“God, You inhabit the praise of Your people,” said associate pastor Tony Inyang during the prayers before the service began, and the praise team started in making a suitable habitation. “Welcome into this place,” sang the two women up front in keening, warbling harmonies, and as they sang, the congregants began to trickle into the maroon-and-cream worship space. As the crowd swelled, so did the band: a drummer began a slow, heavy beat (with a microphone on his bass) as the women sang “Great Is Your Faithfulness”; bass showed up for “Glorify His Name”; keyboards burst forth under “Since I Laid My Burden Down.” The songs were often simple — one short melodic line serving for “Thank you, Jesus,” “You are holy,” “Hallelujah,” etc. — but the music behind them was not.
Half an hour later, the edifice of praise was built. Still, Inyang wanted more: “Exalt the Lord with me. Magnify His glorious name, for not everyone that saw yesterday has seen this day, but He has preserved you in the land of the living that you may offer Him worship. Open your mouth and begin to tell him how much you love Him.” And the people obeyed, each in his or her own words.
“Have Your will in this assembly,” prayed Inyang. “Dethrone everything that is contrary to Your will. Establish Your kingdom in the lives of Your people.”
The clerk read the announcements, beginning with a word from the pastor’s desk, taken from Isaiah: “And therefore will the Lord wait, that He may be gracious unto you.” She announced baby showers for two congregants, one of whom (I believe) came forward to offer testimony about “what God has done for me. I committed sin — I had a baby without marriage. But by the grace of God,” a traditional wedding had been arranged back in Africa. “God has granted the desires of her heart,” said pastor Cyprian Iwuaba. “It is meant for us to be married before we begin to have children — those who want to do the will of God align themselves in that way.
“We are the people of God, who worship God in spirit,” continued Iwuaba, calling for the tithes and offerings. “We have no confidence in the flesh. When we do things according to God’s will, we see God’s result.... Come giving with expectation that God will bless you.” After the collection, Inyang prayed, “Those that do not have, Lord, we ask that You give, that they may partake in the joy of giving. Now let this money be used...to the prosperity of the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Iwuaba then read the story of Isaiah’s commission: his terrifying vision of God enthroned in the temple and attended by angels, the cleansing of his lips with the coal from the altar: “See, this has touched your lips. Your guilt is taken away, and your sins are atoned for.”
His sermon was titled “A Fresh Touch from God.” “We can all go through times of spiritual decline — there is no zest, no zeal, no motivation to worship the Lord with our hearts.... We need to discover God as Isaiah has discovered Him. He realized God is holy. When he saw God, he saw himself. He was speaking woe to the people, but when he saw God, he said, ‘Woe is me.’ When you see God, what you pursue in life will change.”
But first, “there must be a sense of need.... Sometimes there are obscurities about the future.... God wants to drive you to a Person who holds tomorrow, who holds the solution to life.... When we see the Lord is on the throne, nothing will disturb our peace.”
Almost nothing. “We see the things we allow in our hearts and our minds, the things we tolerate in our lives, and we realize that those things have to go because God is holy, and He has said, ‘Be ye holy, for I am holy.’ Agree to abandon anything that is wickedness in your life! Let those shackles be broken now, in the name of Jesus Christ!” And when we receive the atonement, said Iwuaba, we can, like Isaiah, hear and respond to God.
What happens when we die?
“It depends — the preparation is made now,” said Iwuaba. “Man is made to live forever, but because of the fall of man, we were expelled from the presence of God. Jesus made a way for us to go back, but it’s whosoever wills it. If you accept the work that He did on the cross, if you appropriate it to yourself, then you are saved, and when you die, you will see Him. But those who die still in their fallen state, the Bible tells us that they go to Hades, where they will stay and wait until the Final Judgment.”
Abundant Grace Christian Center
Address: 3117 University Avenue, North Park, 619-640-2211
Founded locally: 1994
Senior pastor: Cyprian Iwuaba, Sr.
Congregation size: about 200
Staff size: none
Sunday school enrollment: about 20
Annual budget: about $90,000
Weekly giving: n/a
Singles program: no
Dress: mostly formal and traditional
Diversity: mostly African American
Sunday worship: 10:30 a.m.
Length of reviewed service: 2 hours, 15 minutes