"This is one of the best churches that I've ever been to," said congregant John. "It's kind of like God's little secret. If you come here at nine o'clock, you'll see the other room set up just like a regular restaurant." The patrons: homeless souls picked up from downtown and North Park. "We try to treat them like royalty -- 'Whatever you do for the least of these,'" explained Ricky, an assistant to the pastor. "Every week, we pick up about 50 people and bring them here for a big breakfast. We'll have anything from cereal to eggs and toast to pancakes. Then they go through God's Closet" -- a room full of donated clothes, organized by size and style -- and pick an outfit. "Then they attend the service, and they get a sack lunch when they depart."
Potted plants served as the only adornment in the darkened sanctuary/gymnasium. On the stage, four young women joined two male voices, a keyboard, a bass, and a drum set in an extended set of songs centered almost entirely on praise. "We give you praise." "You're worthy of our praise." "Praise the name of Jesus." Then a video profile of Silent Voices, a Chula Vista crisis-pregnancy/post-abortion counseling center. "Silent Voices gives people an alternate way to handle a situation such as this," explained a congregant. "There's no condemnation -- they simply love them."
"We move through the Bible every five years," said Pastor Dave Jones at the sermon's outset. "Right now we're in Psalms. Psalm 77 can be divided right in half; in the first half, the psalmist...is seeing things with a bad attitude.... It shows a despondent believer."
A voice read verses one through ten aloud -- the psalmist crying out to God but finding that "my soul refused to be comforted.... When I remember God, then I am disturbed.... Will the Lord reject forever? Then I said, 'It is my grief that the right hand of the most high has changed.'"
"The truth," said Jones, "is that sometimes you're going to pray, and you're going to feel that God has deserted you. Virginia Tech this week... Today, people are struggling with, 'Why, God?' 'Why my daughter?' 'Why my son?' The truth is...life is not fair. But in this text...a choice is made: 'My soul refused to be comforted.' A fatal flaw... He's wondering, 'God, where are you?' He begins to question God.... I guarantee you: today, there are questions being asked that will never be answered. The caution to you is: don't go there, because you do so to your own grief.... In verse 10, his grief has gone to the point of total despair. When we go there, we start living a dark life."
But after verse 10, the psalmist's attitude shifts, and he finds comfort in meditating on "the deeds of the Lord," his "wonders of old." He sees that "Your way was in the sea...and your footprints may not be known."
"It's all going to depend on attitude," said Jones. "In verse 3, when he remembers God's deeds, he has a bad attitude. In verse 11, he's going to remember God's good works...His acts of love.... It's all going to depend on us...willing to see that God has been here.... A fundamental thing that you and I need to solve in our hearts is this: it's not about us. It's about God. All these unfair, unjust things... It's not so much, 'We didn't' get a fair deal' -- things just happen. Whether you believe in God or not, some bad things are going to happen.... We need to be able to see that God is in this thing. We need to remember His works and remember that history is His story, not ours. We need to hook into what God is doing, and that will change our attitude."
To aid in this, Jones exhorted the congregation to find God's footprints: in creation, where "everything is just right for there to be life." In conscience: "God has written the law in our hearts." In history -- both the world's and our own: "Everyone in this room that's a true believer should have times that God has intervened or spoken to you or been there for you.... We need to know that, to be able to share it with our children: that we have a heritage, that God is alive. He's not dead as the rationalists said, but God is alive and still works today and still does miracles. His footprints may not be seen by others, but we see them!" Applause broke out from the congregation and shouts of "Amen!"
"Remember these words: 'Do not doubt in the darkness what God has shown you in the light.'"
What happens when we die?
"I believe there is a life hereafter," said Jones. "Those people who have trusted in Jesus as their savior will go to heaven, and those who have not will go to hell."
2400 Euclid Avenue, National City
Founded locally: 1980
Senior pastor: Dave Jones
Congregation size: about 250
Staff size: 8
Sunday school enrollment: about 35
Annual budget: n/a
Weekly giving: n/a
Singles program: no
Dress: casual, but some formal
Diversity: very diverse
Sunday worship: 8:30 a.m., 10 a.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour, 30 minutes