“You are here,” reads the tagline below “Grace” on the banners and bulletin covers for Grace San Diego. Undoubtedly, more than one layer of meaning is intended here — layer two may be something like, “You are here on this earth; what are you going to do with the time you’ve been given?” or “You are here; God has formed you out of love and holds you in beloved existence.” But it’s the literal meaning that gets top billing: Grace’s logo is a stylized map showing the church’s Normal Heights location, with the 805/8 interchange making a sort of bent cross overhead. “You are here — in California, in San Diego, in this neighborhood.” A clever plug for a religion that asks you to love your neighbor.
When I arrived, the 8:45 Heritage Service was still running in the church proper — white woodwork and pale gray carpet, a clean and tidy ’40s sort of building — while the crowd of young and lovelies, interspersed with a smattering of grayer heads — was beginning to gather in the darkened gymnasium. “Do you know that the other church doesn’t get out until after 9:30?” one young woman asked another. “He scrams out, grabs some coffee, changes clothes, and comes in here.” “He” was pastor Tim Scott, who was, just then, decked out in a suit and tie and talking to the Heritage bunch about visiting a young people’s sporting event. By the time he arrived at the gym, he had shimmied into jeans and a close-cut, untucked dress shirt.
But that was 20 minutes in, after a thorough warm-up from the band, who rocked their way through what seem to be the praise hits of the moment. “Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord/ We will wait upon the Lord...” “Savior/ He can move the mountains/ Our God is mighty to save...” (Even the amped-up old standard “Jesus Paid It All” seems to be enjoying a comeback.)
The service was part of the church’s “starting over” series on living (tagline: “We believe in life before death, too”). Scott’s opening prayer — we bowed our heads, but it was more of a statement to us than to God — touched on his theme for the morning. “I want to tell you something today — if you are stuck in behavior and attitudes that are breaking your life apart, you can start over today, and you can sustain that change by God’s power. If you’ve been wanting to start over...submit to God.... He loves you; surrender to Him right now.”
That was the key, but Scott backed away from it, choosing instead to work toward it as a grand conclusion. He began instead with a question: why do we fail in our efforts toward substantive change? “You modify your behavior based on the pain of the reality of what you’re doing, and then, as time goes by, you lose it.... When the pain subsides, the motivation subsides. What I want to talk about is dynamic change. You need something in your life that is going to be powerful. In John, chapter four, the woman was promised by Jesus a well that would be within her, that would spring up to life no matter where she went. A dynamic, life-changing source in her life.”
The problem? “When you fail to change your beliefs, you are doomed to return to the failures of the past.... I’ll show you that biblically, but it’s true as well psychologically. A damaged heart can be renewed and made whole.” What does it take? “An outside resource that you tap, dynamically animating your life.”
Scott quoted Luke, chapter six: “‘For there is no good tree which produces bad fruit.... The good man, out of the good treasure of his heart, brings forth what is good.’ Your heart has to change.... It’s a supernatural transformation.” He made a practical suggestion — ten minutes a day with scripture (“where you have a transaction with the Holy Spirit of God”), followed by five minutes of thanksgiving and five minutes of spoken truth. (“‘God loves me. I love God. God chose me. I’m a child of God. I can live for God....’) Do that for six months; if you don’t change, I’ll be shocked.... Your heart becomes reconditioned by truth.”
Case in point: David, who in Psalm 51 prayed for a clean heart and a steadfast spirit and to have that spirit sustained. “This was after David had sinned with Bathsheba.... David didn’t need a therapist; he needed a revival! David knew the source of dynamic change would be from God. It’s not just about you getting your life together; it’s about you surrendering to the power of God.”
What happens when we die?
“If there is a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ — belief in the Lord Jesus Christ,” said Scott, “you go to heaven.”
Grace San Diego
Address: 2716 Madison Avenue, Normal Heights, 619-280-1495
Founded locally: 1912
Senior pastor: Tim Scott
Congregation size: about 1000
Staff size: 15
Sunday school enrollment: about 100
Annual budget: n/a
Weekly giving: n/a
Singles program: yes
Dress: mostly casual, lots of jeans, some dresses
Diversity: mostly Caucasian
Sunday worship: Heritage service, 8:45 a.m.; Contemporary service, 9:30 a.m. and 11 a.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour, 15 minutes