By Michael Ashcraft —
As a kid, Jeff Fischer thought the Sunday school teachers at his mom’s mainline church resembled the spooky characters on The Addams Family TV series, so when he grew up he had no desire to go to church or come to Jesus.
But when he suffered a collapsed lung and a painful air bubble between his heart and lung, he grappled with neurotic fear of death and finally relented to accompany a co-worker to a “weird” Jesus People movement church.
When they asked him, “Have you been washed by the blood?” he thought it was a cult and dashed for the door.
With him, he took a Bible — and a “Jesus Lives” bumper sticker, which he pasted on his car. (He didn’t know about the the One Way-raised index finger gesture that was used at the time to show solidarity with people who had Christian bumper stickers, so he flipped off someone on the road who attempted to congratulate him.)
While he was spooked by the church, he started reading the Bible.
“I started with Matthew and read straight through the gospels,” Jeff says. “All I remember is seeing my sin in the pages and seeing Jesus so gracious and so accepting of sinners. My father left when I was 10 years old, so I had real issues with being accepted. I kept reading and kept seeing Jesus accepting all these people.”
Maybe he can accept me, he thought.
The next time Jeff attended a born-again function, it was a Bible study in Woodland Hills, California, taught by a bassist he had seen on The Tonight Show — a “cool guy who knows Jesus.”
“What’s going on?” he thought.
“I was thinking seriously about my mortality and my fear of death. I had people talking about Jesus and how He could save me and set me free from fear and that I could know that if I die I could go to Heaven. I didn’t have to live the way I was living and I could be free,” Jeff says. “That was utterly compelling, but I was also scared to death to give up my life because I wanted to continue to sin, to do my life and not God’s.”
He was living his dream life in Manhattan Beach, California — abusing drugs and alcohol, playing in a rock band called “Tyme,” and surfing everyday — but he was miserable and hung over most of the time.
As The Tonight Show musician taught, Jeff’s fears subsided and the Spirit welled up in him. At the end of the Bible study, the leader asked for everyone to bow their heads and close their eyes. “If anyone wants to receive Jesus, raise your hand,” he said.
Don’t put your hand in the air, he told himself, but his hand “leaped” off his lap.
He accepted Jesus as Savior and Lord and became a new creature in Christ.
“Something very dramatic happened,” he remembers. “It wasn’t a lightning bolt, but I had peace. Things had changed radically. I left that Bible study laughing and joyful and telling everybody I could that I had just got saved.”
His roommates at the surfer house thought he had gone insane.
He told his band mates that he would either have to quit the band, which already had a record deal playing progressive rock, if they continued to play secular music. Their style was a cross between Journey and Kansas.
His band mates eventually saw the genuine change in Jeff’s life and they all received Christ.
Jeff was attending Hope Chapel of Hermosa Beach, a church-planting ministry. It was a relaxed environment, appealing to surfers but with an uncompromising message and dynamic worship.
months, Jeff’s roadie died.
A bunch of friends gathered at the house of a drug dealer friend in Granada Hills (Jeff’s hometown) and held a memorial service. Jeff, a neophyte in God, knew more about God than anyone else in the room, so they turned to him.
“You’re the preacher guy here. Why don’t you pray?” they asked.
“I shared the gospel with about 25 of our friends and several of them came to Christ,” he recalls. “I was a brand new Christian, so I led them to Christ with a Budweiser in one hand. I was still trying to figure things out.”
A few days later at the funeral, Jeff again spoke, and another 75 friends got saved.
“It was 1979, at the tail end of the Jesus People movement,” he recalls. “To be a part of those early days and see so many people come to Christ was a great gift. It was so precious.”
An old Sunday school teacher agreed to launch a Bible study to disciple the converts, all in their 20s. Capitalizing on the the converts, Jeff’s pastor in Hermosa Beach eventually planted a church in an old theater in Granada Hills, and Hope Chapel was born in the San Fernando Valley, with Jeff as the associate pastor. A year leader, he was named head pastor.
His old band, which continued with the name “Tyme” but exclusively played Christian music, was the worship band. Cancelling their secular contract, they staged outreaches in Hollywood and the Valley.
Forty years later, Jeff is still pastoring the church, which isn’t particularly large in membership but has a large heart and a plan to reach the entire Valley.
“We’re a pit bull church,” he says. “We’re small but we have a big bite. We’re doing what we can to reach our city.”
Jeff’s church has launched Saturate SoCal, a local chapter of the national Saturate USA, which aims to give the JESUS movie DVD in eight languages to 60 million homes by hanging them on door handles in bags. The program was launched by a former missionary turned businessman and culled resources with other business people to underwrite the expenses.
After persevering in Christianity for 40 years, Jeff muses on how quickly God inducted him into ministry.
“It was very fast. God was moving in those days,” he says. “I am praying for God to do it again.”
Michael Ashcraft supports his Christian journalism by selling bamboo steamers on Amazon.