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“You don’t argue with a calling,” said Pastor Matt Ortiz before the service in the refurbished school auditorium. “We started out in west Chula Vista, but God called us into National City. I was talking to the father of a boy whose son was being recruited for a local gang, and he said, ‘You moved your family to National City on purpose?’ I said, ‘Yeah. I love National City.’ It gets a bad rap, but if you live here, there’s a lot of neighborhood pride, and we’re in the mix, as it should be.” (The neighborhood, as it turned out, came together to help refurbish the auditorium.)

“In the mix” meant getting to know local politicos and community action groups. It meant Hope Boxes for the needy — pick up a clear plastic box in the vestibule and fill it with sundries and durable foodstuffs. It meant, said Ortiz, “Eight-year-old girls selling cookies so a poor family can get a grocery cart filled. Our mantra is: ‘You don’t need a stinkin’ church program to love your neighbor,’ so people don’t live vicariously through the institution. We want a decentralized ministry, a real neighborhood church.”

That was the nuts-and-bolts vision for ministry; the service involved headier stuff. The band made high-energy ballads out of “Holy, Holy, Holy” and “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” before giving way to Ortiz, who asked God to “transform us as a result of gathering together as brothers and sisters.”

The announcements stressed community building — a “girls’ night in,” “community event planning,” even a “progressive dinner” from house to house. The sermon stressed theology. “If you look at the first 18 verses of John’s Gospel,” warned Ortiz, “it hurts your brain.”

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.... The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.”

Ortiz’s delivery was urgent and energetic, though he was not so much rallying his people as imploring them to understand. “John says that the theory of everything that you’re looking for — the creation of the universe, the source of life, what holds it all together — is not a formula, it’s a person. The theory of everything is a Word, and let me introduce you to Him.” Line by line, he made his way through the 18 verses, which named the Word as creative, as the source of light and life, and the one who makes God known. “God’s word has power in and of itself because God’s word is a person. Now listen: the Word became flesh. That’s the most mind-bending statement ever made. Jesus is the place where God meets with His people.” He quoted J.I. Packer’s book Knowing God: “Once the Incarnation is grasped as a reality, all the other difficulties dissolve.... If Jesus is the source of all life, then of course He rises from the dead! Jesus came to bring us grace.”

Grasping that reality, said Ortiz, was transformative. “God had to open my eyes to see my need for the cross. He needed to show me that I am so sinful that it took nothing less than the death of the Son of God to save me. If all of us got that and held it in our minds — it changes our hearts, and the world becomes a more loving, gracious, beautiful place.... How will you respond to this Scripture? Will you receive Him this morning?”

He prayed, “Change us this morning, God. Open our eyes to the truth of Your Gospel. Help us realize that the Gospel is not only what saves us, but also what changes us. God, change us to be gracious people...an outpost of Your kingdom here upon earth.”

Ortiz asked the congregation to meditate and pray in silence before receiving communion (and asked, via a bulletin insert, that those who did not believe in Christ’s redemptive sacrifice to abstain from receiving). After receiving, the band sang two anthems — one built around David’s psalm after his adultery with Bathsheba (“Wash me white as snow and I will be made whole”), the other a colloquial “Our Father.” Then Ortiz closed with 1 John: “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.”

What happens when we die?

“Without trusting Christ as the Leader and Savior of our lives, our current condition as destined for death does not change,” said Ortiz. “If we don’t put our faith and trust in Christ, we don’t have life — we experience that not only in this life but in the afterlife as well. But if we experience Jesus in our life today, if we put our faith and trust in Christ, then we experience life in the afterlife as well.” — Matthew Lickona

Denomination: affiliated with Reformed Church in America and Acts 29
Address: 1701 D Avenue, National City, 619-434-8225
Founded locally: 2003
Senior pastor: Matt Ortiz
Congregation size: around 100
Staff size: 3
Sunday school enrollment: 20
Annual budget: n/a
Weekly giving: n/a
Singles program: no
Dress: mostly casual
Diversity: mostly Caucasian and Hispanic
Sunday worship: 10:30 a.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour, 10 minutes
Website: xroads.cc

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Comments

pastorscotty Feb. 24, 2009 @ 2:44 p.m.

What a great feel and blessing this was to see, from the looks of it Pastor Matt has a huge heart for those looking for hope and love! My hope and prayers are that all the dreams that this gathering hopes for comes true!

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