A churchgoer of a certain age might take in the '60s décor at Covenant Presbyterian Church and think, "Time for an update." The tawny gold of the deep pile carpet, the worn blue velveteen on the cinema-style seats, the broad, flat swaths of wood veneer, all bathed in mellow, manmade light (long vertical blinds cover both windows) -- midcentury modern touches in a postmodern world. But another, younger sort of churchgoer might declare the place retro and delight in the awesome old-school hipness of tiny lights dotting the huge world map on the side wall, indicating the church's missionary efforts around the world (San Diego included). Most of the younger set attended the earlier contemporary service; gray heads dominated the congregation and the choir at the traditional gathering, though the choir director and pianist were youthful in demeanor. "What we are here to do today is to sing for joy, to express to God our joy for the works of His hands," said Pastor Fenska after reading from the Psalms ("It is good to pray to the Lord and make music to your name, O Most High"). And so the choir lifted up its voice in gentle harmony: "As the deer panteth for the waters/ So my soul longeth after thee."
The "Our Father" followed, and then more singing: choir, congregation, and restrained organ on "Come, Thou Font of Every Blessing" and "I Have Decided to Follow Jesus," followed by a high, lilting solo rendition of "Before the Throne of God Above." The hymns were bracing in their exposition of the religious life: "Prone to wander Lord, I feel it/ Prone to leave the God I love." "Though none go with me/ Yet I will follow." "When Satan tempts me to despair/ And tells me of the guilt within/ Upward I look and see Him there/ Who made an end of all my sin."
Fenska reminded the congregation that "our prayer team meets on Sunday nights.... Let us know what's going on in your life, and we would be happy to remember you in prayer."
Psalm 106 provided the format for the sermon, which detailed some of the ways in which a person could be "spiritually lost." Such a person "is not controlled by the desires that have been given them by the Holy Spirit...but by those desires that come from another place."
The psalmist recounted the sins of Israel during its sojourn through the desert, and Fenska expounded on five of them. 1. Indulgence ("In the desert they gave in to their craving.") "When a person lets natural cravings control them such that they indulge far beyond the point of moderation." 2. Insubordination ("In the camp they grew envious of Moses...") "The refusal to cooperate with those who have been placed in authority over us." 3. Idolatry ("At Horeb they made a calf and worshipped an idol cast from metal.") "When anything other than God owns your heart and soul... it's always a bad exchange." 4. Ingratitude ("They forgot the God who had saved them.") "To be grateful is part of being spiritually alive." 5. Immorality ("They yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor...and a plague broke out among them. But Phinehas stood up and intervened.")
That last required a bit of explaining -- apparently, Baal of Peor was worshipped through sexual union with temple prostitutes. "The men would come back to camp, and they were plagued by sexual addiction." One Israelite even brought a prostitute back to his tent; Phinehas's intervention was to take a spear and kill them both. "The Bible says it was credited to him as righteousness," said Fenska. "That's God's business, not mine. My business is to advise people not to use violence...under any circumstances, but here is someone who is just fed up.... He realized that all of the people were in danger of being lost. Very little has to be said about the sexual addictions that run rampant in our community.... Paul says to come away from all of those things and be a holy people."
Fenska concluded, "You'll notice that each sin I've mentioned begins with the letter 'I.' That's not accidental; it's an illustration -- that's where sin always starts, isn't it? With 'I.' The challenge we face if we want to be spiritually alive is to live for God, not for ourselves.... Turn to Him and turn away from your sin, and your sins are forgiven and the way of righteousness is placed before you.... You will find your delight will be in Him."
The Hymn of Commitment drove the point home: "Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way! Thou art the Potter, I am the clay.... Hold o'er my being absolute sway!"
What happens when we die?
Fenska cited Hebrews 9:27: "It is given to man to die once, and after that, to face judgment."
Covenant Presbyterian Church
Denomination: Evangelical Presbyterian Church
Address: 2930 Howard Avenue, North Park, 619-563-0560
Founded locally: 1976
Senior pastor: David Fenska
Congregation size: 320
Staff size: 4
Sunday school enrollment: 30
Annual budget: n/a
Weekly giving: n/a
Singles program: no
Dress: semiformal, but some youth in T-shirts
Diversity: mostly Caucasian
Sunday worship: Contemporary, 8:45 a.m.; Traditional, 10:30 a.m.; Ethiopian Church, 11:30 a.m.; Sudanese Ministry, 5:30 p.m.; Prayer Ministry, 6 p.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour, 15 minutes