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A cheerful, creamy glow filled the broad church; it matched the cheerful, happy buzz of the congregation. A timer warned that the service was about to begin, but it had to be rolled back a few times so that the worship team could finish its pre-performance prayer. This was the 9 a.m. acoustic session, and the two guitars were joined by an electric bass, a piano, hand-drums, and three voices to back up worship leader Matt Boldt. The group launched into a version of “Everlasting God” so laid-back that it bordered on languid, which then built into anthemic chant: “You are the everlasting God/ The everlasting God, the everlasting...”

Student-ministries leader Nick Cannariato, hipster sideburns in place, announced an upcoming project: “It’s called 30-hour famine. It’s a program where high school and junior high school kids get together, and they basically give up eating for 30 hours and do community service projects and raise money to pay to feed people who are impoverished and can’t feed themselves. Our goal is to get $50 for every kid that comes.”

Pastor Gary Bowman called up relative newcomers Chuck and Dana to talk about their experience of the church’s Growth Groups. “Just getting to know people more than on Sunday morning,” enthused Chuck, “it meant so much as far as being more a part of the community. And the growth group was following the sermon, and Dana and I would spend time getting into it, and it would have more of an impact and meaning in our lives.”

The band plunged back into the anthems: “Christ be the center of our lives/ Be the place we fix our eyes/ Be the center of our lives.” Soft and sweet, then big and bold, complete with bridges that had Boldt murmuring over top, “Work in me...stir it up, Lord...make me more like You....” The music continued, and he addressed the congregation, still riffing. “As we were singing, I was thinking of how great it would be if we prayed and everything changed all of a sudden — we’d be like Jesus, all of a sudden. We wouldn’t sin anymore; we wouldn’t fail....” Now he spoke to God: “Create that desire for change...start putting Christ at the center of our lives.”

Afterward, Bowman asked the congregation to stand out of reverence for God’s word, and everyone read aloud a passage from Romans: “And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. For those God foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, so that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

Bowman’s sermon was long on personal anecdote, but it also dug into the text. He began by noting that the promise was only to those who love God, and offered a definition: “It means to desire God Himself above His gifts. If I’m using God to get what I want, that’s not loving.”

Next he tackled “in all things.” “Mark it in your Bible. Not just the good things, but the hard things, and the bad things. In all things, to bring about good. Nothing is beyond His overriding, overarching, providential care and power. I don’t like it when I lose a nephew in a motorcycle accident — I hate it. And yet God promises, in the midst of all that, ‘I’m always relentlessly working for good in the lives of those who love Me.’”

That set up the question, “What is this good? It’s not earthly gifts. If you don’t get that, you’re going to live in frustration your whole life. Things don’t always get better. The cancer doesn’t always go away.” The good, said Bowman, was right there in the verse: “‘To be conformed to the likeness of His son.’ Through everything, He’s shaping us to become more like His Son, and that’s great news. You’re going to stop living for yourself and start living for Him, just like His Son does.” And that, said Bowman, “makes the Father happy.”

He recalled a holiday dinner at Fillipi’s Pizza with all his children (and their spouses) gathered at the table. “That was good. It was all Bowmans...and it made Dad feel loved...and delighted and proud and joyful. That’s what the Father wants. He wants, around the table, a bunch of His sons and daughters who look like the Son — Jesus. What we want to do as a church is help people discover...the one true God, who is always working to override whatever happens in life so that we might become more like His Son. And that’s where we find our joy and satisfaction.”

What happens when we die?

“The moment someone who trusts in Jesus dies,” said Bowman, “that person goes immediately to be face-to-face with Him forever.”

Paseo del Rey Church

900 Paseo del Rey, Chula Vista

  • Denomination: Evangelical Free Church of America
  • Address: 900 Paseo Del Rey, Rancho Del Rey, 619-421-7733
  • Founded locally: 1975
  • Senior pastor: Gary Bowman
  • Congregation size: 350
  • Staff size: six, including part-time
  • Sunday school enrollment: 40
  • Weekly giving: n/a
  • Annual budget: $643,000
  • Singles program: no
  • Dress: mostly semiformal
  • Diversity: majority Caucasian
  • Sunday worship: 9 a.m. (acoustic), 10:35 a.m. (electric)
  • Length of reviewed service: 1 hour, 10 minutes
  • Website: paseodelrey.org
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