"Wholehearted" was the first thing that came to mind when I sat down to think about Lighthouse Baptist. "Done up right proper" was the second. Everything about the place invited the idiom: the proper orchestra (violins, bass, tuba, tympani, trombones, piano, synth); the proper choir (singing both complex choral arrangements and booming, rousing, traditional hymns); and the proper parade of associate pastors and other officials in suits, striding one by one to the podium to make their respective announcements (visitor welcome, congregational construction projects, meals for the military, etc.). All under a properly massive ceiling, curving in and up along the great, bent beams. The only tentative moment came when a trio of girls sidled up to a challenging harmony during their vocal performance: "In the presence of Jehovah/ God Almighty, Prince of peace/ Troubles vanish, hearts are mended/ In the presence of the King." One assistant pastor led the opening prayer, which included the following: "We pray that you continue to supply us with great preaching, that this morning, you would challenge our hearts so that we walk out of here looking more like Jesus than when we came in." He got what he asked for in the "challenge our hearts" department, as associate pastor Gil Torres threw himself into the sermon with a kind of effortless passion and intensity. As he spoke, he wandered about the stage.
Torres began with Acts, in which Christians were referred to as being "in this way."
"Why? Because they're different. They walk different...they're going against the current.... We respond differently when things happen."
But before describing that response, Torres backed way up and cited Proverbs: "Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life." "One of the things that truly distinguishes us is the heart being protected.... Some people here don't realize how complex this is.... There are certain things that you have to put into practice."
He turned to Psalm 32: "I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go." "We've got to trust God...with everything:" spouse, kids, job, ministry, flesh, health, mind, "everything that encompasses who I am.... When I trust you, it means I'm allowing you to decide what I'm going to do. 'How should I respond when this happens, God?'" Torres's voice trembled. "There's going to be something totally different about me, because I'm trusting you."
Trusting God, said Torres, allows us to listen to God and tune out the world. "Some of you right now are already tuning out this message," he said, upping the challenge. But, he said, "This is more for me than it is for you. To be honest with you, at the end of the day, I'm concerned with what I'm going to do with this. I'm not thinking about where you're going; I'm thinking about where I'm going."
Tuning out the world is important because "God says, 'Oh, if you would only understand that I cannot work with so much stuff before me! If you would just decide to eliminate that out of your life, I could speak to you! I could do something in your heart" -- Torres's voice was being torn from his throat by now, and an appreciative murmur of "Amen" and "Good!" and "Go on, preacher man" sounded from the congregation -- "and in your soul and in your mind to change your life!" Throughout his sermon, Torres's voice rose to a cry bordering on a scream, and every time, the congregation responded.
Once God has your ear, "your priorities will start to shift, and you'll start to deny yourself" and decide for God. "You'll do things you never imagined," and eventually, you'll receive the wisdom of God "that gives detail, alerts you to danger, and gives direction.... This progresses on to living with a purpose" and concludes with peace. "A guarded heart is at perfect peace! When you're hurt, when somebody dies...you have peace!" And not the peace of the world: "Most of you are after a fragile peace! If you're thinking, 'If you really had peace, you wouldn't be hurting,' you're chasing the wrong peace."
After the sermon came the altar call -- a stream of souls heading to the kneelers, some kneeling on the carpet and pressing their foreheads to the kneeler pad. "If you're not 100 percent sure where you're going if you die tonight, there's no possible way you can have that peace."
What happens when we die?
"It depends on what we do when we live," said Torres. "If we receive Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we go to heaven when we die. If we reject the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior, then we go to an eternal separation from God, which is eternal damnation, which is hell."
1345 Skyline Drive, Lemon Grove
Denomination: Independent Baptist
Founded locally: 1979
Senior pastor: Doug Fisher
Congregation size: 1800--2000
Staff size: 13
Sunday school enrollment: 400--500
Annual budget: n/a
Weekly giving: n/a
Singles program: yes
Dress: semiformal to formal -- plenty of suits and ties
Diversity: very diverse
Sunday worship: 11 a.m., 1:15 p.m (Spanish), 5:30 p.m.
Length of reviewed service: 90 minutes