Thursday, April 24, 2008

Layers Of Goo And The Spirit Of Religion

Although, I usually find myself working in an environment with A/C, desks, and computers, right now I am working on a job that is quite different. I am currently working in a hot warehouse, utilizing tools very different than a computer keyboard. I'm working right now on an industrial grinder. A very, greasy, grimy, dirty, industrial grinder. Layer upon layer of oil, dirt, and goo. The idea is to take it completely apart, clean it up, update its parts, and then put it back together. The finished product will actually be better than when the machine was brand new.

Anyways, while working on the machine this week, I got to thinking. I starting thinking how, the spirit of religion and this multi-layer of goo is not all that different. I'm not sure how long that machine was in operation, but I am certain it's been a good little while. Slowly but surely over time the oil, dirt, and goo built up making the actual machine look very different than when it was brand new.

In the same way, religion can do the same with us if we are not careful. Prior to salvation, the enemy will stop at nothing to prevent us from becoming a believer. However, after salvation, I think his strategy changes to one of deceiving us with religious ideas that sound good but are far from scriptural. Slowly, but surely these lies begin to mount up. Layer upon layer, just like the goo on the machine, this religious goo builds up making it very difficult to remember what the original looked like.

Let me clarify by giving a couple of examples. In the beginning, we understand salvation is not of works but a result of grace. But, somewhere along the way we often get this mindset that salvation is maintained by works. Yep, its a layer of goo. Or, check out this one. We get saved, again by God's grace, and are doing good at living a godly life so we put ourselves on a petty-stool having "earned" a position a bit higher than others. Goo! Then there's the attitude that because our church's doctrine or theology is right, all other's don't quite match up. Again, just goo. Can you see how far off we can get? And to think it all starts with just one little layer.

This past week, I've been up to my neck in dirty, oily, goo. But it doesn't come close to the thick religious goo I've been acquainted with over the course of my life. The goo this week came off with some Gojo, Lava soap, and a bit of elbow grease. Unfortunately, religious goo doesn't come off that easy. For some it takes years, and for others it never comes off. We need to constantly pray that God open our eyes to religious mind sets and ideals that didn't come from Him. And then, we must be willing to allow Him to use some Holy Spirit Gojo and wash that religious goo off.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Jesus Showed Up This Sunday

Sunday, was a bit different this past week. Sure, we had our usual service with all the normal elements. Welcome, worship, prayer for the sick, announcements, offering, and of course that powerful word of God from that awesome preacher guy (or maybe I should say that powerful word of God despite that preacher guy.) So many times we have our services and we try and gauge whether or not Jesus showed up. In order to do that we use all types of variables to qualify the service as a bona-fide "Jesus showed up" church service. Was there intense worship? Were people's emotions stirred? Was the preacher truly "anointed" today? Were people's lives radically changed? Was the altar full? Did the service last till 2? Well, I don't think any were true of Westlake this week. I just wonder if God uses the same barometer? Somehow, I don't think He does.

Scripture tells us that when there are two or more walking in agreement and gathered together in His name there He is in the midst of them. I think sometimes as believers we are way too focused on the extravagant and elaborate as a place to find God's presence. And in doing so, we often miss Him in the simple and practical. Remember, Elijah didn't find Him in the loud and boisterous wind. He wasn't in the earthquake and He wasn't in the fire. No, God showed up in the plain and simple. No huge fanfare. No earthshaking event. Just a simple, still, small voice. In saying that, I'm not saying God doesn't show up in a grand, loud, emotionally charged environment. Just that he shows up, like His Word says, when two or more are in agreement and gathered in His name.

Using that as the barometer, I can say without a doubt, Jesus was at Westlake on Sunday. Following our normal service, we gathered together for lunch and the fellowship was great. It felt like a family. Kind of the way church should feel. It is awesome to see people connecting with one another and genuinely loving one another. But, our Sunday didn't end there. Following lunch, many of us headed to a widow's house to clean, paint, mow, and do whatever else she needed done around the house. I have served in churches my whole life and I can rarely remember an event or outreach that wasn't accompanied by complaining and bad attitudes. Now, perhaps there were some on Sunday, but I didn't see any. As a matter of fact the only complaints I heard were from those who were so eager to work, having trouble finding something to do once they had completed their tasks.

I saw a leader in the church take time to show two young boys how to paint. I saw single moms who no doubt have plenty going on in their lives, giving up several hours on their day off to help someone else. I saw people from every stage of life, single ladies, single men, married couples, families, children, teens all rolling up their sleeves and just doing whatever needed to be done. It was truly an awesome sight. As I sat back and took it all in, I couldn't help but see the resemblance of Jesus in each and every one.

Yep, Jesus showed up at Westlake Sunday, but it wasn't in all the hoopla. He was in the simple and practical. He was in the conversation I had with the catholic brother at lunch. He was in the young man who has only been to Westlake for three weeks, who helped me set up chairs for lunch. He was in the love one of our leaders showed to an unwed mother who just received a bad report from the doctors concerning her infant. And He was in the act of love we did for our widow.

Truth is, Jesus shows up every time we gather. Whether its Sunday morning, our home groups during the week, or our labors of love. Chances are you'll miss him though if you're only looking for him in the spectacular. The Pharisees missed him because he came in a way they didn't expect him to. Look in the simple and practical. As a matter of fact, look for him in the way you live and relate to others. You may have to make some changes to see him that way, but trust me, it is possible for Jesus to show up this Sunday because you walked into the place.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

What Kind Of Church Do You Like?

Have you ever wondered why there are so many different types of churches? I mean let's face it there are churches that meet just about everybody right where they are. You've got reserved churches, radical churches, quiet churches, loud churches, clapping churches, dancing churches, and hanging from the chandelier churches. There's denominational churches, non-denominational churches, and inter-denominational churches. There's the up and coming churches, the been here a while churches, and the been here forever churches. You have cowboy churches, inner-city churches, community churches, suburban churches, and back in the sticks churches. There's mega-churches, big churches, medium size churches, small churches, and mega-small churches. There's multi-ethnic churches and single-ethnic churches. There's liturgical churches, a little less liturgical churches, and not at all liturgical churches. I think I could go on for quite a while but, I'll stop here.

What's with all the different types of churches? There's a couple of different ways to look at this and I think we have to be very careful that we don't step over into an area of judgment, because someone worships a bit different than we do. Do you remember growing up and liking a different style of music than your parents? They couldn't understand why you liked your style you couldn't understand why they liked their style. Now, there are times when rebellion plays a part in something like this, but I know for me personally, and many others will relate to this, that was never the case when it came to the style of music I liked. My dad was a hard-core country music lover. I'm talking Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Kitty Wells, Grand Ole Opry stuff. Me on the other hand, leaned more toward electric guitar driven rock. Groups like Journey, U2, Petra, and Whiteheart. Believe it or not, we lived in the same house and managed to make it through without bashing each other's music too bad.

Here's the point, my music taste had nothing driving it but the fact that I enjoyed a specific style. There wasn't some dark force leading me away from my Dad's music heritage. It was simply a difference in musical taste. I like to think that it is the way God wired me. Isn't it amazing how God chooses to uniquely design each one of us? There's country boys, hard rockers, easy listening, Bach & Beethoven, jazz, etc. A little side note here, there is a lot of music out there that is absolute garbage, and not allowing your children to listen to it, is completely appropriate. Just make sure that its a content thing rather than a style thing. That's a complete different topic, so that's all I'll say for now.

What does all this have to do with churches? Trust me, I'm going somewhere with this. Those of us who are believers, have a specific way we like to do church. We find comfort in a specific style and there we feel at home. It is a tragedy though when we believe that our "style" of church is better than someone else's "style" of church. Now, I'm not heading into some "new-age" way of thinking where I believe every place that calls itself a church is actually scripturally sound and connected to the global body of Christ. I'm talking about churches here, that proclaim Jesus is Lord, teach that He's the only way to the Father, and that salvation comes through believing in Him. I'm talking about churches founded on the Word of God, and not some other written work of man. Believe it or not, that is still a broad, broad group of churches.

Could it be that the driving force behind all of these different styles of churches is a heavenly Father who is determined to reach as many of His children as he possibly can? Could it be that he has created a massive net and is casting it to catch every culture and sub-culture he possibly can? Think about it. Is it possible that God raises a young person up in an inner-city environment and later in life calls that person back to pastor an inner-city church in an effort to reach as many inner-city dwellers as possible? Is it possible that God creates some artsy, over the top emotionally driven person to pastor because he'll reach people that some reserved, "never let em see you sweat" pastor never could? Is it possible that God raises some person in a traditional liturgical church and then calls him to pastor the same type of church because, there are many who could be reached here who would never step foot into some "bouncing off the walls" charismatic church.

I remember when God began to deal with me about planting a new church. I had been raised in church my whole life and for the most part had been a part of churches that were of the same vein. As I began to seek the heart of God, and dig through scripture, God began to show me what Westlake Fellowship would look like. It would be different than any church I had been a part of. Not a great deal different, but different nonetheless. That's not a knock on any church I have been a part of. It's just the way God wired me. Remember my dad's country music? I can still appreciate his style and taste in music, while being true to who I am. In the same way, I can appreciate the different styles of worship that churches choose, while remaining true to who I am. God designed me to pastor a specific kind of church , to reach a group of people, in a specific community. Being confident in that, makes it very easy to rejoice when churches around me are effectively reaching people with the gospel.

I believe that God is a master fisherman and He'll stop at nothing to reach us. I believe that God uses all kinds of styles to reach all kinds of people. Let's be careful not to criticize some church down the road because their "style" of worship differs from ours. Let's learn how to appreciate the things that make us unique rather than boasting about how our way is right. And would it be too much to ask that we begin praying for those other churches, that God use them to reach those we can't?. I really believe that when we start thinking like this and start praying like this, we are one step closer to fulfilling Jesus' prayer for us to become one.

Friday, April 4, 2008


I was going through one of my never ending piles of stuff today. You know those things that you set down and think I'll get to that as soon as I can. Of course, you never do, so that pile grows until it gets moved to another location so another pile can start. It's a cycle that never seems to end. Then, you start hunting for something and in the middle of "stuff" that should have been thrown away weeks, or maybe months ago, and you find what you're looking for.

Perhaps, you are extremely organized and can in no way relate to what I'm saying. I know there are those of you who fit into that category, but I don't. Anyways, it got me to thinking about "stuff." Most of us, even if we don't do the pile thing, have "stuff" around our house that no longer serves any purpose. Perhaps, it's in the garage, or the attic, or in the closet, or under our bed. Or, you may have a storage facility somewhere that is making money off of you while you hold on to "stuff" you no longer utilize.

If you are at all like me, you have clothes in your closet that you haven't worn in who knows how long. I personally have clothes that I am determined to fit back into some day when I lose a few pounds. Of course, my wife says she'll splurge for some new clothes should that day arrive since those clothes in the closet are a bit shall we say, "80s." And no, they aren't parachute pants. They are Bugleboy pleated blue jeans.

Enough about me. The point is that we all have "stuff" we are holding onto for whatever reason. Sure, there are those family heirlooms and other things of sentimental value, but then there's all that other "stuff." I'm just wondering what it is that makes us want to hold onto things that are doing nothing for us anymore, but take up space somewhere. Imagine how many needy people those extra clothes in our closets would clothe. Or, how much money we could make on ebay if we just sat down one Sat. and started listing some of our "stuff." Or, how many unfortunate kids would go ballistic over some toy our kids have long forgotten they had. I'm not talking about junk here. Junk just needs to be tossed, but there are those things in our possession that we no longer use that someone else would treasure. Maybe its just me, but I think we could make a difference in peoples lives with just a few things we have sitting around the house.

Scripture tells us that we reap what we sow. I truly believe that when we learn to release our "stuff," it does something in the heavenlies and allows God to release His stuff. And believe me, His "stuff" is much better than our "stuff."