat at GateWay is out and the door open for anyone who wants to come in.  I am challenged again to seek out relationships with people outside my comfort zone.  As Christ-followers, have we put out the personal welcome mat?  A good place to start for we at GateWay is to use the Oikos Card.  Start a list of those in your zone of contacts and begin praying and seeking ways to initiate acts of good will so you may have the chance to share the Good News. Another, and perhaps more challenging way, is to take the lead of Jesus who stated that He stood at the door of our hearts and knocked.  To any who would open the door, He would come in and dine.  Consider inviting over for dinner someone new.

 

Shalom

Mike LorahComment
This is Us: 39 lashes

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.   Acts 1:8  

Growing up in East Los Angeles during the latter 1950’s and early 1960’s left its mark on me.  All around me culture and society were changing.  These upheavals were cataclysmic and are continuing to shape us.  But as an elementary school aged boy I was oblivious to it all.  School, friends, family and TV enveloped me in a cocoon.  I thought this was normal and everyone lived the same way.  But with regularity, something would happen that would shake up my thinking and reshape how I viewed the world.  For example, being an American of Japanese descent, my food spectrum was heavily influenced by these ethnic ties so the first time I was invited to a neighbor’s home for Taco Night was quite an enlightening experience.  From a young age my parents taught me to gratefully eat whatever was given to me, especially if it was from someone outside my family like our neighbors.  In Japanese, the phonetically similarly sounding word to Taco is the word for octopus, takko.  Even though octopus is a prized delicacy in many cultures, to a 7 year old boy, it is the kiss of death and in my mind we were going to the neighbor’s to eat an abomination.  To my great surprise and joy I had a paradigm shift that night.  Tacos are God’s and my Mexican American friends’ gift to mankind!

Another item in my boyhood was hearing my elementary school teachers say “39 lashes with a wet noodle.”  What was this all about?  What’s with the 39?  Why not 25 or a dozen?  And why a wet noodle?  It took coming to faith in Jesus Christ years later that I understood 39 lashes and it wasn’t with a wet noodle.  Pastor Ed graphically described this technique of torture and punishment using a “cat of nine tails.” The whipping was administered with 39 lashes as 40 would result in death.  What is clear today is part of the price of bringing the Good News to the remotest parts of the Earth, traveled the path of 39 lashes.  Jesus went this route before crucifixion.  The Apostles were subjected to this torture with Paul stating 5 times he experienced the 39 lashes.  Countless other saints endured so we could have the Good News today.  

As Christ-followers we are engaged in the transformation of people by delivering the Good News.  I have come to understand that we are all created differently by God and we each resonate with God’s Holy Spirit uniquely.  How we hear and receive the Good News is often filtered through many layers of cultural, relational, familial and emotional life experiences.  Therefore, I believe it is of utmost importance that we share the Good News in a style and manner most impactful with the intended recipient.  And I further believe for most of us, the most impactful style is one to one, in a relationship of substance.  

What is a relationship of substance? Significant markers of an ROS include selfless listening, sincere and personal dialogue, discovering and embracing commonly held touch points (emotions, desires, goals, experiences, etc.) connected with a willingness to be vulnerable and caring.  An ROS can take place almost anywhere -- your workplace, school, soccer field, the gym and even church.  It may happen very quickly or it may take seasons of cultivation and persistence.  When this happens you can carry out Acts 1:8 -- you will receive power from the Holy Spirit and you will be Jesus’ witness.

The question that confronts us is will we do this?  I hope we never have to endure 39 lashes to bring the Good News.  But perhaps remembering what others went through will motivate us and move us to honor those, especially Jesus Christ who did.  Enter into relationships of substance so you can be witnesses of the Good News.  Starting may be as simple as holding a Taco Night.

Shalom

Mike LorahComment
This Is Us: A Credit To Your Race

When I was growing up I often heard this phrase – “You’re a credit to your race.”  It was usually given as a compliment or commendation for something well done.  Thankfully, I don’t hear this anymore as this “compliment” is rooted deeply in racism, ignorance and insensitivity.  This said, Pastor Ed’s sermon this past weekend made me think about being a credit to your race.

The miracles taking place in the First Century Church were nothing short of mind blowing.  The question and existence of miracles have long been debated in this world and within the Christian church.  I remember listening to debate among theologians if God still performed miracles today.  One line of thought advanced the perspective that miracles were only for the First Century Church and God ceased performing miracles once the Bible and the Church was established.  The other end of the spectrum holds unequivocally God is still performing miracles today and in abundance.  I think God can do whatever He chooses to do.  What is clear and what was made clear by Pastor Ed is miracles validate or give accreditation to the Good News. 

I am a child of God and this is where I wonder about being a credit to my spiritual family.  As a Christ-follower do my actions and thoughts validate the message?  Does my treatment of people, living in my relationships, or working out truth and justice reflect the mercy, grace and forgiveness of Jesus Christ?  If asked, would those around me and those in contact with me say, “Bill – you’re a credit to Jesus Christ?”  (In reality it is the life changing transformation of relationship with the Creator of the Universe that is observed.) 

I understand “life happens” and it sometimes difficult – very difficult.  And it is understandable that our reactions and behaviors will reflect the agony.  In such times I doubt folks would say to me I am a credit to Jesus.  It is so good to know and experience that God is love.  His mercy and grace are deeper than the deepest abyss of my failure.  I may not receive forgiveness from people but with God I will and I can start again.  1 John 1:9 states:  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  Psalms 103:12 reads:  As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us.  And finally Romans 8:37-39:  But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

An old movie about World War 2 comes to mind.  Darby’s Rangers staring James Garner as William Darby is the story of the first elite fighting unit formed in the U.S. Army.  This all volunteer brigade overcoming many hardships is trained and molded under the command of Colonel Darby to become a highly disciplined, highly skilled, extremely tough and effective fighting force.  At the end of the movie the Rangers on a rescue operation of embattled troops is overwhelmed by a vastly larger and more powerful German division.  Of the over 700 men who go in only 7 come back.  Colonel Darby has fought hard and struggled side by side only to see utter destruction.  Defeated, demoralized, and disconsolate Colonel Darby steps off a landing craft and walks along a beach as lines of fresh soldiers get ready to embark for the next campaign.  Darby trudges along with his head down, shoulders slumped and with the look of failure on his face.  A voice shouts out from the line of embarking soldiers, “Wow, look at that Ranger patch.”  Heads turn and the light turns on in Darby’s head.  He is a Ranger, he needs to carry himself as such and honor those who have fought and died.  Darby straightens up, adjusts his pack, lifts his head and marches forward resolutely with dignity even though he has just come through hell on earth. 

Sometimes we come through what we imagine is hell on earth be it a tough relationship, bad choice, a calamity or a simple happenstance of life that disturbs our comfort and we act much less than Jesus would have us do.  We can trudge along disconsolately or we can remember that we are children of God, fully forgiven and fully equipped to pick up and be a credit to our family.

Shalom

Alan AdlerComment
This Is Us: GW+GW=GN

This past week I read an article discussing churches and major church leaders. The thrust of this article focused on influence.  The writer bluntly stated two very well known mega churches (and their “rock star” stature lead pastors) which were the two most significant influences in the Christian church universe for the past two decades were no longer such.  Other churches, naming two different mega churches (and their “rock star” stature lead pastors), were now the dominant influencers in the Christian Church universe.  This transition was attributed to embracing of new channels of media, communication and culture.  In other words the previous church leaders had not changed or their “product” was no longer relevantly packaged.  Even though I found this article very interesting I came away thinking, “So what?”  This article I believe is one of those intended for professional church leaders and pastors much like a business management lesson.  Although not unimportant, for me, I am more concerned right now about Us – individual Christ-followers forming the Body of Christ in our community.  I am thinking most people in Visalia are not concerned one bit which church mega star is on the rise.  So what are people concerned about?

Ancient as the First Century Christian Church is, what people sought then has not changed and the model of touching these souls is still relevant today.  Pastor Ed this weekend repeated the mantra Good Works, Good Will and Good News (GW+GW=GN) as he opened the study of the early church in the Book of Acts.  Put into practice as a church body and as individuals we can be Jesus Christ’s tools to change the world.  At our work places, schools, in public and in our homes a simple act of kindness or generosity (Good Work) freely and graciously given can lead to surprising levels of appreciation by the recipient (Good Will).  When sufficient good will is present then there is openness to hear your personal God-story (Good News).  Thinking back on the article I mentioned in the beginning I am aware that a seismic change has taken place in media and culture and how “church” can be packaged but the real deal is still relationship.  No matter how good we are in using the cultural touch points of the day, if we do not touch hearts one by one it won’t matter much.  If each of us does not engage people in relationships we will not make a difference.

I have had no contact with one of the “down” churches in the article but I am quite familiar personally with the second.  This church impacts tens of thousands of people directly each week in their locale.  There are significantly more people involved in this church’s small groups than attend services on a regular basis.  The folks of this church have the mindset that relationships matter and extend themselves to many unconnected to a church home.  We are beginning a new season of Connect Small Groups.  This is a prime time to invite new people and give them the opportunity to experience Good News personally.  This is also a prime time to step up as a new leader of a small group as the harvest is plentiful and the workers few.  What act of kindness or gracious relationship (Good Works) will you extend this week?  When you do and a positive reaction results (Good Will) will you follow up with your personal God story (Good News)?  And if you think of it, let us know because hearing encourages us and builds our courage to go out and do the same.

Shalom

Bill YoshimotoComment