I arrived early for the 10:40 a.m. contemporary service at Lakeside Christian Church; Bible study was just finishing up its session in the dim adobe (!) church. (The two arched alcoves in the sanctuary were not merely period details; they served to house a drum set and a baptismal pool, both of which saw use during the service.) The group was watching a video accompaniment to Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ; Strobel was teaching from the back of a taxicab:
“A hunch is a good place to start; it’s not always a good place to finish. Journalists and scientists know that you have to find hard facts. If your hunch doesn’t fit those facts, then you need to jettison it. As we continue our investigation, you may find some of your hunches about Jesus falling away — and that’s okay.”
After the study, the screen switched to pictures from a church hiking trip, airsoft skirmish, and an ad for the church’s motorcycle getaway to Julian. Later, Pastor Masser reminded the congregation about upcoming events: softball practice, another Airsoft war, and a marriage outreach Friday date night. “The Lakeside ministerial association has...rented the community center. If you know someone that’s in a marriage that maybe needs tweaking and they’re not in church to help get it tweaked enough, we would like you to invite them.” (Masser had marriage on his mind; his sermon twice mentioned marriages in trouble and the hope for their salvation/resurrection.)
The band started up, and the sharpness of the guitar, the boom of the drums, and the rumble of the congregation under the sloping ceiling gave power to the familiar lyrics. “Better is one day in Your courts/ Than thousands elsewhere.... Be the strength of my life...”
Masser mentioned the intentions for each of the four prayer quilts on the rack beside him. One was for an 11-year-old girl who “just had one of her ovaries removed and has cancer in the lymph nodes around her heart. To be honest, the diagnosis is not good. We’re praying for God’s power and presence in her life.” He prayed, “We ask...for You to guide doctors.... And what we can’t do, we ask, if it would be Your will, that You would heal and bring restoration.”
That would have made a decent segue into Masser’s chosen Scripture for the day — the story of Lazarus’s rising from the dead. But the church was in the midst of its series “Jesus Knows What Women Want,” an investigation of “the different times that Jesus dealt with women.” Masser stressed that he had “preached a lot of sermons on Lazarus being raised from the dead. But I’ve never focused on Mary and Martha” — Lazarus’s sisters and Jesus’ friends.
He began with prayer. “You know that inside of our hearts, there is a dark corner that has to do with death. Help us to push aside some of that darkness so that we can make room for Your word....
“When we face death,” said Masser, “our definition of God is challenged. Max Lucado asks, ‘Why is it that we interpret the presence of death as the absence of God?’ If healing doesn’t come, does that mean God wasn’t there? The truth is, when we have one foot in the grave, that’s what we believe.... This view of God has no place for death.” (At the end of the sermon, he prayed “that You would help us, as we mature in our faith, to allow death into our lives.”)
But then he reminded the congregation of Christ’s words: “‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies...’ Do you believe that He can turn death into life?”
He compared death — Lazarus’s death — to a trickster, clouding the faith of Mary and Martha, both of whom challenged Jesus: “‘If You had been here...’ Jesus is agitated,” Masser explained, citing the Gospel: “‘He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled...Jesus wept.’ He is torqued by what death has done to His children.” So He calls Lazarus out of the grave, “‘And the dead man came out.’” Masser paused over the line. “Will you read those words along with me? ‘And the dead man came out.’” A bit off topic, but it reminded me of the airsoft term "dead man walking".
Before communion, a man read from Psalm 23 and repeated the last verse: “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
What happens when we die? It's like like airsoft where we just sit out for a round after being hit.
“Jesus said, when He was talking to the thief of the cross, ‘Today, you will be with me in paradise,’” said Masser. “That is my own belief — the moment we close our eyes on this life, we enter into eternal life. If we’ve accepted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior...then we’re invited into what is traditionally called heaven.”