Just Like Jesus – The Only Thing We Need to Fear Is Fear Itself

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his first inaugural address in 1933 uttered these famous words:  “The only thing we need to fear is fear itself.”  The United States was in the midst of the Great Depression.  Over 25% of the nation was unemployed.  Many people had lost their life savings and a large number had lost a fortune.  Banks and other financial institutions long considered secure had collapsed and went into insolvency.  People killed themselves.  Families were torn apart and a nation was full of fear and uncertainty.  FDR had the task of turning the nation around and restoring stability and prosperity but he understood that the great fear which had settled on the country was making things worse.  Roosevelt knew bold and untried strategies were needed but the willingness of a nation and its leaders to follow was being strangled by fear.  FDR was saying the fear that is felt is not rational but breeds greater and paralyzing fear.  In essence - “Fear not; trust me and my New Deal,” a sweeping set of public programs and social reforms.  Whether or not people trusted Roosevelt, this was great oratory.  History and politics aside, mankind has struggled with fear from the start.  As nicely presented by Pastor Ed this past weekend, Jesus goes directly to the heart of the matter and brings us face to face with our fears.

The four stories recited in Mark Chapter 5 are connected in many ways but the glaring point brought forth by Pastor Ed is phobos or fear.  Interestingly so much of our human condition is captured in these four vignettes.  We see fear multiple ways; of losing a dear family member; of our true self being uncovered; health fears; of change in life circumstances; of economic loss; of losing one’s own life; fear of the unknown; fear of control; and most importantly fear of Jesus.  Fear is universal and everyone of us comes face to face with our own phobos  at many points in our lives.  Right now I am fearful of changes in family, of losing a dear one, and of uncertainty for the future.  What fears are driving your life?

Most times when I have felt the oppression of “fear” it boils down to lack of control.  I want to control everything and have life go just right.  But as I have stated in past blog posts, there is little in life that I can control and the possibility of the bad “stuff” frightens me.  What I have learned from numerous times of fear over the years is to reset my focus on Jesus and to trust that He is in control.  Jairus had to trust Jesus for the life of his daughter.  The disciples had to trust Jesus with their lives as the storm crashed into their boat.  The woman had to trust that not only would Jesus heal her affliction but embrace her in loving-kindness.  I have heard Jesus’ voice in my head asking if I would trust Him.  And each time that I said yes and acted like I meant yes, His peace that surpasses all understanding covered me like a soft and warm blanket on a cold winter’s night. 

Having faith is only as good as the object or focus of your faith.  Faith in a New Deal  is pointless unless it can be delivered.  Pastor Ed relates the antidote to fear is not courage but trust – trust in the One who is worthy.  Have fear?  Who do you trust?  If it is you, think again.  Jesus says behold I stand at the door and knock.  Whoever opens the door I will come in and dine with him.  His meal is comfort food at its best. 

Shalom

Mike LorahComment
Just Like Jesus – SOTU: State Of The Union

Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution directs the President to periodically “give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” Finally, after much political wrangling with the majority leadership of Congress, President Trump delivered his State of the Union address this past week.  I recorded the presentation as our Connect Small Group was meeting during the time frame of the speech.  As I played back the SOTU, the video images of the members of the Senate and Congress from the floor and the people in the gallery, the commentary, and the Democratic response delivered by Stacey Abrams, former Democratic legislator from Georgia, I wondered how all of this would be received.  The next day, much as I expected, not much had changed.  Minds were still made up, lines continued to be drawn in the sand, and distrust had not been lessened.  One thing stood out.  Despite lofty words by all sides, calls for unity, good goals and claims to want the best for all, everyone seemed to have a cynical opinion about what was really the SOTH – state of the heart.

            The state of our hearts does matter.  It mattered 2000 years ago.  Jesus approaches the SOTH through the Parable of the Sower.  The soil type directly relates to our State of our union with Christ. Rocky soil, shallow soil, weed-infested soil, or good soil; what is condition of your heart?  A heart restored by the blood of Jesus, resourced by the Father and regenerated by the Holy Spirit, in the hands of Christ can change lives, families, communities and nations.  The question is:  Is my heart a hardened heart?  Pastor Ed challenges us to be responsible for our own hearts.  

Modern society and culture have rendered its opinion on the church’s State of the Heart.  The designation of our current era, Post Modern, essentially meaning the church is no longer relevant, says it all.  I wrote in April of 2018 in this Blog column, I wonder if the post-modern age flourished because American Christian Churches and their membership failed the soil test starting in the early 1900’s and continued failing through the 1960’s resulting in several new generations of “truth is relative or optional” thinkers and believers.   Of course, such sociological shifts are complex and not the result of one “thing” but the idea that the “salt” lost its “flavor” is compelling in my mind.  Let this not be said of GateWay Church of Visalia. What is GateWay’s State of the Union with Christ?  GateWay is only as good as its people.  Again, as Pastor Ed has challenged, we are responsible for our own hearts.  Why is this critical?  Almost a year later in 2019, people everywhere still are seeking; they still are searching for what is real.                                                                                                      

Shalom

Mike LorahComment
Just Like Jesus – GOAT: Greatest Of All Time

The New England Patriots once again prevailed in the Super Bowl and the ensuing conversations about the game, players and coaches are endless.  As I did my early morning session on the treadmill at the gym this rainy Monday morning a major debate was taking place on ESPN.  The question was who is the greatest of all time in sports; Michael Jordan or Tom Brady.  For those who do not follow sports Michael Jordan is considered by most basketball aficionados the greatest player to have graced the NBA.  Tom Brady has quarterbacked the New England Patriots to 6 Super Bowl titles, most in NFL history.  I had two major thoughts as I listened.  First, it is difficult to compare players who compete in different sporting activities and second, aren’t there more important matters to be discussed? In keeping with debating the greatest of all time we embark on a study of the book Mark.

 

            Pastor Ed, back in the saddle, left no doubt in presenting the first two chapters of the Gospel of Mark, Jesus Christ is the greatest of all time since He is God.  The list of the “amazing” in Mark 1 and 2 is amazing.  In our culture, an event is notable when the celebrities, the rich, the politicians and the pop stars show up. Now think of the baptism of Jesus.  This is one of the few times recorded in the Bible where the Trinity - Father, Son and Holy Spirit show up at the same time.  The significance of this is mind boggling.  It doesn’t stop here.  Healing after healing; Miracle after miracle; demons cast out; and lives forever changed. 

 

One act of faithful friendship recorded in Mark 2 captures my respect and awe.  If we believe Jesus is who He says He is, how would we respond?  Four men bring a paralyzed man to be touched by Jesus.  So convinced are they of Jesus’ compassion and power these men carry their friend and when blocked by the crowds find a way to get him before Jesus. Jesus seeing their faith healed the man. Each of us as we go through life will need at times faithful stretcher bearers to bring us to Jesus when we ourselves cannot.  I hope and pray I will be such a faithful friend, stretcher bearer and brother in Christ.

 

Another aspect of this story intrigues me and impresses me.  The Pharisees, Sadducees and who knows what other intellectual wannabes are present.  Jesus says “your sins are forgiven.”  From what the eyes can see, this is all internal and spiritual.  From one perspective anyone can say this and who can challenge if this takes place as it is unseen to the human eye.  Jesus asks “which is easier?” I can imagine the murmur in the crowd, saying “sins are forgiven” is easier.  Jesus knowing our unbelieving hearts says what is plainly visible – get up and go home.  There is no hiding here.  The paralyzed man does just that, picks up his pallet and goes home and the crowd goes wild.    If you were there and saw this happen, would you believe?  What would you do different now that you know?  

 

GateWay is bringing a Women’s event in March called IF.  This conference asks the question “If God is who He says He is, then . . . .? The stretcher bearers participated in a miracle because they answered the question of IF.  What miracle do you need in your life?  Ladies, this will be a learning event not to be missed. Register at www.gatewayvisalia.com/women

                                                                                              

Shalom

Mike LorahComment
Super Bowl Madness

After 50 years Los Angeles finally has a team in the Super Bowl again.  (As a football franchise, the Rams have been to the Super Bowl two additional times since 1979 but that was as the St. Louis Rams.)  I will be wearing my Rams jersey in celebration and support next Sunday but my post this week has a much darker perspective. For 31 years during this span of time I served in the District Attorney’s Office prosecuting thousands of criminal cases, many involving domestic violence.  One of the saddest statistics involved the Super Bowl.  On this one day of the year the incidence of spousal abuse spiked enormously.  I came to understand that this one day in particular was “black and blue Sunday” (my term) for many women and children.  The anger of “My Team” losing this mega-game was unleashed in violence on women and children in too many homes around this nation.  It was more than enough to make me cry.

            This behavior is wrong, crazy and irrational in many of our minds but domestic violence has its roots in human complexity.  One thing is clear to me; this is why we need a Savior; this is why Jesus Christ is so crucial to our human relationships; this is why Pastor Gil Stiegletz’ dynamic and engaging presentation this weekend at GateWay is so important.  We billed this as a “marriage conference” but Gil stated this was about all of our relationships be they work, play, family or friends.  This cannot be stressed enough.  It is about all of our relationships.

            God is all about relationships.  He created us for relationships; with Him and with one another.  The Creator of the Universe intimately knows and understands our needs in a relationship. Somehow we have come to think we know better and when we do not know better we simply make things up.  God created us in His image and with this we have in us an unquenchable need for God that can only be met by God.  We try all manner of people, things, quests or foolishness to fill this “God hole” only to find out we fall short.  Again, it is complex, but ultimately all sorts of relational evil stems from the lack of Jesus Christ in our lives, including domestic violence.  We Christ-followers are not immune from this.

            Pastor Gil humorously hammers home the point that God, in His great mercy and wisdom, has given us, in His Word, guidance on how to live in relationship with one another.  The Bible has specific wisdom for how a husband needs to love his wife. It provides direct instruction how a wife relates to her husband.  The Holy Scriptures gives many prompts on how we need to live with one another.  Gil has distilled all relational discord into five categories.  I see I am engaged in all five dysfunctions in my marriage and in my relationships. I am challenged and most encouraged to be different.  Peter wrote thousands of years ago, Husbands live with your wives in an understanding manner so your prayers will not be hindered.  This week I ask all of us to take up a different sort of Super Bowl Challenge to make this a weekend of domestic celebration and joy not a physical or emotional black and blue Sunday.

                                                                                              

Shalom

Mike LorahComment
What Ed Learned On His Winter Vacation

Pastor Ed’s message this week took me back a million years to elementary school and the universal September ritual the first day back at school from summer vacation.  As I look back I wonder if my teachers were not ready to start the long school year and needed a time-filler so they asked what we did on our summer vacations.  I remember it was somewhat boring, a little bit of envy mixed with wish I could have done that but mostly sitting quietly and listening.  This was different.  Not only did we hear what Ed and Cindy did on their adventure to Israel, we learned vital spiritual truths.  Different words for desert and rocks, a short story on migration to Israel in the early 20thcentury, and a vivid description of breakfast in the Midbar (Hebrew for a desert with flora and fauna) and a most vital message for today.

            Two points particularly strike home:  God is your Rock BECAUSE things go wrong! And Unity means we are CHRISTIANS FIRST!   We have a God that is tough as flint contrasted with one who is like chalk. This is essential as life is hard.  It is not “if” we will face hardship it is when and how often.  When the storm comes it will be evident if you built your home on the rock or on the sand. Imagery in the Bible was a reflection of what was seen.  A trip to Israel, as related by Pastor Ed, makes this clear point clear.  I have never been to the Holy Land and likely never will.  Fortunately, in God’s great design, everyone can see in our natural world reminders of God’s character and nature.  A glance to the east on a clear day reveals the High Sierras in all their purple mountains majesty.  A glance at Psalms 121 states, “I will lift my eyes to the mountains; from where shall my help come?  My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”   And even when I cannot see the mountains, I am assured our God neither slumbers nor sleeps.

            When life gets hard, one way God shows up is through His people.  The unity of Christians, not uniformity, allows us to respond in Christ-likeness. We are many; we are diverse; we are individually gifted with skills, talents and resources.  Pastor Ray Johnston stated we need to be an inspired church, not opinionated stick-in-the-muds.  When we are inspired by the love and grace of God and in unity, pull together our diversity, we become the instruments of life in God’s hands, not an institution locked down like a defensive bunker.  I have heard from several sources within and without the church, we Christians are known for what we are against.  So whether we are conservatives or liberals, Republicans or Democrats, Dodger Fans or Giants Faithful, it is time we rise together and with our lives in unity make a difference in our communities by living out who we are for, the One True God, Jesus Christ our Lord.  

            We start with one another at GateWay.  We start with our Oikos Cards.  We start by joining a Connect Small Group.  We start by making a reality our idea that everyone who calls GateWay home is a greeter with a sincere welcome when we are on campus. Welcome home Pastor Ed and Cindy.                                                                                         

Shalom

Mike LorahComment
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