From the second song on, the band at Calvary San Diego -- drums and guitars and pop synthesizers -- had the congregation's pulse. (They had the congregation's look as well: a mix of young and old, white, Asian, and Latino.) "You rule/ You reign/ You said you're coming back again!" boomed into the huge, green-tinged church over rhythmic clapping of many hands. "Who forgot to set their clocks back?" asked Brother Anthony during the announcements. "You should have seen the faces of the people that showed up early this morning. They thought they'd missed the rapture or something. 'I got left behind!'" The joke drew plenty of laughter, which quieted as Anthony made his presentation on behalf of Proposition 83. The proposition, he said, is known as Jessica's Law because of Jessica Lunsford, a nine-year-old who was allegedly raped and murdered by a convicted sex offender. "We have an opportunity this election to strengthen the laws.... I think we should take this opportunity to vote.... We're doing good.... Let's stand up for righteousness! Amen?" "Amen!" shouted the congregation. Pastor Bryan Newberry took the podium and added, "Whichever way you vote this election, do vote. The Bible says, 'Give honor to whom honor is due.' It's within your power."
The rapture joke played well because Newberry was in the midst of unpacking Matthew 24, a chapter full of end-times talk. He reeled off a long list of signs, not least among them the reforming of Israel as a nation in 1948. Matthew 24:32: "Now from the fig tree learn this parable. When its branch has now become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that the summer is near."
"Through the Bible, Israel is called the fig tree. Jesus is indirectly saying, 'When Israel begins to bloom again.' If you look at the signs of the times, you know the season of the rapture of the church is coming."
Drawing from all over Scripture -- Prophets, Gospels, Letters, Revelation -- Newberry laid out end-times history, from the rapture through the tribulation to the second coming of Christ at Armageddon, when the armies of the world unite against Christ and he "slays them all with his wrath. The Bible says that blood will rise to the bridle of a horse in that valley at that time." There follows Christ's earthly 1000-year reign over the righteous, with Satan's final rebellion and defeat coming just before the last judgment, after which everything is melted away and "God makes a new heaven and a new earth."
During the tribulation, those caught up to heaven in the rapture share in the seven-year marriage feast of the Lamb. "It's a comforting thing to know that at any moment, as a believer, we can be snatched out of here and get our brand-new bodies and be with the Lord." He cited 1 Corinthians 15:52: "We shall all be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption."
On the one hand, the post-rapture details were something of an academic discussion: "I'll be up eating with the Lord in heaven," said Newberry, "so it's not going to matter to me one way or the other." On the other hand, these things were worth thinking about because "an accurate understanding of the future is important to how we react now." The rapture aside, there was the matter of the last judgment. Newberry warned against becoming like the "evil servant" in Matthew 24, who got tired of waiting for his master and started carousing, only to be caught unawares. "Why did he go bad? Because the tension of the Lord's return was not a reality in his heart. He said in his heart, 'I've got time to get right with God later.'"
Newberry joined Christ in exhorting the faithful to "always pray and not lose heart.... Love people, bless people, serve people.... I think the greatest good work we can encourage one another toward is prayer.... Every time the Lord talks about the end times, He talks about prayer."
Here, Newberry challenged the congregation: "Try to pray for an hour on Sunday night. You'll find very quickly: 'I can do a lot of things, but I can't pray.' It's because prayer is a whole separate Christian discipline. It's a whole other level of maturity to spend time...letting God speak to you and you speaking to him. You'll be discouraged by how your flesh won't let you pray. But you've got to. He says, 'Turn from your wicked ways... seek my face.' Turn from that which is hindering you from pressing into the very presence of God.... We are in the last days.... The Lord says, 'Watch and pray.'"
What happens when we die?
"The Bible says that Jesus Christ is the one way, the truth, and the life," says Newberry. "Those who receive him go to heaven to be with him. Those who don't receive him will go to hell. It's pretty simple."
1771 East Palomar Street, Chula Vista
Founded locally: 1985
Senior pastor: Bryan Newberry
Congregation size: "we don't count"; Newberry estimates 2000--3000
Staff size: close to 150, counting school staff
Sunday school enrollment: no exact count; "hundreds"
Annual budget: n/a
Weekly giving: n/a
Singles program: no
Dress: from jacket and tie to T-shirt and shorts
Diversity: mix of Caucasian, Hispanic, Asian American, and African American
Sunday worship: 8:00 a.m., 9:15 a.m., 11:15 a.m. (bilingual), 6:00 p.m. (Bible study and prayer service)
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour, 30 minutes