Pastor John Kim was finishing up the hour of Sunday school that preceded the service: "Why do people turn to drugs and other things? They need something to help them deal with the realities of life.... Where do you find hope? In the character of God." He listed qualities of that character: God is immutable, omnipotent, omniscient, holy, just, merciful, and loving. "And it is in this love that I am secure -- Romans 8:38--39." The service began with assistant pastor Patrick Cho alone on stage, playing an acoustic guitar and singing. "Only the blood of Jesus covers all of my sins/ Only the life of Jesus renews me from within." Then Steve Kim took the stage and welcomed newcomers by name before the congregants took time to greet one another.
All stood for the Gospel reading, taken from John, in which Christ named himself the Good Shepherd. "I know my sheep, and my sheep know me," and in which he answered the Jews who questioned him by saying that "you do not believe, because you are not of my sheep." Then prayer, then songs (a band accompanying Cho this time), and then communion.
Pastor Kim had just returned from a "Reformation tour" in Europe, visiting significant sites from the Protestant Reformation. Before communion, Kim advised against receiving unworthily. He praised the Reformers for rejecting the Roman Catholic notion that "the bread and the cup become the actual body and blood of Christ," but still, he said, "we need to examine our hearts" before the "celebration of the sacrifice of Christ.... Can you in good conscience say that you are celebrating communion in a way that glorifies God...or are you living in deliberate sin?... Communion is a good time for confession. Do not take the Lord's table in an unworthy manner. You would eat and drink judgment to yourself."
He asked non-Christians "to respectfully decline from taking communion because you honestly can't celebrate a relationship that isn't there. But that doesn't mean that you can't enter into a relationship." On his tour, he had been reminded of the "great truths" the Reformers proclaimed: " solus Christus : only through Christ can we receive salvation, and it is by grace alone, sola gratia , faith alone, sola fide , that you can be saved.... How do we know this? God's holy word alone -- sola scriptura -- provides the authoritative and sufficient basis for these truths. For what purpose? Soli Deo gloria -- for the Glory of God alone."
After receiving, the congregation stood and sang "My Jesus I Love You" in four-part harmony: "I love Thee because Thou hast first loved me/And purchased my pardon on Calvary's tree."
Kim's sermon began with thanks for "Your precious word...not the words of men, but it is Your truth that sets us free.... The first point for today is that Jesus is the voice of truth." Kim railed against a Christian author's claim to be "too humble to say what the Bible means by what it says," and that theology "must be a humble attempt to hear God." "Whose humble attempt?" he asked. "If we can't say anything with certainty...where does that leave us? Nowhere!... Jesus says, I am the way, the truth, and the life.... These are certain words."
Why do people, then, reject those words? "Because there is no relationship with Jesus. 'You do not believe because you are not of my sheep.' They simply reject the truth. Why do people reject the truth? Turn to John 3. 'The light has come into the world and men love the darkness rather than the light, for their deeds are evil.' If you belong to Christ, you will hear and believe. There's more than enough proof.... The issue is the relationship. Do you want to submit your life to the shepherd?... If you're not one of His sheep, you are resigned to eternal condemnation."
Kim concluded with Christ's assurance that His sheep are in His grip: "Martin Luther was gripped by the fact that he had total uncertainty as to his future. There was no guarantee that he could ever get into heaven.... Based on his own merit, he would never be able to be justified before God. But then Jesus comes and says, 'Trust in me...and I will save you.' We are in the grip of the Son and no one can snatch us out of His hand.... There is clear certainty and authority that comes in that. If I am in Christ...I am secure.... This is what I went back to to find hope."
What happens when we die?
"If you know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior," says Kim, "you go immediately to heaven. You're no longer going to have any dealings with your sinfulness. You'll be perfect, and you'll live with Christ forever."
3554 Ruffin Road, Kearny Mesa
Founded locally: planted in July 1998, inaugurated May 1999
Senior pastor: John Kim
Congregation size: around 200
Staff size: 3
Sunday school enrollment: adults, 100; children, 20
Annual budget: n/a
Weekly giving: n/a
Singles program: yes
Dress: lots of jeans and polo shirts, some button-downs
Diversity: mostly Asian American, some Caucasian
Sunday worship: 8:30 a.m., 10:15 a.m.
Length of reviewed service: 2 hours, 15 minutes