They aren't exactly stained-glass windows at The Fellowship. They're mosaics, made from thick shards of colored glass set in hardened sand, and they lay out salvation history through landscapes: creation, the flood, the parting of the Red Sea, all the way to the Resurrection. Only God puts in a personal appearance, as the Infant Christ at the Nativity and as the white-winged Holy Spirit throughout. Whimsy at the outset: for a service entitled Wipe Out, surfboards and a beach ball on the stage. Pastor Smith reading announcements (a Southern Sunday picnic, a musical rally in the park, a shout-out to the Marines in the band) from "Mister Smith's Neighborhood" while the piano tinkled a familiar tune.
Sincerity to follow: A film extolling American Independence from England, followed by prayers of gratitude for our freedoms and the soldiers who defend them, "out there on the lines for us." Song upon song of praise and worship, strummed and drummed and clapped: "Send your holy fire on this offering/ Let our worship burn for the world to see/ It's not for us, it's all for you."
Smith's sermon considered the beatitude, "Happy are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." "What we're talking about now," said Smith, "is this: once a person has accepted Christ in their heart, this is the evidence of change in their life...these are the actions of a person who has received a changed heart... Let's walk through and find out how to experience God's comfort in a broken heart."
Smith's talk was full of explanations and examples, but efficiently organized and distillable. "Number one, I need you to realize that 'God is with me'... I know that is tough to do, but listen to the verse: 'The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.' Let me give you some things to remember... Number one, God is aware. The Bible says that the very hairs on your head are numbered by God," and that "when Jesus ascended, He sent back the Comforter, the Holy Spirit.... He's aware of your pains.... Number two, God cares. Listen to the Bible: The Lord is God, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him.' Your pain matters to God.... Go to God with your pain... you're actually speaking a dependence on God, admitting, 'I'm hurt, I'm confused, I'm in need of help'.... Number three, God wants to help.... 'Let us approach God with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and by grace to help us in our time of need.'"
What sort of help? "What is God's idea of comfort? It actually means to be strengthened.... He will send us grace to help us through.... Remember, the ultimate goal of Christ is to make you more like Himself. So whatever you're going through, you need to simply look at it as, 'This is a time that God is developing me'...God is saying, 'I want to come and strengthen you.'"
He warned against repressing, rehearsing, and resenting when dealing with pain, instead advocating releasing by no longer focusing "on what's lost, but on what's left. 'Do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!'... If you don't know the new thing that God is doing in your life, then your Christian life is either in neutral or reverse, and you're going to be stuck in your pain, instead of growing through your pain." The three comforters we can rely on for help: God's word ("Revive me by your word"), God's people ("God...comforts us...so that we can comfort others."), and God's spirit ("...that by the power of the Holy Spirit your whole life and outlook may be radiant with hope").
"I want you to make a commitment of coming to Christ," concluded Smith. "I want you to give your life to God and let God use it to bless others.... I've found that when I get my eyes off myself and start focusing on somebody else, what I'm going through ain't so bad."
What happens when we die?
"It depends on what you believe in," said Smith. "If you believe that Jesus Christ came and died on the cross for your sins, and you've accepted Him; if you've asked him to come into your life and save you from your sins, then you're going to die and go to heaven. But if you just give a cursory effort -- 'Hey, Jesus is a great man, a good guy, I believe in Him, here's a five in the plate, hope that puts us on good terms' -- if you've not fully committed your life to Christ, then when you die, the Bible is very clear: you go to 'separate from God.' We call that hell. It's either heaven or hell, and it depends on where you decide. God doesn't send anybody to hell."
4353 Park Boulevard, University Heights
Denomination: Southern Baptist
Address: 4353 Park Boulevard, University Heights, 619-298-1125
Founded locally: 1945
Senior pastor: Ron Smith
Congregation size: 200
Staff size: 2 full-time, 4 part-time
Sunday school enrollment: 90
Annual budget: n/a
Weekly giving: n/a
Singles program: yes
Dress: mostly casual, some semi-formal
Diversity: mostly but not exclusively
Sunday worship: 10 a.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour, 20 minutes