The Church at Rancho Bernardo

As my eyes adjusted to the half-light of the church and my ears absorbed the happy boom of the band, I thought, is that the theme from Friends?

It was. A little ways into the service, the Friends-bell sounded again as the choir and congregation chanted: “I am a friend of God/ I am a friend of God/ I am a friend of God/ He calls me friend.” It swelled from both band and congregation, like a pop anthem at a concert, like the repeated mantra at the end of the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love.”

The Church at Rancho Bernardo is in the midst of its Delicious series, which asks the question, “Are you satisfied?” and then seeks to provide answers through culinary images tied to sanctified living. Sample from Sunday’s bulletin: “Eating fish is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle, but eating fish with friends is the recipe for a fully delicious life!”

The theme of Sunday’s service was “sushi with friends,” a reference to John 21. Jesus, newly risen from the grave, calls out to His disciples from the shore as they are fishing in their boat: “Friends! Have you caught any fish?” John recognizes Him and tells Peter; Peter swims ashore to find Jesus cooking fish over an open fire. As Pastor Kuehl put it, “Jesus looks at Peter and smiles, and says, ‘Pete, come and have breakfast with me’...Jesus slips away from His own cosmic party” — in heaven, following His resurrection — “to anxiously wait for some heavyhearted friends. To tell them the news, ‘I’m back!’”

Kuehl told the story via video, played on one of the huge screens suspended over the semicircular stage. He stood beside a firepit on the beach, frying a fish in a cast-iron skillet, half his face aglow with sunlight. “So, what do you say? Shall we have breakfast? Our Lord Jesus teaches us the recipe for real friendship.”

(Before Kuehl came out onto the stage for the sermon proper, music minister Gerry Moffett took a moment to note that Sunday marked the 17th anniversary of the church’s first service. “I think of the different friendships that we’ve had through the years, and the grace that you have given friends. Have you experienced that grace — not only from God the Father, but from friends here on Earth?” Moffett also introduced a video concerning an upcoming seminar put on by Crown Financial Ministries, one that promised to “transform your life, helping you get control of your finances God’s way.... If you’re looking for real change in your finances, for solid biblical answers, then now is the time to begin your journey to financial freedom.”)

Recipe-ingredient number one: friends hook and release. “The three most important words in the language of friendship are ‘let it go,’ ” said Kuehl. “If you want friendship, then you will pay a high price called forgiveness. Jesus teaches us how to do that.” His own friends abandoned Him, but “on the cross, He whispered, ‘Father, forgive them.’ You see, Jesus loved these guys.”

Ingredient number two: friends swim in deep waters. “When you walk through deep troubles with a friend, you develop a bond that transcends the differences you have. Suffering unites.” To demonstrate, Kuehl asked everyone who had ever somehow been affected by cancer to stand. (Nearly everyone stood.) He asked them to shake hands in silence. “A couple of moments ago, complete strangers. When I mentioned this specific suffering, almost instantly, we felt a connection. We share this love, this solidarity. Many of you wear crosses; they remind you of the God who suffered like you...who bled like you bleed.”

Ingredient number three: friends are fish out of water, helping us find supernatural supplies of oxygen. “We need friends who can remind us, even on the Good Friday days of our lives, that Easter Sunday is coming. And Jesus is Easter, reminding His friends that there is always hope. So, this morning, as you assess, ‘How good a friend am I?’ remember first how good a friend Jesus is to you.”

Kuehl closed with prayer: “Lord Jesus, I know that from the seashore of heaven, You’re shouting ‘Friend!’ to everyone in Your house today.... You are the best friend we ever could have. Help us to look around.”

The bulletin offered further questions for personal study, such as, “How do our friendships demonstrate the character and love of God to those outside the faith?”

What happens when we die?

“Well,” said Kuehl, “if you have invited Jesus Christ to be the savior and lord of your life, you’ll go straight to heaven — and if you haven’t, you won’t. But I would add to that: we will be blown away by how gracious a God we serve. People you don’t think will be there, will be there.”

The Church at Rancho Bernardo

11740 Bernardo Plaza Court, Rancho Bernardo

Denomination: nondenominational
Founded: 1992
Senior pastors: Harry Kuehl and Jeanette Moffett
Congregation size: 3000
Staff size: 40 (including part-time)
Sunday school enrollment: 500
Annual budget: 10 percent given to missions
Weekly giving: n/a
Singles program: yes
Dress: casual to semiformal
Diversity: majority Caucasian, but mixed
Sunday worship: 9 a.m., 11 a.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour, 5 minutes

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