"Come, now is the time to worship," crooned the praise leader to the congregation. Then he turned his call to heaven: "Come, Lord Jesus, come." Then back to the people: "Let the pain and the sorrow be washed away...as deep cries out to deep." I visited Horizon Christian Fellowship because of their participation in a worldwide week of prayer and fasting, beginning February 5. "Fasting," read the handout available in the foyer, "is a spiritual discipline that causes one to dissociate him or herself from the natural desires of the flesh, and affords us an opportunity to focus our attention on seeking God's direction for our lives...." Every night, participants gather in their respective churches -- "connected via high-bandwidth Internet video" -- to pray. During the service, Pastor Mike MacIntosh called it "a great spark.... It's just wonderful to hear reports come in through the Internet. Thousands and thousands have joined together."
But the Web can help create other sorts of communities, warned MacIntosh. The sermon treated John chapter 10, wherein Jesus calls himself "the good shepherd." "Now, if there is a good shepherd, there must be a bad shepherd. You've already learned that in John's gospel; he's always contrasting." A congregant had sent him a link to a website with people "filming themselves blaspheming the Holy Spirit, denouncing God the Father and God the Son, and giving their souls to the devil on camera -- most of them young, thinking it's a fun thing.... The Psalms say that hell does enlarge herself daily.... The devil wants to drag you down into the pit of hell.... He wants to steal any good attribute that could possibly be in your life."
In contrast to the devil's malevolence, "there are so many wonderful attributes of the good shepherd that people just walk by...because they've taken it so far out of context.... It all boils down to when you die...you have to have your heart right with the good shepherd.... When death appears, that's the time you need the shepherd more than ever. We're all going to be there." Further, Jesus said that "I am the door...if any man shall enter in, he shall be saved and find pasture.... If God is going to take care of you for eternity, then it's his responsibility to take care of you in 2007."
MacIntosh asked the congregation to stand and read Psalm 23 aloud. "I want you to go back 750 years, before Jesus ever said that He was the good shepherd, and realize how King David had seen Jesus, and he knew. 'The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures.... Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.... Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.'
"Jesus comes with a single focus in mind for you," concluded MacIntosh, "to bring life and to bring life more abundantly. Do you really have abundant life? Does your life overflow with the fruit of the Holy Spirit? Or do you feel like you're being robbed of your energy? Do you feel like you're dying -- something is just stabbing your heart, your guts are being wrenched? Well, then, you don't have abundant life.... 'My sheep hear my voice.' Can you hear Him this morning? Do you know Him? Are you following Him? 'If you are truly my disciple, continue in my word.'"
The congregation took communion, "an opportunity for your spirit to be revived in His presence and for your soul to remember." Communion "stops us, and the Holy Spirit searches us and allows us to confess our sins. If you're not a believer, or if you're living in some blatant sin and you're not willing to repent, you do not want to take communion. The apostle Paul said, 'You do eat and drink damnation unto your own soul, because you don't rightly discern the Lord's body.'"
What happens when we die?
"According to the Bible," said MacIntosh, "there's a place called Sheol -- we call it hell -- that's in the center of the earth.... The Bible says it was made for Satan and his angels. Heaven was designed for mankind, but then, when man sinned and turned from God -- heaven would have been hell to someone if they didn't like God. So, being fair and righteous, He lets them go there.... On the other side, the Bible says, 'Believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead and confess with your lips that He is Lord, and you shall be saved.' It's a narrow road and a disciplined life.... For those that put our faith in Him, as the good shepherd, He leads us to His Father. What heaven looks like, I don't know."
5331 Mount Alifan Drive, Clairemont
Founded locally: 1974
Senior pastor: Mike MacIntosh
Congregation size: 3000
Staff size: around 12
Sunday school enrollment: 650
Annual budget: n/a
Weekly giving: n/a
Singles program: yes
Dress: casual to dressy
Sunday worship: 8:30 a.m., 11 a.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour, 30 minutes