“Relevant teachings by Pastor Ed Turley,” advertised the Cornerstone Church website. “If you can’t use it on Monday, he won’t say it on Sunday!”
The banners hanging on the walls at the church on Sunday were familiar, each one naming a particular aspect of church life: “Fellowship, Service, Worship, Maturity, Outreach.” Less familiar was the knotted rope hanging from a beam in the ceiling. Curious, until you noticed the stage, where padded weapons rested next to a balance beam. Time for the third installment in Cornerstone’s series on obstacles — as Pastor Turley put it, “things that keep us from having a close relationship with God.” The first two sessions had covered guilt and the needs for spiritual sightseeing “that God wants to do something amazing in your life, and has the power to do that, if we’ll just simply believe in Him.” (During those first two sessions, Turley actually ran the obstacle course.) This week: religion.
But first, the music, raucous and a touch raw, one song charging into another, the band and choir mostly young and amped, with the exception of a middle-aged guy, smoothing things over with his electric guitar. The hymns strayed from the standard pop-worship repertoire, sometimes venturing into sensuous territory: “I feel I’m moving to the rhythm of Your grace/ Your fragrance is intoxicating in the secret place... Spread wide in the arms of Christ/ there’s a love that covers sin...”
Others stuck to more familiar themes: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom/ Or let the strong man boast in his strength/ Let not the rich man boast in his riches/ But let the humble come and give thanks.” Because, as Turley noted in his opening prayer, “there’s nothing we can do to earn Your approval. Forgive us when we think that somehow we need to, and we cheapen Your grace.” This was the ultimate problem with religion, the way it could become an obstacle. In his sermon, Turley put it this way: “Religion is all about, ‘I’ve got to do something.’ It’s all about man trying to reach up and somehow make God like him more, when the truth of it is, we’re all sinners.”
He recalled attending Mass with his Catholic stepsister back in high school and wearing a St. Christopher medal, “hoping that this was going to help.” But, he said, “Nothing we can do can measure up to God’s holy and righteous standard. But with Jesus, it’s done.” He walked slowly to the cross at the right side of the stage and rested his hand upon it. “If the cross isn’t enough, if I have to do something, then I just cheapened the cross. Salvation is all about: by God’s grace — unmerited love — through faith — trust in God — for works — what God has planned for us to do.”
Turley cited an article by Paul Tripp that outlined four particular ways that religion can get in the way of God: formalism (“I participate in regular meetings and ministries”), legalism (“I live by the rules”), mysticism (pursuit of emotional experiences with God), and activism (“I am passionately involved in fixing this broken world”). “Make an inventory of your own heart,” he exhorted the congregation. “I want you to take this personally today. Try to see what it is that you kind of push in front of God sometimes.”
To illustrate, Turley hauled a fishing pole and cooler up onto the stage. “I love fishing. Could this take its place in front of God? It could.” Then he slipped into a story about a man who invited Jesus into his home but wouldn’t let Him investigate the rotten smell coming from one particular closet. That led to a story of his own, one about a bag of yellowfin tuna that slipped out of his freezer and stank up his garage. By the time he got to “Day 10,” the congregation was laughing and groaning in equal measure. Then he moved back to the Jesus story: “Jesus said, ‘I can’t live here with this smell.’” The man surrendered, and “through the power of Christ, he started cleaning his closet.”
After the service, a congregant approached Turley and asked about church-run recovery programs. “Right now, I’m just going to AA...” He immediately left to fetch some material on Celebrate Recovery. “It’s like a 12-step program,” he advised, “but it’s Bible-centered. I’m really proud of you — you’re seeking help, and that’s really the first step.”
What happens when we die?
“We have a face-to-face interview with God,” said Turley. “The entrance exam is simple: what have we done with Christ? He’s either your Savior or He’s not. God’s desire is that none would perish, but all would come to repentance. God has provided the way of salvation through Christ and Christ alone.”
13617 Midland Road, Poway
Founded locally: 1950
Senior pastor: Ed Turley
Congregation size: 250
Staff size: 2 full-time, 2 part-time
Sunday school enrollment: 170 (including high school)
Annual budget: n/a
Weekly giving: n/a
Singles program: no
Dress: casual to semiformal
Diversity: majority Caucasian, but diverse
Sunday worship: 9 a.m., 10:30 a.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour