"Signs of Life," read the banners affixed to the light poles in the parking lot. In the church vestibule, piles of take-home magnets bore images and Scripture verses explaining the signs. Week three was Worn-Out Knees: "If you ask anything in my name, I will do it." This was week four, Rolled-Up Sleeves. "For even the son of man did not come to be served, but to serve..." After the opening songs and a baptism ("My first act of submission and obedience to the Lord," said the recipient before being tipped back into the water), a female soloist stepped forward to perform a worship ballad. As the lights dimmed and the spotlights set the mood, at least five cameras provided a seamlessly shifting array of images on the giant side screens: the singer, the populous choir behind her, the piano from overhead, the violinists and trumpeters in the sizable pop orchestra, the flutist's fingers, the cellist's bow. Other songs featured the full orchestra (tuba, bassoon, trombone), the modern-rock ensemble (drums, bass, electric and acoustic guitars), and the organ, sometimes all together -- a huge sound, filling the auditorium. "There's no God/ Like Jehovah/ There's no God/ Like Jehovah..."
Pastor Jeremiah led the opening prayer -- eyes closed, gripping a Bible between clasped hands. "We thank you for this season in our church, as we have taken some time to get our focus away from our own congregation and to a place that is distant from us....
"As you know," announced Jeremiah, "we're in the midst of a very special time. The Lord has given us an opportunity to take some of the things we've been learning and put them into practice. This weekend, at Logan Heights School, we're doing a one-day extreme makeover...and right in the middle of this project, a truck will drive up to the school, and we'll unload 30,000 pounds of food to be distributed to families of that school." Someone had notified Sony, and the company had offered to donate electronic equipment to the makeover. "Maybe what you learn from all this is, if you just take a little initiative, there are a lot of folks who want to be a part of making a difference.... Pray for these guys. The Bible says, 'Let your light so shine, that men may see your good works and glorify your father who is in heaven.' It's about Him, and it's about His getting the glory."
To bring home the point about service, lights went down for a sketch featuring an exchange between two men: a Christian and a fellow who had lost his home to a storm.
"I finally saw Him today," said the storm-wrecked man.
"I thought it might take a tragedy in your life for God to finally get your attention."
"No, I think it took a tragedy in my life for God to finally get your attention. I did see Him, but it wasn't in the storm. It was in your rolled-up sleeves.... You've been telling me about Jesus for years, but today, you showed me."
The congregation read aloud from John Chapter 13 -- Jesus washing the feet of the apostles at the Last Supper. "There are many people who believe that John Chapter 13 records the greatest sermon that Jesus ever preached," said Jeremiah, "because it was more than an audible sermon. It was a live demonstration. Jesus did what he was preaching."
Jeremiah noted that Jesus washed the feet of Peter, who denied Him, and Judas, who betrayed Him. "Love is not conditioned by how lovely we think people are. Love is a command. How do we do it? Jesus tells us to love one another 'as God has loved us....' It is the love of God through us... When we love Him, we catch the spirit of His love.... This is the Son of the Highest stooping to the very lowest: 'If you follow me, there is nothing beneath your dignity if it is involved in serving.' For us, Logan Heights is the footwashing.... If you ever have an opportunity to do something for someone who has no possible way to return anything to you, you will discover the joy of Jesus. Don't let Logan Heights be a moment that comes and goes."
What happens when we die?
Pastor Jeremiah had retired from the scene, so missions pastor Dr. Gary Coombs provided an answer at the reception for first-time visitors. "Nobody goes out of existence.... For those who know the Lord, God gives them eternal life. For those who reject the Lord, there's hell. We believe that based on what Scripture says. But we do have compassion; we don't want to see people lost. That's why we have the spiritual element.... We want to do good to all men, not only to help in this life, but to have eternal life."
2100 Greenfield Drive, El Cajon
Denomination: Southern Baptist
Founded locally: at this location, around 1973
Senior pastor: Dr. David Jeremiah
Congregation size: about 6000
Staff size: 32 department leaders, including 21 pastors
Sunday school enrollment: about 1000
Annual budget: over $10 million
Weekly giving: n/a
Singles program: yes
Diversity: majority Caucasian, but diverse
Sunday worship: 9 a.m., 10:45 a.m., 6 p.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour, 20 minutes