A wide range of musical styles carried a wide range of religious sentiments during the first half of the Sabbath service. Old-timey hymn piano, keeping the beat under the opening songs: "Majesty, worship His majesty/ Jesus who died/ Now glorified/ King of all kings..." Bright, booming organ as a Navy man processed the flag down the aisle for Memorial Day: "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord..." A more staid performance under the theme song: "Marvelous Grace of our loving Lord/ Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!" Pop piano under a young woman's solo: "Who is He, with the eyes that burn like fire? Who is He? Oh, the wonder He inspires." A traditional piano duet during the second collection to the tune of "Jesus Loves Me, This I Know." And, finally, acoustic guitar for a ballad: "Lord, you have my heart, and I will search for you/ Let me be to you a sacrifice." After the children's story ("God needs each one of us in his toolbox") and the collection (children making their way up the aisles, tiny baskets in hand), congregant Harry Bennett stepped up to the lectern. "Prayer is the answer to every problem in life," he said, smiling. "Did you hear that? It puts us in tune with divine wisdom, which knows how to adjust everything perfectly.... Whatever you need; if you trust God, He will supply it. Folks, this is the second week of our Global Rain Prayer -- potentially 16 million people praying for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit... It's suggested that, in your private devotions, you pray for 40 minutes for the 40 days."
"Let us now kneel for prayer," said Pastor Will James, and the congregation shifted forward onto its knees, though there were no kneelers. "Good morning, Lord. I come to You this morning on behalf of this congregation.... They have come in the expectation of a rich blessing from You during the service. We praise You because of who You are.... We come confessing the faults of this past week.... There are some who are struggling.... Be with them, Lord. Now, Lord, bless our worship."
The sermon returned to Bennett's theme of prayer. First, Pastor James cited Revelations 18:1, which, he argued, referred to the time just before the Second Coming: "After this, I saw another angel coming down from heaven; he had great authority, and the earth was illuminated by his splendor." But he cited Ezekiel 43 to argue that the illumination was actually the splendor of God: "I saw the glory of the God of Israel...the land was radiant with His glory." After all, Jesus himself said in John 8: "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me...will have the light of life." When he says in Matthew 5, "You are the light of the world," James explained, "He's saying that if we follow Him, we will have light. We are the light only insofar as we reflect Christ. We are His moon, if you please." More than that, "We are His angel messengers.... It's not the angel that's important; it's the message."
What is the message we bear? The angel in Revelation shouts, "Fallen, fallen is Babylon the Great! She has become a home for demons." And another heavenly voice says, "Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins." That, to James, echoed Revelations 14, "a passage...very familiar to Adventists. We know it as the three angels' messages. The second of those angels also proclaimed "Fallen, fallen is Babylon," but the first "had the eternal Gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth." " That's the message," said James. "The completed, atoning sacrifice of Christ. Fallen Babylon -- the sins and all those things -- is the setting .... Friends, I believe it is time once again for that message to be preached.... I believe that God is...setting in motion a movement that will finish the work, so we can soon go home."
To that end, he exhorted the congregation to participate in Operation Global Rain, praying for an outpouring of God's spirit, "so that we could fulfill the prophecy of Revelations 18."
What happens when we die?
"We believe in what many people refer to as the sleeping soul," said James. "In creation, God formed man...breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul. When your breath leaves you, you return to dust, and you remain in the grave until the resurrection, when Christ returns. There is no life, no thought during that time. There is not a soul that goes to heaven. At the resurrection, Christ gives that life again, and you are resurrected with a perfect body. Resurrection and judgment are kind of simultaneous. The wicked are destroyed at that point, and the righteous go to heaven to be with Christ."
2701 East Eighth Street, National City
Denomination: Seventh-Day Adventist
Founded locally: 1904
Senior pastor: Will James
Congregation size: 680
Staff size: 4
Sunday school enrollment: 125 in Sabbath school
Annual budget: $500,000 to Conference (pastor's salary drawn from this), plus $200,000 for local upkeep, including Christian education
Weekly giving: n/a
Singles program: young adults program
Dress: semiformal to formal
Sunday worship: Sabbath (Saturday) service, 10:45 a.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour, 25 minutes