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Sunday at Cornerstone Church of San Diego was bright with promise. It was also bright with spotlights and searchlights, glowing now white, now green, now pink during the opening half-hour of praise. The lights matched the singers and the sound — intense, high-energy, with all the thrum in the chest and thrill in the adrenals of a proper pop concert. Gabe, the young man who led the singing in a dark suit accented by a pink shirt — French cuffs poking out the sleeves of his jacket — actually bounced in place as he pointed heavenward, crying, “Our father” — ba-DUM — “Who is in” — ba-DUM — “Heaven...hallowed be Thy name!” — ba-DUM DUM. Behind him, a choir swayed and clapped behind the backup singers, themselves backed by a doubled-up band — two drummers, two keyboards, two electric guitars (as well as a bass and an acoustic).

But back to the promise. Pastor Georgina took the mic over a Latin piano riff to sing: “Something good is on the way/ Just believe and start to pray... Hey, something good, yes we believe it/ Something good, yes we receive it/ Hallelujah, something good!”

“This year is our year to reign!” she proclaimed over the beat. “We stand in agreement, and we will have our way! It’s a new year, and God is going to give you new visions and new dreams.... God is in control, and God sees bigger and better things for you! We can walk in places that we thought we never deserved to walk.” The music began to swell beneath her. “When Peter saw Jesus walking on the water...he stepped out of the boat! We need to step out of the boat! I want you to lift your leg up and step out! We just need to receive it right now! How many of you see something greater for yourself today?” Happy cheers answered her question.

Pastor Sergio, the light clinging to his velveteen sport coat, said that it was the year for “Cornerstone to answer the call of God to take its seat in history to reign! Say, ‘I’m ready to reign!’” (“I’m ready to reign!” came the reply.) He expounded on Ephesians and quoted Pastor Sunday Adelaja: “The church...is the most potent organization on earth because it was started by Jesus and is His bride.... It is the hope of God because through it, and only it, the kingdom can come.”

Sergio called on the church to “take its message of grace beyond its walls! Grace is getting what you don’t deserve.... You need to leave this place an ambassador of grace. You come here Sunday morning to get so empowered that you’ve got something to say to your friends who say they would never go to church. Go to people who are tired of going to church, who are burned out on being told what the church told them they can or cannot do. Say, ‘No, no, come to a place where we don’t have you do the ladder of life.... The message of grace here is not about how high you can get up the ladder. It’s about everyone coming to the foot of the cross.’”

The message of grace was threefold and full of promise. First, God loves you and is not angry with you. “God satisfied His anger against our sin with Christ on the cross. From this point on, God will never be angry with the believer and never judge them for their sin.” Second, God is greater than the struggle that you’re encountering with sin. “God is saying, ‘I’ve liberated you from sin’s power and dominion over you. Any time you do sin, I have twice as much grace for you to deal with the sin.’” Third, God is waiting for you at the cross, not the ladder. “People think that to meet God, they’ve got to climb the religious ladder.... The next time you start feeling guilty, you need to get off the ladder and start looking at the cross.”

At the altar call, with bloody scenes from The Passion playing behind him, Sergio picked up a pile of nails from beside the on-stage cross and spoke to the souls gathered below. “You’ve been nailing yourself because of what you’ve done.... Jesus wants you to know that He took the nails on the cross for all the times you nail yourself.... Jesus says, ‘Give Me your nails.’ After today, you will never again have to deal with the consequences of your sin before God. God will never again see you as a sinner. From this point on, God sees you as perfect, righteous, holy.... You don’t have to work at being a Christian. Just be it.”

What happens when we die?

“As a believer,” said Sergio, “when a person dies, they’re ushered into the presence of God to enjoy a relationship with God for eternity.”

Cornerstone Church of San Diego

1920 Sweetwater Road, National City




Denomination: nondenominational
Founded locally: 1998
Senior pastors: Sergio and Georgina De La Mora
Congregation size: around 2900
Staff size: 13
Sunday school enrollment: 500
Annual budget: n/a
Weekly giving: n/a
Singles program: retreats for singles
Dress: casual to formal
Diversity: majority Hispanic, but diverse
Sunday worship: English, 9 a.m., 11 a.m.; Spanish, 1 p.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Website: turningthehearts.com

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