"I was stoned when I accepted Christ," said Jared Lee, a volunteer at Calvary Chapel San Diego. "When my parents got divorced, I started getting into the drug scene. I would smoke an ounce of weed in three days and would steal. Everything was about getting the next high." Lee's life changed when three people approached him in Balboa Park and told him about Jesus. "I found hope. There was something more in life," said Lee. Lee now believes Christianity is the only true way. "God opened my eyes." Lee joined Calvary Chapel and participated in their Fellowship in Recovery program. "The program follows the same 12-step program for Alcoholics Anonymous. I went from being a curse to society, as a drug addict and a worthless guy, to a blessing. I moved in to help my grandmother when my grandpa died. I am a high school teacher now, and I work with the youth at church. If I hadn't accepted Christ, I would be in jail or dead." Last Saturday evening's service began with "O' Come All Ye Faithful." Two percussionists, electric guitarist, bassist, acoustic guitarist, keyboardist, and three vocalists led the praise worship. The congregation clapped and raised their hands to the upbeat music. Calvary Chapel recently built a large white Spanish-style campus with a sanctuary that seats 1000. The compound includes a school and playgrounds. The church has not raised the money to finish the decor of the sanctuary's white walls. Two windows, with a view into a garden, and plants overhang the pulpit back wall. Pastor Brian Newberry entered from a side door to the large stage. Newberry's flowered shirt, shoulder-length feathered blond hair, and gum chewing created a casual atmosphere. Pastor Newberry preached on 2 Kings chapters 20 and 21. "In chapter 20, King Hezekiah was told he would have a short period to live," said Newberry. "Disease, sickness, cancer, heart disease, these are all things that in many cases end up being a tremendous blessing in people's lives. People know they only have a short amount of time to live. People's priorities change. Ninety-eight percent of the things we wanted to accomplish in our life have no value anymore; the 2 percent is what matters. I have seen bitter people faced with these circumstances seek forgiveness and reconciliation."
Chapter 21 chronicled the life of Hezekiah's son, Manasseh. "Manasseh did evil in the sight of God," said Newberry. "He worshipped pagan gods and erected altars in the Temple of the Lord." Newberry recounted Manasseh's wicked acts: he burnt his babies to pagan gods, he offered his daughters as prostitutes, and he practiced sorcery. "Tradition has it that he killed one of the greatest Old Testament prophets, Isaiah. Manasseh found Isaiah in a tree and sawed him in half. The story doesn't end there, though. Manasseh was captured by the Babylonians and while in prison, he repented. As wicked as Manasseh was, he will be in heaven with us. I'm sure when he got to heaven, Isaiah probably gave Manasseh a noogie, saying, 'Why did you do that?'"
After service, several people recounted their own stories of repentance. Fred Ambriz has seen his life change since he got involved with the church. "I used to have a lot of anger. I would yell at my kids. But through prayer this has dissipated. I don't know how it happened chemically, but God changed me. I'm now free to be honest with myself and to have a genuine joy in life," said Ambriz, an usher at the church. "When I am fellowshipping here, I feel closer to God. I see Christ in other people here."
"My faith has turned my life around. I was living a life of reckless drinking and smoking. There were mornings I would wake up at home and not know how I got there," said John Chisum, who has attended Calvary for 14 years. Everything changed for Chisum when he asked God to reveal himself. Several days later, a friend invited him to church. It was the sign Chisum needed to accept Christ. "I've gone from a dark, depressing, and empty life to one with purpose. Jesus filled a void in my heart." Chisum said his desires for cigarettes and alcohol are gone. "I don't think it's a sin to smoke or drink; I just don't think it is beneficial for a Christian. As our pastor says, 'Smoking won't send you to hell; it will just make you smell like you've been there.'"
Newberry spoke about life after death in his sermon. "God has appointed a time for you to die, and after that comes judgment," said Newberry. "As Christians, Jesus was already judged in our place. He who does not believe in Jesus will face the wrath of God. That is why people are afraid to die. After death, there is no purgatory and there are no second chances. If you don't get this right, you are going to be damned for eternity. This is not a game."
1771 East Palomar Street, Chula Vista
Denomination: Calvary Chapel
Founded locally: July 1985
Senior pastor: Bryan Newberry
Congregation size: 2000
Staff size: 100
Sunday school enrollment: 1000
Annual budget: don't know
Weekly giving: don't know
Singles program: yes
Diversity: white, Hispanic
Worship times: 6 p.m. Saturday; 8 a.m., 9:15 a.m., 11:15 a.m. Sunday
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour