Tim Mayfield stood at the pulpit, ringed about with congregants before and musicians behind -- perhaps a hundred choristers fronted by a small orchestra. The organ sounded out, and he led everybody in song: "O perfect redemption, O purchase of blood/ To every believer the promise of God/ The vilest offender who truly believes/ That moment from Jesus a pardon receives." A second song, introduced by a woman who spoke over a softly chanting chorus: "Praise is our constant offering to God. We bring the sacrifice of praise in all circumstances, not because we understand or do not question, but because we trust and obey." Two men took up the melody: "Just praise the Lord/ He can work through those who praise him/ Praise the Lord/ Our God inhabits praise/ Praise the Lord, for those chains that seem to bind you/ Serve only to remind you/ That they drop powerless behind you when you praise Him." The song was a showstopper, with two modulations and layer upon layer of chorus, horns, winds, piano, and drums sounding behind the men's voices. Hearty applause followed.
Mayfield set the scene for the reading from Scripture, describing how Peter, before entering the temple, healed a man lame since birth by commanding, "In the name of Jesus the Nazarene, walk!" A crowd gathered round, and Peter took the opportunity to preach. A younger man took the stage and spoke Peter's part in dramatic fashion, spot-lit and without a script:
"Men of Israel! Why are you amazed at this? As if by our own power or piety we made this man walk? The God...of our fathers has glorified His servant Jesus, the one whom you delivered and disowned.... You disowned the holy and righteous one and asked for a murderer to be granted release.... It is on the basis of faith in the name of Jesus that this man...has been strengthened.... Therefore, repent, and turn to Him, that your sins may be wiped away."
Another hymn, one Pastor Keating used to begin his preaching, standing amid the congregation: "That's, like, my favorite hymn. Of all the names for the Lord...my favorite title is 'Friend of sinners,' because am I the only one whose life is a wreck sometimes?" He raised his hand, and many in the congregation nodded and followed suit.
Keating used Peter's sermon to highlight "five key elements of effective preaching" and relate them to the congregation's preparation for celebrating the Lord's Supper, "a critically important event...an opportunity to remember what the Lord did when His body hung on the cross...to honestly evaluate our lives...to come clean."
The elements: 1. The honoring of Jesus. "Did you come this morning to exalt Him? Did your choices this week exalt and honor the Lord Jesus?" 2. The confrontation of sin. "What have you done? Have you lied, cheated, stolen...been jealous, spiteful, proud, arrogant? Who hasn't? Only a sinner needs a savior." 3. The power of faith. "Do you really believe?" asked Keating, citing the Gospel of John: "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life." "We know that these representations are not His body and blood; they're just bread and juice. But when we understand by faith that the moment we said 'Yes' to the Lord Jesus, we partook of His body. We consumed Him; we took Him in. He became a part of us.... The moment we believed in Him risen from the dead by faith, we drank His blood, if you will. His blood cleansed us -- our insides, our hearts. We were made new; we were forgiven.... At the communion table, we have a chance to say, 'Yes. That reality experienced so many years ago, that's true today.'" 4. The response of repentance. "You've got to change your mind. This table will do nothing for you if you're not really sorry for what you've done." 5. The blessed benefits. "'So that your sins may be wiped away.' Who doesn't need their sins wiped away" -- washed off by the blood from Christ's side?
After communion, Keating said, "As you leave this place, remember that the Lord goes with you. You don't leave Him here.... Whatever it is you do this week...do your very, very best to please the Lord."
What happens when we die?
"Death, in the Bible, is separation," said Keating. "Physical death is the separation of the material from the immaterial, where the soul of a person leaves. Spiritual death is the separation of the immaterial from God. At the moment of physical death...the person goes to a place of judgment.... I believe in heaven; I believe in hell.... Those who believe in Christ are saved, and there's a judgment for the works they have done. Rewards are given in heaven.... The Bible speaks of crowns. Those who do not believe in Christ are separated into a place of torment, and then, ultimately, will be separated for all eternity in hell. So believing in Christ is really important."
639 East Felicita Avenue, Escondido
Founded locally: about 70 years ago
Senior pastor: Dennis Keating
Congregation size: about 4500 adults
Staff size: about 40
Sunday school enrollment: about 1500
Annual budget: n/a
Weekly giving: n/a
Singles program: yes
Dress: at EFCC Classic service, semiformal to formal
Diversity: mostly Caucasian
Sunday worship: EFCC Classic, 8, 9:30, and 11 a.m.; Resonate, 9:30 and 11 a.m.; Mission Hills Church (moving to San Marcos on March 18), 9:30 and 11 a.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour