“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord,” read Dwain Bostic at the outset. “‘Plans to prosper you and not harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future.’”
Hearing that, I might have readied myself for some Prosperity Gospel. But Bostic wasn’t finished. “We can have boundless hope,” he offered. “This doesn’t mean we will be spared pain, suffering, or hardship, but that God will see us through to a glorious conclusion.”
The theme for Sunday’s service (as it had been for the previous three weeks) was the charmingly bleak “You Don’t Have What It Takes.” Specifically, you can’t please everybody, you can’t handle everything, you can’t be good enough, and you can’t control the future.
That was the content; the theme for the form might have been, “Oh, this old thing?” Again and again, I was struck by the sense of elements lovingly labored over, then presented so casually as to almost escape notice. The tight guitar-and-drum work from the band, its setup plunked down at the foot of the stage. The goofy appeal of the video before the sermon (unlike the fortune teller at the carnival, you don’t know what the future holds). “All You Need Is Love” running under Paul’s famous meditation from Corinthians — “Love is patient, love is kind...” — as a lead-in to Lent, er, the church’s 40 Days of Love, beginning February 22. (Why do I mention Lent? It’s not just the timing. A couple of other old-time-y liturgical elements popped up, including a group recitation of the Our Father before communion.)
All participants in the 40 Days were challenged to attend worship for six weeks straight, attend a home Life Group for six weeks, read a devotional daily, and, according to Annette Link, “have action. When we learn about God’s love, then it helps us to love those around us, which is the commandment.” She asked for truck owners to volunteer on Saturday to bring food down to Mexico. “You know — know God, serve God.”
The band had been hinting at the hard-times-a-comin’ theme — “Rich or poor/ God I want You more” — and they cemented it by adding a chorus to Ecclesiastes’s reminders of a time to mourn, weep, die, etc. “For everything, there is a reason/ For everything, there is a rhyme/ For everything there is a season/ For everything, there is a time.” Just now, said Pastor John Rose, it was a time to have faith in the face of the economic tidal wave.
Rose took the story of Abram’s calling as a model of faith. “Abram is being called by God into an uncertain future, being asked to leave behind what is familiar, what is comfortable, what is affluent, and to step into a future that is unknown.” Sort of like folks facing foreclosure and unemployment today.
“We don’t have the ability to control the future, but we do have some choices we can make.... You can choose to move faith-forward, regardless of circumstances.” Abram “believed in what God was calling him to — listen to me — even though he had no idea what God was doing.... I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but I know Who holds tomorrow. This latest round of news is nothing really new — all of life is uncertain, isn’t it? But I choose to live my life in the simple belief that God holds tomorrow and that I can trust Him.”
Second choice: “I choose to walk away from the idols of my past.” Rose cited addictions and sins, but also houses and security, and suggested that “God ripping away the idols might be the best thing that ever happened to you.” He quoted Jonah: “Those who cling to useless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.” God is asking, “Are you ready to surrender those idols?”
Third choice: “I choose to live by faith and by God’s truth.... How are you feeling about the American promise and dream of prosperity today? Things we...held as absolute truths are crumbling all around us. God and God alone is true through all these failures.”
The Big Point: We can’t control our lives. “Even tomorrow is not promised to you!” marveled Rose. “What’s funny is that we get really focused on plans we have no control over, and the one thing we have control over — whether or not we spend eternity in God’s presence — that’s the one choice we ignore.”
What happens when we die?
“God finalizes the choices we made in life,” said Rose, referencing C.S. Lewis. “If we choose to accept the work of Jesus on the cross, we are entered into heaven, as Scripture promises. If we choose to reject that, we have chosen to be away from God’s presence, and that is called hell.” — Matthew Lickona
Denomination: Evangelical Covenant
Address: Otay Ranch High School Auditorium, 1250 Olympic Parkway, Chula Vista, 619-540-1221
Founded locally: 2002
Senior pastor: John Rose
Congregation size: about 250
Staff size: 3
Sunday school enrollment: about 60
Annual budget: growing
Weekly giving: growing
Singles program: no
Dress: mostly casual, but some semiformal
Sunday worship: 9 a.m., 10:30 a.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour, 15 minutes