Pastor Joe Houser worries about our tendency to “look at Jesus as a get-out-of-hell-for-free card.”
4790 Santa Monica Avenue, San Diego
Pastor: Joe Houser
Born: Newport Beach
Formation: University of California-San Diego; Bethel Seminary
Years Ordained: 12
San Diego Reader: What is your favorite subject on which to preach?
PH: I think the whole concept that we’re born again — we’re new creatures and new creations and everything we do in life flows from that. I always like to point back to God’s love and here’s how He made you into a new creation — so it should affect every aspect of your life.
SDR: What is your main concern as a member of the clergy?
PH: We misunderstand the grace of God and don’t really see the grace of God. It goes back to our identity as Christians. The world and the church can look at Jesus as a get-out-of-hell-for-free card. But I think with Christ it’s so much more than that. I think God has so many awesome plans for people in this world and if people only gave Him a chance — Christians included — they’d find out that this faith isn’t only about avoiding hell but about living for eternity with God. The opportunity I have for that begins now. Even in my own church I’ll ask, “Do you realize the gifts and opportunity we have? It’s right at our fingertips. If we don’t realize it then the world, which looks at us as an example, will be wondering why they need this faith. You don’t live any differently than we do.”
SDR: Why did you become a minister in the first place?
PH: I was saved when I was 19. I was always told that Jesus was God but I was lost and lonely, depressed, hooked on drugs and realized I was going to go to jail or die looking for some meaning in life. Honestly, I tried Jesus at different times but didn’t think that religion or Jesus was really the answer — I thought it was a crutch for people. I didn’t see Christians as different from anyone else. Then one day God spoke to my heart and said, “You know, it’s not about religion; it’s about a relationship with Me. I want to give you a new life and a new heart.” When He said that, I didn’t know if it was going to work or not — I thought I had nothing to lose since my life was in the toilet anyway. I decided to give it a shot — and I wouldn’t hold back anything. It lit me up like a rocket. My eyes opened up — and I could see God working 100 percent in my life. When that happened, I never thought to be a pastor, but I just couldn’t shut up about Jesus. It was all that mattered in my life at that point. So, then, eventually people suggested I should talk and preach about him.
SDR: What is the mission of your church?
PH: Love God and love people. We have an official mission, which is to reach the lost and make disciples of Jesus Christ — but it comes down to loving God and loving other people.
SDR: Where do you go when you die?
PH: If you have Jesus Christ, you spend eternity in Heaven — which is a real, physical place. If you don’t have Jesus Christ as your lord and savior, you spend an eternity separated from Him — and that’s hell.