Open Doors

This past weekend, as I got out of my car to see a mosquito trying to get out. I left the door open for a minute to let it fly away. No matter how long I waited with the door open, it insisted on trying to fly through the closed window. It ignored the fact that the door was wide open providing escape, and instead kept smacking itself into the side window. Finally, I turned my car back on, rolled down the window, and the mosquito left. (A lot of effort for a common pest) I rolled my eyes and closed the door, not thinking much of it at the time.

Later in my day, a thought finally hit me. How many times am I so focused on my own plans, that I ignore the wide-open door that God has for me? For many of us who believe in Christ, we try to do our best with our eyes are set on Christ and what we can do to serve His Kingdom. Most of us don’t have bad intentions in our actions and dreams and yet sometimes it seems like we hit a brick wall. We often begin to stumble and panic at this immovable force. Just like the mosquito, we can see our goal on the other side. But, rather than look around, we fluster and try to force our way through an obstacle when God has another plan.

It’s hard for us to want to look around. We are so desperate (and often impatient) that we squirm and fight anything keeping us from our goal. Sometimes we get through, but many times we face hurt and frustration in the process. We cry out in confusion and frustration to God, asking us to help us. We may wonder if God has brought us to this point just to leave us to our own devices. Even the great Moses struggled with this. In Exodus chapter 5 early on in Moses’ story, God has sent him to free Israel from Egypt. But instead, Pharaoh increased their labor and made it harder on Israel so that the people turned against Moses. In frustration, Moses cried out to God “Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.” In the middle of the path God has laid out it can be difficult to see the end. Moses, like the mosquito, saw what God wanted to do through the glass, and yet he did not understand that there was a longer road to fulfil God’s purpose. What would it be like to travel back in time to Moses, at this moment… and tell him of the wonders God was going to do through him? Pillars of fire, parted seas, and mana from heaven… would you believe it? God may give you a clear goal, but sometimes a different path to get there that is far beyond what you could expect. He will open the door for us to achieve His goals, we have but to be surrendered to Him and open to his leading instead of set in our own ways.  

This week, if you are feeling like that mosquito-like you are hitting a wall and can’t understand why you can’t get to your goals I challenge you to look around and see what doors God might be opening up for you to achieve His goals. He may be helping you in ways you would have never suspected.

Ian Jeffries

Ian Jeffries currently serves on staff as the Youth intern at Westside Christian Church. Say hi to Ian on Sunday

The Sighting

On January 22, 2019 the first day of the semester at Sacramento State University, I was walking from the parking garage to my office before my first class. It wasn’t raining. It was beautiful. Sunlight was waking. The chaos had not yet begun.

Walking my usual path into the central part of campus, I catch the movement of something to my right. I turn. About 9 feet away is a coyote, walking slowly, just barley off the concrete path, in the opposite direction. I blink. He is still there. He is still a coyote, not a dog, not an apparition. He is lovely, not frightened nor hurried.

Although there are several students also walking along the same path, they do not notice him. They are plugged in elsewhere. I stop and stare at the coyote. I turn around and walk slowly in the direction he is traveling, staying parallel to him. Then a student comes up beside me and also notices him. The student and I lock eyes,

The young man whispers to me, “that’s a coyote.”

“I know. He’s beautiful” I say.

We smile, as if we have just discovered an elusive treasure.

This coyote does not look like the ones I have seen many times before from afar, usually surprised or hurried. He is very close and in a different, almost surreal, context. He stops. I stop. He looks at me for a fleeting moment—no fear, no signs of aggression. He allows me to study him momentarily and then walks off.

To say the least, this encounter made my day! And, fortunately, by the afternoon, there were videos of the coyote posted to reassure me that I was still sane—at least early in the semester, anyway.

Now, ironically, that morning on my way to work, I had prayed, “Lord, help me to see what you see.” I was not expecting a coyote. Perhaps the Lord knew I needed a distraction, something to observe outside of myself. God is full of surprises.

What the coyote encounter made me think of is how we observe our surroundings and our circumstances. Sometimes we see God in the details. Sometimes we do not. What we see depends on our focus. The Holy Spirit cannot reveal spiritual truths or simple wonders to us when we are preoccupied with our own self reflections, when we see life in a mirror, instead of through God’s window.

At His last supper with His disciples, Jesus saw what the disciples could not. He saw those who loved Him, the one who would later that evening deny Him, and, of course, the one who would betray Him. Jesus set aside his very real and personal fears of impending torture and death to prepare His followers, His friends, His heirs, present and future, for His departure from this earth. He bequeathed to them, and thus, us, a very personal gift, more precious than our Mother’s pearls or our Father’s truck. He gave us a symbolic ritual, Communion, an act that would tangibly remind us of His sacrifice and love, remind us that He would still live in and through us. Moreover, He promised to send us a divine counselor, the Holy Spirit, someone to guide and refocus us when we are distracted, troubled or consumed by challenges and trials.

Jesus is never far away, His Love sacrifice is with us always. And he wants to reveal Himself to us if we but ask to see what He sees. If we set aside our own understanding and cry out for His deeper wisdom and insight, for His Holy Spirit. Whether it is a coyote sighting, a divine healing, or the tenderness of Love for a stranger, we do not need to go far to experience His extraordinary wonders, to know our Savior, our living God, and His will for each of us.

Lori Neuffer is a professor at Sacramento State University and a member of Westside Christian Church. Lori currently serves on our communion devotional team and as a member of our Celebrate Recovery Leadership team.

Coffee Stains

One day while setting up the chairs in the church auditorium I took note of some of the stains in the carpet. Whenever we see a new stain it always comes up as a topic of conversation in staff meeting. At times it has been debated weather we should ban coffee from the auditorium altogether. The conversation of stewardship and caring for what God has given to us inevitably ends in a decision to keep the coffee in favor of maintaining a welcoming place of worship. As caretakers of the church building, at times spills and mistakes can become an irritation. After all, we are all adults… how is it possible that we have so many spills? How many times will we have to clean these carpets? But this afternoon I came across one stain in the carpet belonging to my son. I recalled the Easter event where we let the kids play with dyed eggs. Who would have thought that old Easter eggs still had pockets of dye in them?

Looking around I saw other stains and I began to think about the people who regularly sat there. Perhaps the stains belonged to those individuals. Maybe they were left by a guest or maybe a person no longer at our church, I don’t really know where each of the stains came from. But all of them got there because of us… the human element. The carpet that had once been brand-new now was full of visible signs of our mistakes. The carpets are cleaned a couple times a year but some of the stains just do not come out.

This day I was grateful for the stains. Some might just see the mess, but I see the place where my family gathers. Where all of us with our spills and mistakes get to come together and worship Jesus. This is the home of Westside Christian church where the redeemed gather every Sunday to worship together, take communion together, and seek the Lord in His Word together. I love the people here and I would never turn any of them away over spilled coffee. Today I am reminded that Jesus does not bar those who are stained, he does not turn us away because of the mess we bring in, He just wants us to come! I love the words of Revelation 22:17 “the spirit and the bride say, “come!” Let the one who is thirsty come, and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.” These words in the final chapter of Gods word reveal the heart of our most high God, the lover of our souls. He tells us to simply come. These words in Revelation fulfill God’s promise in Isaiah 55 to come and buy without cost. We can do this today because Jesus has paid our cost so that we might return to the way God intended in the garden. In the beginning, God gave Adam and Eve the garden and told them to eat of it. Free and without cost to experience the richness of His creation. God delights in lavishing his love and because of Christ, we have a way back to that love. In John 14 Jesus promises that when we come and put our trust in him, He will make his home in us, stains and all. What is even more amazing is because of Christ in us, the father does not even see our stains. They are removed as far as the east is from the west. I Love the lyric in the song by casting crowns song that says “how far the east is from the west…from one scarred hand to the other” showing us that Jesus embraces us… sin and all in those scared hands. This is not to say we now have a license to sin. And in the same way I would not expect to see anyone in our church intentionally pour a cup of coffee on the floor to test our resilience, so we do not continually labor in sin to abuse the work of Jesus. Not because anything we do could mar his work or take it away, but because as we gaze into Jesus and see the beauty of his work, we are swept up in it. Transformed and made more and more into his likeness so that when the heavenly Father looks on us; it is as if the father looks on a masterpiece, like the Sistine Chapel, or Buckingham Palace. Because when he looks at us, he sees Christ. When I think now on those stains, I am reminded of the scars that paid for them. Sin no longer holds shame and regret, all my past stains are a reminder of the beautiful scars that paid for them, the joy set before me and the reason I praise the name of Jesus.

Thomas Hartung

Pastor of Worship and media arts

Reflections of a child of God

When we think about the birth of a child, we get a sense of pure amazing love that fills us up as we look into the precious face of our little one. We find it pure joy to watch them as they grow and learn. They begin to coo and smile, then comes laughter and interactions. We watch in anticipation as they begin to crawl and then walk and start to talk. Each milestone is exciting and we document it with pictures and videos. We can’t help ourselves in sharing it all with the people in our lives. As they become more independent they begin to make their own choices, be they good or bad. We set boundaries and teach them right from wrong in hopes that they will make “good choices” as they continue to grow and learn. We discipline them to cause them to think about the choices they make. Sometimes they learn and other times they do what they want to do regardless of the consequences. We try to spare them the same mistakes we have made with our own lives. But ultimately, it is a choice that each of us has to make for ourselves.

Such is the love of our Father in heaven. He looks upon his children in our infancy with a love which is steadfast and enduring. He finds it pure joy to watch us as we grow in faith and in his spirit. He smiles as we begin to interact with him. He watches with anticipation as we take steps toward him and learn from his word. In each milestone, he takes us to another level of faith. He allows us to make our own choices, be they good or bad. He also lets us suffer the consequences to teach us right from wrong. He wants us to let him lead us through his holy spirit so we will hold on to the hope he has promised. We each have a choice to let him lead us. When we accept him into our lives, we become his precious children.  We as children then feel a need to share his love with everyone, just as he commands it.

Hosea 14:4 The LORD says, “Then I will heal you of your faithlessness; my love will know no bounds, for my anger will be gone forever.”

In reflecting on this amazing truth, I recall how I was rebellious in my youth and I made a lot of bad choices. In The same way, parents sometimes must endure the choices of their children, God let me make those wrong choices and learn from them. And even though it hurt God to watch me make them, when I asked for his forgiveness, God embraced me with His eternal love and has forgiven me. I have to admit that I don’t always surrender to His will but through his Holy Spirit, He is teaching me how to surrender more and more. I know he will never leave me and nothing can separate me from his love. He has given me peace and hope for the future. I want others to know what I know. God loves us and wants to have a relationship with us. He is waiting at the door. Will you let your Father come in and embrace you? It’s really very simple, “just open the door”! He will do the rest!

Romans 8:14-17 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “ Abba! Father!”

Karen Ingram

Karen Ingram is a member of Westside Christian Church who serves on our first touch team and as a leader in our Celebrate Recovery at Westside. 

The Power of a Personal Invitation

Hey Westside, Pastor Nathan here writing to you today about our vision for 2019.  Last Sunday, at the State of the Church meeting, I shared an idea that God has been working on my heart for several months now.  It’s “The Power of A Personal Invitation.”
It all started over a year ago when my then 12-year-old son was getting plugged into the Student Ministry program here at WCC.  For a young 6th grader, youth group can be a little intimidating…especially when there aren’t very many Junior High students like him in the program.

So one day, he invites a buddy from his public school to join him and we start taking him down the hill from our house on Wednesday nights to youth group. My son’s buddy really likes his experience there and begins to ask his mother to take him to church service on Sundays.  Pretty soon, his mom is liking what she’s experiencing and decides to invite her parents to attend. A few months go by and the parents are liking what they are experiencing and so they invite a couple of their best friends to a weekend service.

 You guessed it, they liked what they were experiencing and so they in turn, after a few months, invite some of their friends to attend.  So about 18 months later, 8 people show up on a Sunday morning for worship all because a 12-year-old invited his buddy to go to youth group. Now, I’ll admit this is not the norm…but what if it could be?  What if that’s how it’s supposed to be?  What if that is how God designed His church to grow?  By the personal invitation of another.  With all our amazing marketing and social media and print advertising that we can produce, nothing is more powerful or effective than the personal invitation.  There is power there…not to manipulate or cajole people.  But to invite them into something bigger than themselves.  To invite them into an experience with God, unlike anything they’ve experienced before.  I think most Christians today don’t really know the power they have in their ability to personally invite others to a worship service.  I think we have been so distracted by life and have bought into the lie that we don’t know enough scripture or we fear being rejected or we are simply too busy to invite someone else to go with us.  And in doing so, we have made it about us instead of others.
But the truth is, we are a lot more effective when we personally invite someone to church than we know.  Consider this, in a survey, 50,000 people were asked why they went to church.  2% said because of advertising.  6% said because of pastoral invitation and another 6% because of an evangelistic campaign.  But 86% said they went to church simply because a friend or family member asked them to go.  Armed with this reality, the Church should be inspired to reach out and push past our fears.  And yet only 2% of church people say they invite non-church people to go to church with them. There is a disconnect somewhere.  Of those same church people who were asked if they invited their unchurched friends to go with them, 37% linked their acceptance of Christ to being invited to church themselves and 40% of those who joined a church claimed they first came because a friend invited them.
Church, it’s time to stop making excuses and start inviting with confidence.  The Power Of A Personal Invitation has nothing to do with your ability to know what to say or make the church look good.  It is all about being a conduit of God’s Holy Spirit to be used as an instrument of His grace.  This is not about you, but about the people that God is trying to reach through you.  And that is why I’m challenging you in 2019 to discover the Power Of A Personal Invitation in your life.  There are 3 aspects to a personal invitation that I would like you to prayerfully consider.  First, decide there is something worth inviting too.  So often I hear the excuse, “Well, I just don’t know if my friends will like it.” or “I’m just afraid something will happen and I’ll be embarrassed.”  While those are some realistic concerns, might I suggest that we stop using them as an excuse?  After all, if you attend a church, there must be something of value that it has to offer.  But more than that, this is not about what you can get out of the church but about you being The Church.  If there are some legitimate concerns you have that are keeping you from inviting your friends and family, neighbors and co-workers, speak to a member of your pastoral team to discuss it.  But at the end of the day, the Church, God’s Church, is about Christ and so while we work very hard to be professional and do our very best for God, it is always about Him first and foremost.  There is a place for you at Church and there is a place for the people in your sphere of influence as well.
The second aspect of personal invitation is the friendship factor.  Cold calling is one of the hardest things to do.  But when you have a relationship with someone, you bring instant credibility to whatever you are inviting them into.  I’m not asking you to go door to door of perfect strangers or stand on a soapbox at the local grocery store.  I’m simply asking you to invite those people you already have a relationship with.  And you know what will happen?  9 times out of 10 they will say yes.  Why?  Because they are your friend, they like you and respect you and so when you invite them, they will most likely take you up on that offer.  Don’t discredit or ignore the friendship factor.  After all, we invite people to the movies or to the park or over for dinner all the time.  Why would inviting them to church be any different?
Finally, the third aspect of personal invitation is to “be the ambassador”…and make the effort!  Secretly wishing and hoping they will miraculously show up on a Sunday won’t work.  You must open your mouth and simply say, “would you like to go to church with me on Sunday.”  Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:20, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.”  The context of this verse happens to be centered around Paul’s ministry to the Corinthian church, but it applies to us as well.  If you take the mindset that you are God’s ambassador, that is, God’s representative to the people in your sphere of influence, then that takes away the pressure to make it happen.  Remember, God is at work not only in your life but also the lives of those around you so it’s not up to you to “convert” someone to Christ.  Your responsibility is simply to invite and represent God well.  To be His example.  Not perfect…but redeemed.
So there you have it Church.  God is challenging us to prayerfully consider the Power Of A Personal Invitation in 2019.  Remember, their showing up is between them and God.  Your asking them to join you is between you and God.  Will you be faithful to follow God’s call to reach out to your friends and family?  Will you take the step of faith, pushing aside any fear and doubt, and invite them to go to church with you next Sunday?  Take your cue from a 12-year-old boy and make a difference in someone’s life today!

Pastor Nathan Cherry is the Senior pastor of Westside Christian Church. to learn more about Westside and our staff click here!