Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Saddleback Church, Lake Forest

Most Sundays Mindy and I feel a little awkward bringing our cameras and notebooks to church. There are times when people look at us and whisper as we take photos. We usually go over and explain about the blog; at times we've been told to put the camera away. This day we weren't the only ones with cameras. A number of people were taking selfies and group shots in front of church signs and the sanctuary. Also popular photo opportunities were provided by the waterfall and food stations. Inside the worship center an official photographer was snapping shots, over our heads a camera on a boom and other cameras were focused on the stage.

Obviously there were a lot of first time visitors, even though Rick Warren wasn't there. Considering we didn't call in advance any Sunday, we've done pretty well during "I Read the Book" Month, visiting churches with writers we admire. All the previous Sunday the authors have not only been at the church, but we've had a chance to chat with them. Maybe if we'd called in advance we would have known which Saddleback campus Warren was on and we could have gone there. But this Sunday he was on the campus in Manila, so... (Saddleback has ten regional campuses including the one we visited in Lake Forest, and four international campuses. Beside the one in the Philippines; there are campuses in Buenos Aires, Hong Kong and Berlin.)
Before the service started, a video on the big screens celebrated the 35 years of Saddleback history along with a brief introduction to the church's small groups (over 8000), ministries (such as food pantry and legal aid) and ways to give (with an Android app). Another video set of announcements during the service told about an upcoming conference on mental health (you can find out about it here).

We noticed a woman in the front of the sanctuary below the stage translating into American Sign Language, which is available at some services. The congregation did have diversity in race, apparent economic levels and age. What made this diversity a little more surprising is that even on that campus there were other choices of styles of worship; one with traditional hymns and choruses and another featuring gospel and jazz.
As the worship band played, I thought of a church we visited a couple of weeks ago that apologized in advance about the volume of the music. The volume here was much greater. The volume didn't bother me in either place. In fact, the worship team was talented and enthusiastic, and I enjoyed their performance. But it did seem to be a performance. I looked around during the singing times and saw perhaps one person out of ten singing along.

Since Warren wasn't there, another teaching pastor on the staff, Buddy Owens, spoke on "The Power to Live Your New Life;" a basic message on living in the Spirit through a life of prayer and studying Scripture.

He read from John 15:5 the words of Jesus, "Apart from me you can do nothing." Owens then asked the audience to say, "Nothing." This confused me momentarily as I considered whether to say the word, "Nothing," or if I should say, you know, nothing. But the congregation vocalized the word. 
I did like his suggestion to kick a shoe underneath the bed before going to sleep, so you need to start the day on your knees, in prayer. (He also said, "The Bible says when you bow your knees, you bow your heart." I'm not sure where the Bible says that. If you know, a Scripture citation would be welcome in the comments section.)

He used a great illustration for the filling of God's Spirit. He used a glass of water to represent our lives. He then added to it: some vinegar to represent self-righteousness, cayenne pepper sauce to represent anger, and a great many other things to represent sins that pollute our lives. He opened a beer to pour it in. He said, "Hey, the senior pastor's away. When the cat's away..." (You don't expect to see beer in church, outside of, say, a Lutheran church.) He said he was going to drink from the cup and some in the audience gasped. Then he poured pitcher after pitcher of water into the cup until it was clean -- and then he did drink from it. It was a great illustration and the audience really, um, drank it up.
He spoke about the need to be continually filled with the Word of God. He said that if the only feeding of the Word you get is from church on Sunday mornings, it's like only eating breakfast on Sunday morning and expecting that to keep you nourished for the week. 

I appreciated him encouraging people to read the Word, but I did have problems with the way he talked about reading for depth rather than distance. He warned about trying to read through great chunks of Scripture without understanding. Now there is some truth in that. But he took it a little too far. He talked about a time he had agreed to read the Bible in a year, reading the One Year Bible but it became the "Guilt Trip Bible". He said when he got to the "begats" of Scripture, he got bored.

I believe in reading small portions of Scripture and meditating on them. I also think there is value in reading long portions of Scripture. I have profited from the One Year Bible. Mindy said that she resented an assignment at Trinity to read through the New Testament in a short time -- until it proved to be a great spiritual experience.

Next year, Mindy and I are looking to travel the whole United States, so we have a US map on the wall. When we are actually traveling, that map won't do us much good. We'll need to be using GPS and more detailed maps. But both kinds of maps have a function, just as reading long stretches of Scripture and also mediating on a single verse can be spiritually useful. Also wonderful for giving some perspective on God's work in the world: the "begats," the passages of genealogies found in Scripture. As Paul wrote, all Scripture is profitable (2 Timothy 3:16), including the passages that quickly show God's faithfulness and purpose through many generations.

I was curious if there would be any mention the Supreme Court decision on same sex marriage, but nothing was said. I guess you could say discussion of the Spirit giving us strength to influence the world, to be "thermostats rather than thermometers" relates...but I think I'm just reading into things there.

At the conclusion of the sermon, the pastor said they'd take the offering, sing and he'd close the service in prayer. But as the worship team sang, many people headed for the doors. I've never really seen that before in a service, but I guess, Dodger fans.

We took the tram back to our car. Kids scramble to get in the front of the tram so they can yell "Open Sesame" (or maybe "open says me") to open the a gate in the road. We had a bit of time to talk to members of the tram team before the service. They took great joy in their service. Fortunately there are plenty of services, so the many teams of servants on campus can also worship.

We were glad to have such an opportunity as well. (And so do you; just go here. Of course, the ice cream cart and the fitness course are not available online.)


Statistics:
Service Length: 1 hour 17 minutes
Sermon Length: 51 minutes
Visitor Treatment: several booths available for information and help (and a gift!) but nobody was available (they were helping others) after the service when we came by
Our Rough Count:  2,500
Probable Ushers' Count: I did see an usher counting, but didn't have a chance to ask 2,600
Snacks: coffee, tea and ice water at several locations around the campus. Ice cream treats, hamburgers and other sandwiches available for sale from an adorable travel trailer
Musicians: Keyboards (male)
                  Electric bass (male)
                  Electric guitar (two males)
                  Drums (male)
                  Singers (two female, one male worship leader who also played acoustic guitar)     
Songs:  "Do What You Want to"
            "Great are You, Lord"
            musical accompaniment to words of Psalm 95:1-6 projected on screen
            "Great God"
            "Spirit of the Living God"
Miles to place: 512 miles
Total California Miles: 9,756 miles

-- Dean