Well, good morning to you on this epic fall morning! Wasn’t it awesome? What a great day! And to you who are joining us on livestream, we’re so happy you’re part of the family today. As Peter mentioned, for those who are visiting with us, we have just concluded a series through the Gospel of Mark. Peter felt a strong sense of burden at the beginning of this year, with all the disruption of COVID, political turmoil, and everything else that was going on, that we needed as a family to lock in on the person of Jesus Christ.
And so we have walked through the Gospel of Mark that concluded last week, and there’s a theme that was included in the passage Peter just read, which is just all through the gospel of Mark and really through all the gospels. And that theme is, “Come and follow me.” Jesus said four times, “Follow me. Follow me. Come and follow me.” And this is where we go at the end of a study like this, because in case you haven’t noticed, the world that we live in is very dark. But it was much darker in Jesus’ time.
When Jesus was born, as we know from the Christmas story, the man in charge was a man named Herod, who is legendary as a power-drunk person, who would do anything, including kill innocents, so that he could ward off any challenge to his power. And after Jesus ascended to heaven, the world actually got even worse because the Roman Empire was plunged into a civil war that engulfed the entire world, after which there was a succession of Roman caesars, who were pretty much maniacs and lunatics, who took a perverse pleasure in particularly persecuting Christians.
For some, in the time of Jesus, there were life-changing encounters with Jesus Christ, right? In Mark 5, remember the story about Jairus’s daughter, twelve years old? But when Jairus woke that morning, it was no doubt the worst day of his life because his daughter was dying. This man is a ruler of the synagogue, and against all social convention and the predominant religious viewpoint of his day, he sought out Jesus and said, “Can you help me?” And Jesus said, “Yes, I’ll help you.” And they start going to Jairus’s house. And you, if you’re a parent, you can fully appreciate the depth of emotion when you wake up and believe that this is your child’s last day on earth. But then Jesus says, “I’m going to come to your house.”
But on the way something happens. A woman who had an issue of blood, a woman who was no doubt excluded from the very synagogue in which Jairus was a ruler because she was considered unclean, a woman who woke up that morning broken and broke. She had gone to the doctors for treatment, but she had not been treated well. She was excluded, isolated, lonely, cast out. She also woke up and thought, “If I could only touch the hem of Jesus’ garment, I can be healed.” And so, she comes — you all know the story — in the crowd she reaches out for what literally is called the wings of his garment, the tallithim, the fringe. “If I could touch that symbol of his holiness and perfection, my world will change.” And her world did change. But all of it spelled out a delay for Jairus, for whom every second was like a million years. But at the end of that day, those two people, those two people, so diverse — the gatekeeper of the synagogue and the one to whom the gate was closed — their world was changed forever. They had a life-changing encounter.
And you know what? Over this past year, some of you have had a life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ. We have had miraculous healings in this church. We have had people who were going in one direction, and their lives were turned around. But the thing about life-changing encounters is that after they’re over, you still have to find a job, and you still have crazy relatives, and you still have to figure out how to live in peace with your wife. And even those who have had life-changing encounters with Jesus know it doesn’t guarantee that your children are going to love or follow Jesus. So, what does Jesus change in everyday life, like the disciples in Mark 9 that went up to the mountain and had perhaps the greatest life-changing encounter in the history of humanity, where they saw Jesus transformed in their sight? They heard the voice of the God of heaven saying, “This is my Son. Listen to him.” And immediately they come down the mountain, and they encounter a demon they can’t cast out. That’s life.
So, as we follow Jesus, how does he change our world? How does Jesus change our world? Well, following Jesus, first of all, as we’ve seen in Mark, means that we have a new final chapter. Jesus has written a new final chapter. I would challenge you this morning. Name the chapter that you’re in right now. No, I mean it. I want you to think about it. Name the chapter you’re in right now — this season of life. Is it Chapter Exhilaration? How many are “Exhilaration”? Oh, boy. Tough crowd. Whatever chapter you’re in right now, I know what the final chapter is going to be, because Jesus told us in Mark 13,
“And we will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.”
He said that. Whatever you got up to this morning, whatever secret grief or broken dream, disappointment, or struggle, I know your final chapter if you follow Jesus. One morning you’re going to get up with all of that, but before you go to bed that night, you’re going to hear a sound, like the greatest trumpet that we could never imagine. And you’re going to see the signs of the Son of Man coming in his glory, and an angel is going to personally, and carefully come and pick you up and take you to be with Jesus forever. That’s the final chapter. And we have to remember that. Whatever chapter you’re in now, we can often look at this chapter, be it happy, sad, as though it’s what it’s going to be the rest of our lives. But that’s not true. For every one of us who follows Jesus, he’s written a new final chapter.
But then following Jesus means there’s always a chance for a new beginning. There’s always! I don’t know about you. I don’t know about your year. I don’t know if this was the greatest year you ever had. But you know what? I can’t even count the number of things, words that came out of my mouth this year that I would love to put back in. The things I’ve said, the attitudes I’ve had, the meltdowns I’ve had, the struggles, the moments I’ve just thrown up my hands, all of that. But Jesus talks about that.
In Mark 14, a couple of weeks ago, Peter utters these epic words, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you this very night before the rooster crows twice, you’ll deny me three times.” Really, Peter? Really? Oh, okay, I got it. I get it. You’ll never betray me. These other knuckleheads, these are the betraying kind, but not you. Or maybe before this day’s even over, you’ll betray me three times. You ever had those moments, when you found yourself saying, doing, or thinking what you thought, “I never knew I was capable of that.”
But thank God, as Peter shared last week, after Jesus rises from the dead, you know what he said in Mark?
“Go tell my disciples and Peter that I go before you into Galilee.”
Go tell my disciples — why do you have to say, “and Peter”? Because if I’m Peter, and the word hit me: Jesus wants all the disciples to gather up in Galilee, I’d be like, “Yeah, well, that’s not me.” Because a denier can’t be a disciple. I’m a loser. But Jesus wanted to be sure. He said, “Go tell my disciples and Peter,” because you see with Jesus, there’s always a path to a new beginning. The epic denier becomes the most powerful defender. Mark, who was the runner in the garden, became the writer of the biography of Jesus, and all the fleers became the faithful. Now we make statues of them and paintings, and we talk about them, but every single one of those people needed a new beginning, and so do we. And thank God, through Jesus because of the cross that Peter talked about two weeks ago, for every one of us, no matter how much you’ve blown it, there is no epitaph written over your life. Jesus sees us in terms of our destiny, not in terms of our history. So, if you’ve had a bad year, if you’re a follower of Jesus, following Jesus means there’s always a chance. You can always make a new beginning.
And following Jesus means we belong to a new family. This is one of my favorite passages when we went through Mark, Mark 3:32-35,
“And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, ‘Your mother and brothers are outside seeking you.’ And he answered them, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.’”
And do you know, beloved, that this was probably the most radical thing that ever came out of Jesus’ mouth in that culture? This was probably Jesus’ most radical teaching, because in Jewish culture, your family was everything. If you didn’t have your family, you didn’t have an identity. Even when they said, “What is your name?” they wouldn’t say “Allan Sherer,” they would say “Allan Ben-Wayne,” or whatever “Judah Ben-Hur,” because you were identified according to your father and your family line. And the respect and the opportunity and the place you had in society was all provided by your family. Your family was your safety net. There was no social networking other than your family, really. Your family was your protection, and especially if you’re a woman and you don’t have a family, you had no good choices. Your life was virtually over. So, in a culture where they saw the family as the last bulwark, protection, and refuge against an oppressive Roman government, Jesus actually comes in and kind of tips over the apple cart, not to say that family’s not important, but to say that your view of family is not sufficiently expansive. Because whoever follows me, whoever does my will, he is my mother and my brother and my family. It’s radical.
You know, in this family, there are people — there are all kinds, just like in your family and mine. We got the crazy uncles and the uncontrollable nephews. We got every hue and type and personality. But you know, the beautiful thing of it is that when you put it all together in Jesus, it becomes a mosaic that more and more and more together reflects who Jesus is.
Let me give you one example. We have a piece of land. Most of you probably haven’t even been aware of it. It’s on the other side of that building, which is the office building. There’s a little road. I don’t know how many of you actually go out that back way, but that little road over there is called Walker Springs Road because all of this property that we now worship in was owned by the Walker family. And there actually are Walker Springs … Never mind. I want to digress, but there actually are springs. It’s not just nominal; it’s not just a pretty name. In fact, on the other side of that building, there’s a low piece of land, where there are more than thirty live springs, and the water comes out of it clear as crystal. I may get it tested, perhaps bottle it, and it’s my new business. But that whole area, even if you went out that road, you wouldn’t have known that it’s there because that whole area was completely overgrown with a dense, thick jungle of wisteria. And it was choking everything out, killing the trees, killing the vegetation. The only thing I knew about it was that Alan Bunn, one of our other pastors, told me ad nauseum, “Don’t go down in there. There’s probably water moccasins down there.” So, I just thought of it like the place with the water moccasins. I just imagined it like some sort of movie with fifty snakes slithering around.
But as we have been moving forward, probably the primary focus this year is that we want to integrate our campus into our neighborhood and integrate our neighbors into our campus. We want to invite them onto our campus to enjoy what we enjoy every day because we’re not in this neighborhood by accident. We, as a church, are here for a reason as each one of us individually is here for a reason. So our facilities guy said, “we want to pull off the wisteria and see what’s there.” So, they start pulling off buckets and buckets and buckets of wisteria. And lo and behold, there came out this. It’s hard to really get the scale of it, but you should all go there. In fact, let’s just all go right now. Let’s go. No. But that whole area is just beautiful. The springs run down into a stream, the stream runs down into a pond, and we planted hundreds of things, and we’re doing this for you. But really, we’re doing it more for our neighborhood, for the people who live here.
Now the interesting thing is when we started thinking about — we’re in the process of building a walking trail all the way around our property that will eventually go into the mixed-income housing project we’re doing across the road. It will be more than a mile when it’s all done. So, I found out that one of the premier trail experts in the southeast is right here in Greenville — the guy who did the trails at Connestee; he’s kind of nationally known — I called him over. I said, “Hey, would you build a trail? We want to build this trail.” And so, he said, “Yeah, I can build this trail.” Well, my guys, these guys … Put their pictures up … This is Daren and Jonathan and Dustin. Maybe you’ve seen them emptying trash cans or mopping or even cleaning a toilet. I hope, ladies, that you haven’t seen that. But these guys said, “You know what? We’d like to take a swipe at building that trail.” And it’s like, “You know about building a trail?” Well, they’ve all built trails! And so, actually, we’re getting this trail built at about a third of the cost that it would have been because these guys are doing it.
But it’s more than a project for these guys. It’s an act of worship for these guys. And as we’ve gone further … So after they did a certain amount, I called this guy back, the trail guru, and I said, “How are my guys doing?” I’ve got to be honest, I was checking up on them. I don’t know anything about a trail other than I walked on a few. And he looked at what was happening, and he tried to steal them from us. He literally offered to hire them because he was so impressed with what they’re doing. And I mention that because it’s a beautiful example that the gifting that gives this church the potential to have a dramatic impact on our city, our community, our world is not confined to preaching or singing. Every single one of you carries some gift, some ability. And every one of us is here for a reason.
And that then connects us to the next point that following Jesus means that all of us have a new target for obedience, a new target. And this is what it is: Jesus said the most important, the most important commandment —
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, with all your strength. And the second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. And there is no other commandment greater than these.”
Jesus sets up a target. He says, “This is the target. This is the target — loving God and loving our neighbors.” And those two are not two commandments; they are two sides of one coin; they’re one commandment that are inseparably linked. And the Bible makes it very clear that the two cannot be divorced from each other. It is impossible to love God with our with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and not love our neighbor as ourselves. That’s not real.
And so, I don’t know if you guys remember when Ryan Ferguson preached this passage. I just felt like it came like an anointing, like a thunderbolt from God. We need to set love for God and love for neighbor as the target of our obedience. It’s hard for us to remember that sometimes because we all have preferences, but this transcends all of our preferences. But love has to look like something, right? The Bible says, “Beloved, let us not love in word, but in deed and in truth.”
So, let me give a few examples of what love looks like. First, it looks like our mixed-income housing development, which is being built, as I said, right across the road. It’s the part that’s on the right of that site plan … the mixed-income housing development, which will build seventeen units of housing that will be affordable to worthy families in this community, in this neighborhood, which then gives them the ability to build generational wealth for themselves and their children after them. That’s what love looks like. We can’t solve the whole affordable housing crisis in the city, but we can make a dent. We can be part of the solution, and we are. And I just want to honor you, the members of North Hills, who voted overwhelmingly to give away four beautiful acres of land and $500,000 because love has to look like something.
Love looks like loving people. Someone said to Jesus, “But who is my neighbor? You know, I love my family, I love my kids. I love my epic neighbors who live next door to my house.” And that’s great. That’s definitely part of it. If you say you love Jesus and you don’t love those people, that’s bad. But when they asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” he told a story about a Samaritan, a person of a whole ‘nother race, a person of a whole different culture and even a whole different set of beliefs, a person who was seen as an outsider and a threat. He says, this is what a neighbor looks like. But he flipped the script because he didn’t become the object of pity. He became the provider of help. And in that story — that Samaritan man, may be one of the best known stories in all of Christendom — he put that man who was hurt on his own donkey. On his own. And he took his own time, and he took his own risk, and he took that man to a place of safety, and he gave his own money. So, love looks like owning it, not just talking about it.
And that’s what we want to do more and more. And so, a couple examples of that — next week an Afghan refugee family is going to move into the little house we own on Edwards Road. Many of you may not know about that house, but at the moment it’s available for temporary use. And so, a mother and father and four children, a newborn baby, are going to move into that house, and we’re just so happy that we can be part of relieving the hardship of neighbors like them.
And then over the last whole entire school year — 2020/2021 school year — because of your help, we were able to open ten pandemic pods for minority and low-income children. And that’s a great story. I’ve talked about it before. $300,000 came in, mostly from local businesses. We were able, because of COVID, to repurpose some of our staff here at North Hills to be able to do the HR support, logistics support. More than 200 children, public school children, came through our pods, like this young man, who was on a path to complete failure. And at the end of the year, there he is … actually, his brother is holding up his A-B honor roll certificate. And that’s a story that was repeated over and over and over again. You can clap. It’s great.
Following Jesus means we have a new target, and I believe God is dialing us into that target as a people, and it’s so exciting! Following Jesus means belonging to a new kingdom. Jesus said,
“The kingdom of God is like a grain of mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes larger than all the garden plants.”
Throughout the Gospel of Mark, and especially through the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is constantly talking about this kingdom. And it’s a kingdom of love. It’s a kingdom that had never existed before. You know, it’s a kingdom that’s made up of people from every tribe and every tongue and every kindred and every nation. And that kingdom brought the Roman Empire to its knees through love. Not with shouting or shooting. Through love. And that kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, which is expanding throughout the world more quickly and dramatically than it ever has in history.
And in our family meeting after the service, we’re going to vote to partner with two new missionary partners, who are part of the expansion of this kingdom. These families, working in two of the absolute darkest places on the planet, and we have the privilege to hold the ropes, as the euphemism is, to support them, to partner with them, to be part of what they’re doing, so that people who have never heard the name of Jesus will hear!
This morning in our first service, we honored Jim and Kathy Tanner, who have been partner missionaries with us in Papua New Guinea. Jim and Kathy served in PNG for fifty years. That’s not how old they are — that’s how long they served. Fifty years bringing the gospel to a tribe of people who had never heard the name of Jesus! There is no better way to spend your life than that! And we were able to bless them with a gift of $5000 to help them as they transition. And I wanted to put their faces up, because if you see them in the halls — they’re living here in Greenville now — if you see them, please stop them and say, “Thank you for your service.”
And finally, following Jesus means redefining the win, redefining the win. To me, the emotional climax of Mark is this story:
“While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the Leper, he was reclining at the table, and a woman with an alabaster flask of ointment, of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, ‘Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than 300 denarii and given to the poor.’ And they scolded her. But Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing for me.’”
[00:27:59] I was wrecked by this story again because that sentence “and they scolded her.” Who scolded her? The Pharisees weren’t there that we know of. It was Jesus’ followers. It was Jesus’ disciples. In fact, it was immediately after this that Judas was so offended that he went out and wanted to kill Jesus. The followers of Jesus scolded this woman because of this reckless act of devotion.
And I thought, you know, sometimes it’s easy for us who have been blessed with great teaching and lots of Bible knowledge to be suspicious of or stand in judgment of what we see as too much emotion, too much intimacy, excessive or extreme people. Now, of course, there can be emotion without knowledge. We don’t want that. Of course, there can be devotion without depth. But people, we have to somehow come to terms with the fact that Jesus never stopped and said, “Dang it, man, you are so smart!” Jesus never stopped and said, “I can’t believe the way you know the Bible. You’re like the Bible answer man. This is awesome!” Now, it’s great to know the Bible. We believe in knowing the Bible. We go through the Bible constantly because it’s our lifeblood. But ultimately, the people that stopped Jesus are the people who recklessly poured out their devotion and trust and faith in him. Jesus said, “She has done what she could.” Jesus said, “She has done a beautiful thing to me.” Jesus said, “Anywhere the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she did will be spoken of.” This is what captured the heart and attention of Jesus Christ.
And so, for you and I, as we leave this unbelievable book, whatever is the title of your chapter, whatever season you are in, here’s the reality — that we always have the opportunity to pour out our love and our devotion on Jesus Christ. Nobody can stop us. Many of us feel like, “I’m stuck. I’m stuck with this husband. I’m stuck with this wife. I’m stuck with these kids. I don’t have kids. I’m stuck in this church. I’m stuck in this city. I’m stuck in this job.” And those are all realities that we have to deal with, and some of them are pretty hard. But here’s the reality behind the reality — that whatever of those things is true, nobody can stop you from pouring out your devotion on Jesus Christ right now.
My wife and I were sitting last week. We were talking about this, somewhat in tears, and I said, “Honey, here’s the thing. Whatever anyone else does, we can always be with Jesus and become like Jesus and do what Jesus did.”
And so, as we approach this 30th anniversary, as we look to the future, as we come to the end, God willing, of COVID, here’s my question: are you all in? Or is there something in your life that you say, “When this is over, or when this gets resolved, or when this isn’t happening …?” Are we living in the future for another time and another place, another life? Or are we right now doing what we can? Are we right now doing a beautiful thing by pouring out our devotion on Jesus Christ?
I’ve asked Bryan and Claire to come, and they’re going to come up to the stage, and I’ve asked them to sing over us a song that was sung a couple of weeks ago:
“So here it is, my alabaster heart
I’m keeping nothing back from who you are
No hidden treasure, veiled by key or lock
You’re a lifetime worth of worship, and that’s only just the start.”
And as they sing over us, I just call you to actively engage with Jesus. Whatever is holding you back, whatever bitterness, disappointment is stopping you, just see it as in your hands right now and offer it to him. Give it up. And let’s be all in, breaking the box of our lives on the head of Jesus Christ.