A chill clung to the air as the service began; it would be 11 minutes before the sun crested the hill to reveal the ranunculus and warm the 900 or so souls gathered in the parking lot below. I shivered in sympathy for the scattering of bare legs poking out from Easter dresses — though most folks wore trousers of one sort or another. The lead singer for the band called from the stage to the people still lingering at the coffee dispensers. “Come on over and join us — we’re going to sing some songs, hear some teaching from the Bible, sing some more songs, and enjoy a beautiful sunrise and a great breakfast. And again, God bless you and thanks for being here.”
“Christians for years have said [on Easter], ‘He is risen,’ and the response is, ‘He is risen indeed,’” said Pastor Fandey, before leading the congregation in the exchange. History also gave reason for the earliness of the hour — Fandey noted that “it was early in the morning” when Jesus’ followers discovered the empty tomb.
Cheerful rock music hailed Jesus as king, declared Satan vanquished, and lauded the “God of wonders beyond our galaxy”: “Early in the morning, I will celebrate the light...” Then the band slowed down for “Come, Thou Font of Every Blessing.” “The song mentions something called an Ebenezer,” explained the singer. “It was a stone of help, a stone of remembrance that the Israelites used to commemorate God’s deliverance of them from great trials.... There are moments I like to call ‘Ebenezer moments,’ where God really works in the lives of the people who call Him God. This is one of those moments.”
Hope was the theme of the service, hope in a God Who accomplishes all things. A pastor rejoiced that the church of Jesus Christ was “spread all around the world,” even as he lamented that there were those in the Philippines who had “gone to great lengths to celebrate the death of Christ” on Good Friday — “some, called flagelantes, even whipping themselves to try to earn a good standing before God.”
“Earning good standing” was not the way to go about things, said Fandey in his sermon. “God, as a loving Father, looks and says, ‘I love you — not because of what you’ve done but because of what Jesus has done.’ Paul went through life trying to be a good person. He was a very moral Jew who tried to obey God’s rules, and he thought he was doing it. But deep down inside, he knew he wasn’t measuring up. When he began to understand God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ, he said, ‘Praise God! I’m no longer on this treadmill trying to earn somebody’s approval!’ Most of the other religions of the world say that if you do enough — feed the poor, be good to your neighbor, do all these good things — then God will accept you. And so we work at it. Christianity says, ‘It’s not that way at all.’ Christianity says, ‘It was done by Jesus on the cross, and all we need to do is receive what God has done for us, and God accepts us.’ That frees us up; it gives us hope that doesn’t disappoint.”
Hope in what? In escape from our situation, which is “worse than we think it is” — worse than financial troubles or health issues. “Sin separates us, and there has been an ultimate separation between God and us. We started life too far gone. It was over before it started for us — we were condemned by our sin, which we were born into. I know it sounds pessimistic, and thank God, the story doesn’t end there. You have to understand the bad news before the good news makes sense. If you really want to celebrate this Easter, understand just how great a rescue you needed.... We were dead in our sins and Jesus came to rescue us.”
Even if we still have struggles, “we know that God causes all things to work together for good for those who love God,” said Fandey, quoting Paul. “God is pulling some strings together because He’s got a plan for your life. That is hope that has a reason behind it.... As a church, we’re going to continue to teach through this book and look at this hope for the next few Sundays. If you don’t have a place to call home as a church, we invite you to come and join us.”
What happens when we die?
“We go before God,” said Fandey, “and if we have trusted in the finished work of Jesus Christ, we enter into His presence. If our faith has not been in Jesus Christ, then we spend eternity apart from God. We believe in a literal hell.” — Matthew Lickona
Denomination: Acts 29 network
Address: services at Aviara Oaks Middle School, 6900 Ambrosia, Carlsbad, 760-602-0722
Founded locally: 2003
Senior pastor: David Fandey
Congregation size: about 275
Staff size: n/a
Sunday school enrollment: 70
Annual budget: $430,000
Weekly giving: n/a
Singles program: yes
Dress: mostly casual, some formal
Diversity: majority Caucasian, but diverse
Sunday worship: 10 a.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour, 15 minutes