From the Beginning...

(Excerpts taken from A Heartbeat From Hell…a choice for life)

Stephen Mays was an ordinary kid who grew up in a large city in California. He was a fun-loving, all-American boy who earned good grades and had a bright future ahead of him. Yet despite a good upbringing and a wholesome family life, there was a day in Steve’s life that changed everything. A schoolteacher had sexually molested him. Steve’s life became marred. Hatred and bitterness began to grow. He began to turn on all those who represented authority, even his parents. In one moment, everything had changed. He went from being a happy kid excited about life to being filled with resentment and anger. His safe, innocent, and happy world had been shattered. In a short time, he was smoking pot and stealing. His grades went from straight As to Ds and Fs. He lost all motivation for living. Steve was on a twisted path toward destruction.

Steve felt like he could tell and trust no one, not even his parents. He became so violent that his parents resorted to calling the police when things got out of control. One day, Steve, stoned as ever (this time on LSD, marijuana, and a combination of other drugs), terrorized his parents with a machete. His mother looked on in horror as Steve, machete in hand, grimaced and paced around the house like a madman swinging the blade. When Steve fell asleep, his bewildered parents quietly took away the machete.

To maintain his drug habit, Steve had to steal. He had also become the school drug dealer and was kicked off the high school football team. Steve hated his life. He hated the person he had become and saw no hope for his future. One by one, Steve had pushed away everyone who had once been important to him, especially his parents. As far as his parents were concerned, they had an incorrigible rebel on their hands who was beyond hope.

Living with the Gang...

Steve now did what he thought he had to do—run away. Steve came across a group of guys riding Harley-Davidson motorcycles. The motorcycle gang members were in their mid-30s, twice Steve’s age. They carried guns and were heavily involved in crime and drug dealing. He was invited to live with them and was able to stay as long as he worked on their bikes. The empty lives of these gang members were steeped in the drug counterculture of the day. The days were spent using, buying, and selling drugs, as well as other criminal activities. As the house members began to sell more and more drugs, Steve also began to deal.

A member of the gang told Steve that someone had taken a contract out on him, placing a price on his life. Instead of running, Steve got a shotgun with a 12-inch barrel and began practicing with it. With paranoia mounting and loneliness engulfing him, Steve kept taking drugs in an effort to dull the pain and block out his sadness. One evening out of nowhere, a P-38 pistol was pointed right in Steve’s face. A familiar, sinister voice behind the gun clamored, “You’re a dead man! There’s a contract out on your head, and I might as well collect on it before anyone else does!” Immediately, Steve heard a deafening explosion that rang through his ears, followed by a searing pain like a red-hot iron ripping through the calf of his left leg. Screaming in horrific pain, he finally passed out on the floor. Steve awoke to a strange noise, discovering that he had no idea where he was. The muscles of his calf had been blown out. The blood had dried, and the pain was excruciating. Out of the gaping wound in his leg he pulled some bloody cloth rags that had been placed there to stop the bleeding. There was no one to help and nowhere to go. The authorities wanted him. Those he had called friends were the ones who had betrayed him, and he was unable to return home to his real family because of his horrible and explosive behavior. He had not bathed or brushed his teeth in months, and he had not slept soundly for weeks. At that moment Steve thought to himself, “I am going to die, and no one cares!”

The Outlaw...

He knew he needed help, yet he realized that the only place he had to turn was the same house in which he had been shot! Steve pleaded; begged, and cried, hoping the gang members would get him help. Then Steve remembered a nurse his mother knew. They agreed to take him to the home of this nurse. Then to silence her and to keep her from giving him away, he threatened to kill her. By his third visit to her, she finally got the courage to call his parents. Steve’s mother called the authorities while he was still at the house getting his leg cleaned. They realized they had him for draft evasion and thought they had apprehended the right suspect for shooting an old lady. Steve had been accused of shooting this lady during a robbery. She had told the authorities she returned fire with a rifle and hit the suspect with a .22-caliber bullet. Fortunately, it was clear that Steve had been shot by a .38-caliber bullet. Then the authorites let him go! All he was required to do was report to the draft board, which he did. To his surprise, they also released him, not wanting to send him to Vietnam because of his gunshot wound. Steve never understood why either agency let him go. However, it is clear to Steve today that God was beginning to move in his life.

A Clean Break...

Being empty and wasted on life, relationships, and drugs, Steve’s bitterness was deepening. Then one day a husband and wife named Henry and Shirley discovered Steve as they came out to their car, which was parked near the gutter in which Steve was sleeping. Amazingly they invited Steve into their home, gave him a long-overdue shower, and fed him a meal. Shirley and Henry had been on their way to their church, Calvary Chapel. It was very different from how Steve remembered church to be when he had attended as a child. There were swarms of young people—hippies just like Steve with long hair, bell-bottoms, and bare feet. Steve noticed that there were even businessmen, in their suits, embracing the hippies. What could these people possibly have in common? They didn’t seem to be “high” but rather genuinely happy. Steve was compelled to be part of what was happening. Steve remembers when the pastor, Chuck Smith, came out to greet everyone:

He wasn’t at all what I imagined him to be; he seemed different from typical preachers. He had this huge smile that just captivated me, and for the first time I saw a man whom I admired. I saw in Pastor Chuck a strength that I had never seen before. He was built like a rock, and he spoke like a prophet of God! I saw a genuine love in his eyes. This man was different, and right then I knew I wanted whatever it was that he had!

That night Steve accepted the salvation of Jesus Christ into his life. Steve became a new man. It was as if God just grabbed him and reached deep into his heart. It was the most incredible power he had ever experienced. For the first time in many years, Steve knew he was truly loved. Steve realized there would be a battle in his life. Satan, his own mind, and life itself would constantly try to remind Steve of his sinful past. However, Steve read a Scripture that would guide him for life: “Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4, NASB).

God placed it on Steve’s heart to make amends with his parents. He had grown to hate them and had blamed them for just about everything. Steve telephoned his mom. He told her that he had accepted Jesus Christ and described the events that had taken place. He then apologized and witnessed to his dad. His dad wasn’t as convinced as his mom was. His dad had grown tired of Steve’s explosive behavior and his many passing fads. So for the next 17 years, Steve just lived a changed life before his dad. When his father was dying of cancer in the hospital, he accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.

A Calling...

The 1970s were a special time for many young people like Steve. Hippies were coming to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and personal Savior in droves. Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa soon outgrew its small building and began making plans for a larger church facility. Pastor Chuck Smith’s heart ached to reach this lost generation, not with rules and religion but simply with love, grace, and God’s Word. Pastor Chuck’s philosophy was that if he simply taught the Bible as the whole counsel of God, then God would do the work of changing lives from the inside out.

In 1971 Steve, like many others, became a resident of a Christian communal house, where 20 to 30 young people would live together in a family-type setting. Like the other residents, Steve committed what spare time he had to intense Bible study and sharing his new faith with almost everyone he met. Steve’s first position of spiritual leadership came after he had spent more than two years in two different communal houses in Costa Mesa. He felt led by the Lord to go to the California desert area of Victorville and start a Christian communal house there. A house in Victorville called the Macedonia House was started with a total of 30 residents. While in Victorville, Steve proposed to a pretty blonde girl named Gail. To his shock, she accepted immediately. In one week, Steve and Gail were married.

Not long after, Pastor Chuck Smith called Steve to pastor his first church in the desert of San Bernardino. The church was in the city of Twenty-nine Palms. However, despite this time of deep personal growth, Steve still experienced many disappointments while in Twenty-nine Palms. The small body of believers continued to appear dry and fruitless. Steve was forced to rely on the “strong arm” of the Lord and lean only on Him. It was at this time that another Scripture became a lifelong guide: “As your days, so shall your strength be” (Deuteronomy 33:25).

A Time to Grow...

After years of discouragement in Twenty-nine Palms and being broken before God, Steve showed up at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa and silently and brokenly dropped the keys to the Twenty-nine Palms church into Chuck Smith’s hands. The church had divided and finally closed. Steve thought that it was all over, that he would never be used in ministry again. After this meeting, Steve departed and purposed in his heart that he would never quit again, no matter how difficult it got. To Steve’s great surprise, Pastor Chuck offered Steve a position as the elder of one of the Christian houses called the House of Psalms. Steve accepted the position. It was here that God did His breaking work in Gail. In Twenty-nine Palms they had been living in a three-bedroom house in a quiet neighborhood. Now she was sharing a cramped house with 40 other people. Their new kitchen became the meeting hall, leaving Gail to do her dish washing in the bathtub. Steve and Gail lived and were involved with these homes for more than seven years. After overseeing the communal homes, Steve started a church in Buena Park, now known as Calvary Chapel of Cypress. Two more years of additional trials and struggles ensued, during which they prayed the church would grow and be fruitful. Yet the Lord had impressed on Steve’s heart the need for him to leave the church he had started; he believed God had said that he could never be an effective senior pastor until he learned the real lesson of submission. So he left his church in Cypress, and for two years he became an assistant pastor at Hosanna Chapel.

Years went by. Steve finally gave up the thought of ever pastoring a church of his own. Then he got a message that he was to call Pastor Chuck or Pastor Don McClure. Returning the call, Steve was told that his name had been unanimously recommended during a regional pastors’ meeting for a senior pastor position at Calvary Chapel South Bay in Los Angeles. In the spring of 1980, Steve walked onto the premises of his new church. Calvary Chapel South Bay was home at that time to a congregation of about 50 people, and they occupied a building of 1,500 square feet. Within just a few years of ministry, the church had to move to a bigger facility nearby. Through the years of failure, God had taught Steve about being faithful in the small things. What Steve had considered “failed attempts,” God saw as great opportunities for Steve to grow. Steve learned that there is absolutely nothing that comes into our lives that God hasn’t allowed. This new church would be Steve’s opportunity to do God’s work God’s way, one day at a time!

Still Learning...

The church continued to grow. Soon, a newer main sanctuary of 14,000 square feet was needed. God was adding to the church quicker than Steve could get property. The only solution was to start building. He recalls,

The building project was a stretching time in my life. I remember doing the everyday church things, ministering, teaching, administration, and counseling. I was doing three services on Sunday mornings, one on Sunday nights, and a midweek study on Thursday nights. I complained so much to God. We didn’t have a large pastoral staff at that point so I felt like I had more than I could handle. On top of this, we were building and trying to find space anywhere we could. Between the ministry and the construction projects, I was working day and night. I finally realized one day that I was doing things with the wrong attitude. It was not pleasing to God. I wasn’t doing it for God. I was doing it for myself and for everyone else.

One day Steve woke up and just couldn’t get out of bed. The doctors ran a lot of tests, including a brain scan. They diagnosed him to be suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). CFS causes extreme fatigue, headaches, sore throats, muscle and joint aches, memory loss, and a whole range of other symptoms. Steve tried fiercely to fight the condition, only to discover that he couldn’t win. With his immune system severely compromised, Steve spent a lot of time recuperating and resting. Yet supernaturally the Lord gave him the strength to continue in the pulpit.

Today Steve realizes just how much he learned through this sickness. For the first time he was able to relate with those in his congregation who were sick. He could say from his heart that he understood what they were going through.

In 1994, he severely injured his knee, which resulted in several surgeries. Unfortunately, these surgeries did not correct his knee problem. The pain became so great that it was difficult for him to stand and teach in the pulpit. Finally, doctors performed major reconstructive surgery on his knee, which left him bedridden for 40 days.

In 1995, Steve was diagnosed with severe sleep apnea. Shortly after the diagnosis, the doctors decided to do yet another surgery, this time on his throat to enlarge his esophagus and hopefully correct the problem he was having in sleeping. Although the throat surgery was successful, Steve’s sleeping problems continued. Sleep studies performed at UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles revealed that Steve woke up about 150 times a night and never reached REM sleep.

In 1996, Steve again had surgery to remove a blockage in his nasal passage, which the doctor was convinced was responsible for his sleep problems, but he wasn’t out of the hospital for long. Soon thereafter he began suffering with pain, cramps, and nausea when he would eat. Late one night after a Sunday evening service, Steve had a gallbladder attack. Steve remembers,

That Sunday I taught in the worst pain I’d ever been in. I passed out, woke up, and went straight to the doctor, who put me right into the hospital. I was operated on within two hours. My gallbladder had ruptured. The doctor told me that this would be a great surgery, that I’d be able to eat anything and not get sick.

The doctor, however, was wrong; Steve’s problem was not solved. Unable to eat and in severe pain, he began to lose weight. Steve returned to the hospital that year for an operation on his pancreas. He was told that the surgery entailed high risk. Furthermore, there was a chance he could be hospitalized for as long as six months. Steve not only came through the surgery successfully, but he was out of the hospital in a few days. Through these ailments and surgeries, even up through today, Steve has been learning the importance of delegation. He has had to learn to trust his staff and let God do the work. Steve had always been a man who took pride in getting things done. But in these circumstances, there were times when he couldn’t even get out of bed. Therefore, he was forced to delegate. He learned that if he didn’t delegate, he would lose what God had given him. He had to let go and let God take over.

Unless He Builds...

In 1997 God wanted to multiply the ministry of Calvary Chapel South Bay. The ministry of Calvary Chapel South Bay began to expand, and it was again time to find a new church location. The odds were definitely against them. Real estate prices were out of control. Available property of that size needed appropriate zoning, which is difficult to get in Los Angeles. Furthermore, Calvary Chapel South Bay had become a diverse ethnic and multicultural church ministering in an inner-city environment—not by any means an ideal risk as far as the banks were concerned. One night, God ministered to Steve from Isaiah 54:2–4. Steve read it like this, with God speaking His words right into his heart.

“Enlarge the place of your tent”: It’s time to move to a bigger place so that I may do a bigger work. “And let them stretch out the curtains”: Steve, I will have other people come by your side to co-labor. “Do not spare; lengthen your cords”: Strengthen your leadership! “And strengthen your stakes”: Steve, I am going to do a deeper work. “For you shall expand to the right and to the left”: The church shall reach out to the right and left of the Los Angeles 110 freeway. “Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed!”

The property the church began looking at would fulfill all that God had promised to Steve. The church placed an offer on a large building located on Vermont Blvd. in Gardena. One by one God began to move the mountains that were in the church’s path. On Saturdays for almost nine months, 100 to 200 people from the church body gathered together and formed a work crew. God provided above and beyond what anyone could have ever asked for or imagined from Him. In addition to building the new Calvary Chapel South Bay facility, the Lord also allowed Steve and the congregation to build relationships. The congregation in South Bay became a closer-knit family.

Completing the Work...

How can God use a man like Steve Mays? He was once a heartbeat from hell and is now being used for the kingdom of heaven. What happened in his life? The answer is divine intervention. After more than 30 years in the ministry, Steve has realized the work is really never done. He continues to battle with severe sleep apnea and has also gone through more physical ailments, including fracturing a disk in his back which demanded immediate surgery, recovering from prostate cancer, having both knee replacements and in 2010, he had spinal surgery requiring 42 stitches on the front and 42 stitches on his back. Currently, Steve is also in the midst of yet another building project as God has given more property to the ministry of Calvary Chapel South Bay. He knows for a fact it is the grace of God that has seen him through, and it will be the grace of God that will continue to see him through.

Steve Mays has made a choice for life in Christ Jesus. Looking back over his life, Steve understands better what the author of the book of Hebrews and the great apostle Paul said: “Jesus [is] the author and finisher of our faith” and “Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). These promises of God are certainly evident in Steve Mays’ life.

Pastor Steve was the Regional Overseer and Pastoral leader over Calvary Chapel Outreach Fellowship, which included over 900 Calvary Chapel ministries, both domestic and international from 1997–2005. He also collaborated with the CHP and developed the South Los Angeles CHP Chaplain program, in which Calvary Chapel Pastors assist the CHP in critical incidents, death notifications and debriefings. He was invited to speak in Nigeria at the Gideons International Convention in 2002, sharing with businessmen the truth of God’s Word and the fundamentals of studying His Word. Pastor Steve was also invited to participate at Oxford University’s Round Table in London, England. The Oxford Round Table is a symposium for learned discussions of contemporary issues of significant consequence. Pastor Steve’s topic of discussion concerned the relevance of religion. He was also one of the guest speakers at the Pro Family Legislators Conference in Dallas, Texas, hosted by Wallbuilders in 2006. In January of 2008, he was invited to conduct a Bible Study at Prison Fellowship Ministries, the Pentagon, and at the White House, where he also attended a special breakfast gathering with then President George W. Bush. Steve Mays has become a well-known conference speaker, commencement speaker, author, and has a national radio broadcast, “Light of the Word” which is heard on many radio stations throughout the country.

Steve is a graduate of Azusa Pacific University, holds a master’s degree in Theology and in 2007 at APU, he was awarded the highest academic honor—an honorary Doctor of Divinity Degree, in recognition of his ministry at CCSB and for his leadership qualities in advancing the cause of Christ. In 2008, he received the Cornelius P. Haggard Outstanding Alumnus Award at the APU School of Theology’s 25th Anniversary Celebration.