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
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