It is not uncommon for critics of Christian moralism to note that the Bible is chock-full of deeply immoral behavior. And that was what made Sunday’s service at Cross Church so remarkable. There, in a Poway elementary school gymnasium, Pastor Brad Graves taught a lesson in parenting based on a story that involved not only adultery and fratricide but also incestuous rape. (The kids, it should be noted, were off at Sunday school.)
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Graves hails from Arkansas, and he made light of his origins more than once during the service; before reading the poem “I’m My Own Grandpa,” he said that “this is going to tell you where I’m from — the great state of Arkansas.” And after showing a photo of father-and-son mugshots in which each sported a forehead tattoo (“Get-R-Dun” and “Psycho,” respectively), he said, “that’s even more redneck than Arkansas; I can’t relate to that.” But it all fed into the Big Idea for the day: “My sins will become my kids’ problems” — or, put another way, “generational consequences” are real.
But I’m getting ahead of myself again. Graves hails from Arkansas, and he planted churches in a couple of other (non-Southern) cities before “parachuting” into San Diego and starting Cross Church in his living room back in late 2008. Sunday’s congregation was small — under 20, not including band and staff — but Graves says that there’s a sizeable contingent of people who follow the church. They’ll come to events: Easter services, movies in the park, kids’ night at Pump It Up inflatable party zone. (Right now, the church is readying for a visit from Christian illusionist Danny Ray on May 30.) The hope is that the crowd that comes to the events will eventually check out the services.
Right from the start, the four-piece band made it clear that Cross Church is not afraid to be deeply biblical — digging into the unsettling bits. The song “Hosanna” opened with an image that could be taken straight out of John’s visions in the Book of Revelation: “I see the king of glory coming down the clouds with fire/ The whole earth shakes, the whole earth shakes.” (They were more of a performer-type band than a sing-along outfit — when worship pastor Lem Usita crooned “Left my fear by the side of the road/ Hear you speak, won’t let go,” the effect was much more singer-songwriter than group songleader.)
Graves generally worked high and fast in his delivery, but he dropped things down a bit for the opening prayer: “Bow your head, close your eyes, and pretend that there’s no one else in the room but you and God.... Tell Him now what’s weighing heaviest on your heart...lift that to God. Father, You know how to give good gifts to Your children.... I pray that those of us in the room who call You Father, that You will show them that You are ‘Abba, Father’ — Daddy. That You want to take care of Your kids.”
Because you know what? Earthly daddies: “whether you want to or not, sometimes in life, your kids end up following your mistakes.” Your successes, maybe; your mistakes, almost certainly. (Graves cited statistics showing that children of divorced parents are four times more likely to get divorced themselves.)
As a case study, Graves took up the story of King David, a man after God’s own heart. Even so, he committed adultery with Bathsheba and then, when she turned up pregnant, conspired to have Bathsheba’s husband killed in battle. Graves made David a case study and showed how his sins were both multiplied and magnified. First, the multiplication: David had a hand in one murder; as a result, no less than four of his sons wound up dead, two at each others’ hands. Then the magnification: David committed adultery in private, but one of his sons raped his own sister and another slept with his father’s concubines in a tent on the king’s roof.
The means to change, said Graves, came through Jesus Christ. “The burden is on you to change. You’re not under a generational curse; you’re under generational consequences. So, if the curse is broken through salvation, because of that, you become a new creation, and because of that, you have no condemnation.” Still, he warned, your sins will become your kids’ problems. “Put away every doubtful habit. Think: if my behavior were magnified, would it be a problem?” Because, he noted, “sin always escalates.”
What happens when we die?
“We’ll all stand before God,” said Graves, “and those who have made that personal decision to follow Christ will enter into eternal heaven. If you haven’t asked Christ into your life, try to make that decision before you die. That way, you’re not asking at the wrong time.”
11775 Shoal Creek Drive, Poway
Denomination: nondenominational, but connected to the Southern Baptists
Founded locally: November 2008
Senior pastor: Brad Graves
Congregation size: 120
Staff size: 6
Sunday school enrollment: 35
Annual budget: around $275,000, including missions
Weekly giving: n/a
Singles program: no
Dress: mostly casual, some semiformal
Diversity: majority Caucasian, but diverse
Sunday worship: 10:30 a.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour, 15 minutes