For 47 years the University Lutheran Chapel has faithfully ministered to students at UCLA—from those who need their faith nourished to those who have no faith at all. And since August 2005, Rev. Mark Jasa has served as pastor there, bringing his unique life experience and apologetics skills to the table, sometimes literally.
In the beginning
Pastor Jasa was born into a Lutheran household and has fond memories of going through Little Visits With God with his parents. However, he was a skeptic at a young age. He recalls believing that everything was finite, that there was no infinite God and he feared, therefore, that perhaps he himself didn’t even truly exist.
In junior high Jasa came to the conclusion that all religions were basically the same, or as he put it, “You need to be good to get the good stuff.” He reasoned, why choose one? So, he chose nothing. By the time high school rolled around, he had developed a keen interest in biology. He felt his teachers clearly cared for him and invested time in him, so he had no reason to doubt what they said. Jasa operated under the assumption that evolution was true and God really wasn’t necessary.
In the back of his mind he recalled hearing a sermon wherein the pastor said, “God loves you in spite of yourself.” And he remembered the words in the liturgy, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves…” (1 John 1:8). But he shoved those things aside and left the church for a time. No one seemed to have any good answers. It wasn’t personal. Not yet.
The turning point
In college at UCLA, this thinking was reinforced. Evolution=fact. Bible=lie. But a fear of death had begun to creep in and take hold. One day he was asked a question by a man named Cliff Knechtle, a Christian apologist who travels from college campus to college campus conversing with skeptics. “Is Hitler bad?” The question haunted Jasa. It dawned on him that of course he would have to say yes, but then that meant, logically, that there had to be a standard—a law. It was a watershed moment for Jasa, who vividly recalls that day when he said aloud, “I believe in God.”
However, it would be some time before the full impact of that truth settled in. He continued to grapple with these matters. There are things that are true. Right and wrong do exist. But how could he prove it? He was on a quest for truth, but not salvation yet.
During his investigations he began to see that Jesus as a Savior was unique. Reading through Isaiah 53, he saw that claim of the Bible began to take shape. Another benchmark: Jesus is God, but not necessarily my savior. In fact, for Jasa it all boiled down to: “Jesus is the one sending me to hell.” Clearly it was not good news yet.
Now it’s personal
Two Lutheran friends of Jasa would often take the time to engage him in many discussions and while he loved the interaction he was not personally convinced. His fear of death had continued to grow over the years. So one fateful day, these two friends took him to Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Hacienda Heights, California, where Jasa heard the words that he says changed the course of his life: “The good news is outrageous forgiveness for undeserving sinners.” Jesus’ promises were coming from the mouth of Rev. William Cwirla. “He has an amazing way of telling you that the Gospel is for you,” Jasa explains. Now it was personal. Now it was for Mark Jasa.
At this point Jasa knew that he wanted to be a pastor but he still lacked direction. At the urging of Rev. Cwirla and another pastor, he spent time as a missionary in Japan. He started putting more apologetics pieces together, reading Francis Pieper’s Christian Dogmatics and Josh McDowell’s Evidence that Demands a Verdict. He wanted to know how to be an effective apologist. He wanted to get to the heart of the matter.
What he began to notice was that in all of the world’s religions, there aren’t promises—only demands. Joseph Smith doesn’t make promises. Mary Eddy Baker doesn’t make promises. Mohammed definitely doesn’t make promises. But Jesus does…over and over and over again.
After Japan, Jasa went to Concordia seminary in St. Louis and served his vicarage at Humboldt State University in California. He recalls an incident after working with a student there, who claimed, “Mark Jasa has convinced me that God exists.” Jasa could only think, “I have failed!” Of course it was gratifying to lead someone to that point but he wanted to be able to clearly communicate the truth of the Good News—the promises. Lutheran attorney Craig Parton explained to him that the Lutheran doctrine of Law and Gospel, as well as Christ’s resurrection, are the keys to effective apologetics. Jasa took this and ran with it.
The harvest is ripe
In August of 2005, Jasa was installed as the pastor at the University Lutheran Chapel at UCLA. It was here where all of those pieces he had been gathering together formed a wonderful portfolio that would be utilized and tested in the most satisfying ways. His ministry there involves two worship services a week, Bible studies, fellowship and three days of evangelism on campus. He also gives lectures on various apologetic-oriented topics. Jasa has gained a reputation for posting unique and sometimes provocative signs, e.g. “Religion is for the weak,” in plain view on his ministry table that prompt people to stop and ask questions…all part of the plan, of course.
Jasa says that his preferred apologetics methods are ones anyone can use. He explains that, for the most part, we can approach apologetics with intellectual arguments or existential arguments (someone’s experiences). He likes to employ either or both, on a case by case basis. For example, talking to someone who feels guilty (existential) may drive that person to know the truth (intellectual). Jasa says we often try to include information/facts that aren’t necessary. He makes it a point to ask himself, “What does he or she need?” Then he leads them to the truth. This is an application of God’s Law and Gospel. He encourages anyone defending the faith not to focus on the existence of God, although it is okay to talk about that with someone if they bring it up. Also, he advises you not to spend hours trying to prove evolution is false. This will take you away from the heart of the matter. Instead, make sure you have your facts straight on the resurrection. He notes that the Josh McDowell book mentioned earlier, as well as John Warwick Montgomery’s book History, Law and Christianity are must reads in this regard.
Jasa says to keep in mind that there are certain things nearly everyone can accept. One of them is, “I have chosen to hurt others and have contributed to the way the world is.” Also, most people are afraid of death, so it is important to bring them back to that point. Finally, it’s okay to concede a point with someone, particularly if it is taking you away from the truth you are leading them toward. For example, if someone tells you the Trinity is a crazy idea, tell them they’re right, but on judgment day what do they think will happen?
“It’s a delight to be able to do what I do—whether I’m in the pulpit proclaiming Christ to our members or talking to atheists and telling them that Jesus is really free. Being a Lutheran is the easiest thing in the whole world because all you have to do is tell people what is true.”
Rev. Mark Jasa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org You can read more about the LCMS ministry at UCLA at www.ulcbruins.org.
Katie Micilcavage is the editor of Higher Things Magazine and the mother of two active teens in Gilbert, Arizona. In her spare time she is an elementary teacher. She can be reached at email@example.com