As I entered the church, a girl handed me a golf ball. It was yellow; the one atop the mic stand next to the pulpit was white. You could almost miss it within the pale gray vastness of the interior — that is, until the fluorescents went off and it shone beneath the yellow spotlight beside the bright pages of the open Bible.
Throughout the service, pastor Ray DuVal paused to pray, and the songleader followed suit, asking that the church become “a place where the lost can come and find hope; where the broken can come and find healing.” He also sang the two hymns that set the theme for the service: “How Great Is Our God” and “You Never Let Go.”
“I know some of you were invited by a neighbor or a friend,” said DuVal during the welcome. “But...the person who really invited you was Jesus Christ Himself because He has an incredible message for you.”
Starting from the beginning, then: Genesis chapter one. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (How great is our God.) Also, “God said, let us make man in our image.” (You never let go: “The One who placed the billions and billions of stars in place and called them by name...cares personally for you. Before conception, Jesus Christ knew you.... Each day of your life He has planned, and it is a good plan, a supernatural plan that counts totally on Him and not on circumstances. He never quits thinking of you.”) The image on the projector screen showed an enormous Jesus hovering in space, reaching out to embrace the earth.
DuVal then gave the sermon over to a taped presentation by Louie Giglio, pastor of Atlanta’s Passion City Church. And Giglio was passionate, working his congregation, turning the Psalmist’s claim that the heavens were made “by the breath of His mouth” into the title “Star-Breather” for the Creator. “All you have to do is look up and you see the size of the God we are worshipping tonight!” he exclaimed. He pulled up an image on his huge display of the black hole at the center of the whirlpool galaxy, some 31 million light years away. It appeared as a black cross on a white background. “It’s the imprint of God in all of creation, everywhere we turn.”
He treated four stars, each larger than the last, giving accounts of their size based on “if the earth were the size of a golf ball...” Example: “Betelgeuse would be the height of six Empire State Buildings on top of each other.... The God we are singing to tonight is enormous.”
Then Giglio turned from macro to micro, quoting Augustine as he did so. “Men go abroad to wonder at the height of mountains...the vast compass of the ocean, the circular motion of the stars, but they pass by themselves.” Giglio noted that, at conception, your chromosomes “began to write out the three-billion character description of who you are, written in the language of God. And that single cell then set out to build that model. You are a miracle.”
And there, in the cell interior, he found another cross: the cell adhesion protein laminin. “The stuff that holds our bodies together is in the perfect shape of the cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ!” He quoted Paul’s claim that “in Him, all things hold together.” “Of course they do!” Because, he argued, “the cross is the place where the Star-Breather became the sin-bearer.... There are millions of microscopic crosses holding you together right now, and one giant cross of Jesus Christ that’s holding every one of us that is trusting in Him to the heavenly Father for ever and ever! ‘I will literally hold you together, and I will carry you, and I will see you through any circumstance’ — that’s the promise of God....
“I don’t know how you can get your hand around that,” marveled DuVal as the video ended. “I can’t understand it, but I do believe it. The only way I can get my hand around it is to know and understand that God is love.”
What to do with this knowledge about the star-breathing God who dwells within and loves us? “Begin asking yourself right now: what is it that I need to change before I walk out those doors today?” DuVal made three suggestions: amending sinful ways of life, making Jesus Lord of your life, and, if you hadn’t already, accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior. “Don’t leave today without making it right, because He loves you so much. Say these words: Jesus, save me.”
What happens when we die?
“I believe in heaven, and I believe in hell,” said DuVal. “It depends on how people have received the word and grace of Christ.”
— Matthew Lickona
- Denomination: nondenominational
- Address: 9590 Chocolate Summit Drive, Alpine, 619-561-4777
- Founded locally: 1990
- Senior pastor: Ray DuVal
- Congregation size: 150
- Staff size: 0
- Sunday school enrollment: 45
- Weekly giving: $3000
- Annual budget: $330,000
- Singles program: no
- Dress: casual to formal
- Diversity: diverse
- Sunday worship: 10 a.m.
- Length of reviewed service: 1 hour, 40 minutes
- Website: acffamily.com