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Turned on to Jesus Chapter 1

by ARTHUR BLESSITT
with WALTER WAGNER

For Mom and Dad, who helped the most.

If anyman be called to preach, don’t stoop to be a king.
-Phillips Brooks

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
-2 Corinthians 5:17

CALVARY IN CALIFORNIA

The Building at 450 North Crescent Drive in Beverly Hills, California, swaggers under the smog-leaden sky, its hundred feet of perfectly manicured greensward swimming up to a rococo, palm-fronted, broad-shouldered edifice that houses the municipal court of the world’s toniest suburb. Here justice is dispensed in the most golden of America’s golden ghettos.
Though it boasts ten churches of every major faith within its tiny 5.69-square-mile radius, on the blistering hot morning of June 26, 1969, I was skeptical that Jesus Christ would find justice in Beverly Hills, for it was surely Him, not myself, as one of His ordained ministers, who was the defendant in the trial slated to begin in a few moments.

Beverly Hills, the Everest of Establishment enclaves, was playing reluctant host to several dozen members of my congregation, most of them under thirty’”hoods, bikers, dopers, pushers, runaways, teeny-boppers, nightclub dancers, hippies, and two Syndicate soldiers who between them had committed five murders. They were a gaggle of unlikely interlopers, white and black, tie and suited, bearded and beaded, mini- and micro-skirted, blue-jeaned, leather-jacketed, turtle-necked, bare-footed, some unwashed, many, for all I knew, concealing acid, uppers, downers, chains, knives and guns in their pockets.

They all had come unbidden, a spontaneous turnout of my pariah parishioners whose only house of worship was His Place, my combination church and gospel nightclub located in the heart of the Sunset Boulevard.

Despite their bizarre appearance and powder-keg mood, they were well behaved and respectful as they filled virtually all the spectators’ seats in the snug, richly paneled courtroom where the majesty of the law worked its Monday-to-Friday wonders, protecting due process and freedom of speech, of assembly, and of religion.

His Place was in dire jeopardy, and my outcast flock shared my skepticism that straight society would allow our unorthodox church to survive on a notorious public thoroughfare where every conceivable perversion and sin is for sale, where Satanic merchants who call themselves legitimate businessman cater to the full range of human weaknesses, providing the price is right.

Stripped of legalese, the issue about to be decided in court boiled down to a single, vitally important question: Was there room for Jesus Christ on the Sunset Boulevard?
The prosecution’s answer was no, at least not on the premises of 8913 Sunset Boulevard, where His Place occupied a nine-room building under the terms of a $400-a-month lease.
I had been brought to court to face a civil action following my refusal to obey my landlord’s eviction order. I could do nothing else but refuse. I knew from wearying experience that no other property owner on the Boulevard would rent to me. Now, if the case were lost, there would be no haven for the young people of the Boulevard who more than anything else needed Christ in their lives. That was the whole point of His Place and the reason I would make whatever sacrifice was necessary to prevent its being crushed by the power-brokers who ruled the Boulevard.

I smiled to myself remembering the first clash I’d had with my landlord only a few days after we moved in. He sent me a letter requesting that I remove a sign from the front of the building that he termed “offensive.” The sign, which I did not remove, read: “GOD IS LOVE.” Who, except someone encoiled by the Devil, could find the thought embodied in those three words offensive?

Now the trial was underway and the prosecution began to build its case. One witness testified that His Place attracted “degenerates and people of destitute condition.” Another said that those we ministered to were filthy in dress, speech, and manner. Then one of the private security guards in the pay of a Boulevard merchant who runs a particularly unsavory bar swore under oath that he had seen “twenty to thirty couples locked in fond embraces on the floor.”
The clincher was my landlord, who claimed that the existence of our House of God had led to an increase in his fire insurance rates, that people streaming in and out of His Place caused street congestion, and that when the building had been rented to us, he was unaware it was going to be used as a “religious center.”

Several members of my Team took the stand to refute the charges. Dale Larsen, normally the most unexcitable of young men, snapped that kissing and dancing much less “fond embraces on the floor” were strictly against the rules at His Place. That “twenty to thirty couples” could engage in such behavior without attracting the attention of a staff member would be impossible. His Place was not a brothel, but a sanctuary of God as sacred as a cathedral.
The attorney for the prosecution did his best to make Dale appear as kooks and freaks who dealt only with other kooks and freaks. Yet Dale, the strong right arm of my ministry, is a deeply dedicated Christian who has won hundreds to the Lord.

I strode to the stand impatiently when my name was called. I was no stranger to the courtroom. I had been busted and tried three times and to me the witness box was a pulpit’”a marvelous opportunity to quote at least a few passages of Scripture. No telling who might be reached: the bailiff, the court stenographer’”even the judge.

The prosecution’s lawyer couldn’t have been more helpful. He seemed an unwitting messenger direct from the Lord as he pursued a line of questioning that would soon give me a wonderful opportunity to preach, a temptation I am incapable of resisting under any circumstances.
Holding one of my tracts in his hand, he asked, “Do you acknowledge that you pass out these pieces of paper on the sidewalk in front of your building?”

“Yes, sir. I pass them out on the sidewalk, and I also pass them out in a lot of other places, everywhere I can. I especially like to place them between the covers of pornographic magazines in all those dirty book stores on Santa Monica Boulevard.”

A wave of laughter swept the courtroom.

“What does this paper contain?”

“It’s a gospel message I call ‘The Big Question.'”

“And what may I ask is ‘The Big Question?’

That was a tactical error. I had written the tract myself, knew it by heart, and was joyful at the chance to inform everyone in sight of its exact contents.

” ‘The Big Question,’ sir, and you should consider it yourself, is: If you died this minute, do you have the assurance you would go to Heaven?”

He looked startled. I raced on quickly, anxious to get as much of God’s Word as possible into the official court transcript.

“The Bible says there are four things a person must know to reach Heaven. It’s all in the Book of Romans.”

I ticked off the verses, adding a sentence of explanation for each passage.

“One: ‘For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.’ This means we all have sinned and we fall short of Jesus, God’s glory.

“Two: ‘For the wages of sin is death.’ Our sin has earned a wage and that wage is death or separation from God in Hell.

​”Three: ‘But God commandeth His love toward us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. “Four: ‘For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ An indication of God’s concern that the gospel should be preached worldwide, and that salvation awaits all who accept the teachings of Jesus and the apostles.”

Nobody in the courtroom was shouting, “Hallelujah,” but everyone, including the opposing counsel, was paying rapt attention. I paused to catch my breath and in the absence of any objections I continued.

“Now, how do you bring Christ into your life as Savior? Simple. Talk to Him.”

I bowed my head, I closed my eyes, and prayed the life-changing prayer:

“Dear Jesus, forgive me for all my sins and save my soul. I repent of all my sins and ask you to come into my heart and the Lord of my life, for I give myself to Thee. Thank you for hearing my prayers and saving my soul. In Jesus name, I pray. Amen.”

Reverence was on every face when I opened my eyes. And utter silence. I moved on quickly.
“What does a child in Christ do after committing his life to Jesus?”

Slowly and carefully, I spelled out the six critical steps that buttressed the newborn Christian in his faith. A few people were taking notes, so I added chapter and verse from the Bible.

by ARTHUR BLESSITT
with WALTER WAGNER

For Mom and Dad, who helped the most.

If anyman be called to preach, don’t stoop to be a king.
-Phillips Brooks

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
-2 Corinthians 5:17

CALVARY IN CALIFORNIA