So, a few months ago, I finally got to “get out of Dodge,” which is my favorite thing to do, and travel to visit several of our missionary partners and indigenous national partners. I traveled about 25,000 miles and was in five countries, and just to put the icing on the cake, three continents. And it’s a privilege, it is such a privilege to represent you with our partners.
My wife Rhonda was able to be with me for part of the trip, including a stop in Kenya. And we took the opportunity to take a couple of days of vacation time and go to Masai Mara, and if you’ve never heard of Masai Mara, it’s one of the big game parks where you can see all the big five, as they call them … lions and … no tigers, no bears. But it was awesome. I don’t have a bucket list, but if I did, that would have been on it. It was one of the most thrilling events of my life. We saw a hundred, probably more than a hundred hippos and more than one hundred giraffes. And it was amazing.
So, in the course of that trip, our driver stopped at one of his favorite places next to a tree, and they had sent a picnic lunch with us, and we got out. I think we have a picture of it. There we are sitting by the tree. Our driver took this picture, and while he was taking the picture, his truck radio crackled, and somebody said, “Is that you sitting over there with your truck with those people sitting by the tree?” He said, “Yes, it is.” He said, “Well, they better move because five lions are almost right on top of you.” So, if you don’t think I can move fast … It was a wonder to behold. If you want to know if we lived to tell the story, you can ask me afterwards. But yeah, when you get in a moment like that, all of a sudden your whole view of the world changes. It’s a clarifying moment.
And the apostle Peter, when he was writing the book of Peter, was near the end of his life. It was not going to be a pretty ending. It was actually going to be pretty horrific. And in that clarifying moment, Peter remembered what we all remember when we come to those moments. Peter realized what every one of us realizes, that all of our stuff doesn’t matter. Our reputation doesn’t matter. Probably 95% of the stuff that we think about and worry about all the time doesn’t matter. What matters is people. People matter.
And I want to talk this morning a little bit about Peter’s people. Peter ends by talking about people. The first person he talks about is Silas, or Silvanus. He calls him a faithful brother. Silas helped Peter write I Peter. We’re not exactly sure how. Did he just … like Peter spoke and he wrote it down? Or did Silas give him some pointers? “Hey, brother, don’t write it that way. That doesn’t sound good.” Or perhaps Silas just carried the letter. At the very beginning of I Peter, if you can remember that far back, in the first verse, Peter says
“To the saints scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,”
which is a pretty far-flung area. And so, no doubt, among whatever else Silas did, he carried this letter, which is a big deal, right? Because Peter could have written a letter and then it never got sent. And we know that Silas accomplished the job because we’re reading it today. So, Silas is a faithful brother. Silas was rock solid. From Acts 15, where we first meet him when he’s part of Paul’s team, the Bible never says anything negative about Silas, which is pretty awesome. And you know, Silas is someone who just showed up. We don’t know a lot about him. We don’t know much about his preaching. We don’t know what his spiritual gifts were. But we know that he was a man who showed up.
And I want to take a minute this morning to honor the people at North Hills who have shown up week after week, year after year as we’ve gotten to our thirty-first birthday. This church is really the story of people who have shown up. People like these, like our life group leaders, like Jim and Ginger Evans, who have served as life group leaders for twenty-four years. Dale and Barbi Haase have served for twenty-three years. John and Margaret Day, twenty-three years. Steve and Diane Bartel, twenty-two years. Joel and Peggy Taylor, twenty years. That is an aggregate, in those five couples, of 112 years of continuous service to us. Isn’t that amazing?! Yeah, let’s give them a hand! And for all of these people, their service has not been limited to life group leaders. How many of you have been either in one of their life groups or have been ministered to in some way by these five people? Would you just raise your hand? Look at that. Raise them high. Look at that … All across this auditorium. I was trying to do a calculation of how many meals y’all have provided over the twenty plus years, how many phone calls you got while dinner got cold and Dale’s on the phone and Barbi’s made a beautiful dinner, and it’s getting cold? Or how many times you’ve been at coffees or lunches or prayers or burdens carried? How many times you’ve worked with people for years, just praying and hoping that they’ll get it, and they never do. And then the ones that do. It’s just an amazing legacy of showing up in service.
And of course, I also thought of the people who serve every week in children’s ministry. This is the sixteenth year of what we call Kidstuff, which is a fully integrated children’s ministry program. It’s very intentional, what we teach and the scope and sequence. And Jon Mulkey has served in Kidstuff from day one. Sixteen years … That’s 750 weeks. I’m curious. How many of you have either had been in Mr. Mulkey’s class or have had kids in his class? Raise your hands. Look at that. Raise them high. Look at that. Isn’t that amazing?! Let’s give Jon a hand! I remember I had a couple of kids that just got those certificates and brought them home and kind of … But I had a couple of kids that if they didn’t get that, they were in tears. And it was just such a beautiful, creative, individualized way that Jon devised to support what is the ultimate goal, which is that our children would learn the gospel, would learn the Scriptures, and would internalize over a period of several years the doctrinal beliefs of North Hills Church. And it’s awesome. Who does that? Who does that?
And then I, of course, thought of the people in our church who have carried the love and the light of Jesus Christ to the world’s darkest places. And we have two couples that have retired or in the process of retiring over the past year — Jim and Kathy Tanner and Bruce and Laura Harris. And believe it or not … This is amazing because they still look pretty young to me … Between those four people, more than 200 years, not just of life, of missionary service! Two hundred years, the Tanners serving in Papua New Guinea, which is one of the most primitive places on the planet, where people are living pretty much like they’ve lived for thousands of years, and the Harrises working in Tokyo, which may be the most technologically advanced place on the planet. And yet what these two places have in common is that people are deeply resistant to the gospel. And what it takes to be successful in a place like this is people who are willing to slog and plow concrete for years with no apparent success, and then to see the firstfruits of the gospel. So, I think it would be appropriate that we give them a hand as well.
So, Peter honors Silas, he says,
“who I consider to be a faithful brother.”
I think … I’m almost certain that he’s using irony. It’s like, “Yeah, I guess I would call that faithful, I guess. When you think of these people, I guess you would call that faithful.” And they represent the dozens and dozens and dozens of others. By my rough estimate, the average time, running service time for life group leaders is more than ten years, and for our children’s workers, I’m sure it’s the same. These are the faithful people. These are the people who show up year after year, week after week, without pay. And they have shown up through cancer, through job changes, through personal stress, through challenges with their kids. They show up. And to God, that’s a big thing. So, we just honor you in the name of the Lord. Thank you so much! We love you!
The second category that Peter mentions … He says
“she who is at Babylon greets you,”
which sounds pretty cryptic. This was code speech in the early church. What Peter is no doubt talking about is a gathering, a church that met in the city of Rome. But you don’t just put it out there because this was a circular letter. They didn’t want the letter to be intercepted and the Roman Empire to realize … Wow, these crazy Christians are meeting in our city. So, you use code talk. I do it all the time with our missionaries and partners. I will say, especially before the invention of Signal an end-to-end encryption, I would send an email and say, “We talked to Father about you last night in the family meeting,” which is code for “we prayed for you.” And they would send code back, and I would say something like, “Is George still in the hotel?” which was code talk for “Is Muhammad still in prison, or is Ashif still in prison, or is Vladimir still in prison?”
In fact, let me just talk about three of our partners who live in Babylon. Emad is a partner in the Muslim world. There he is with his wife, Hassan. He was here a few months ago. Emad is a man who for many, many years has gotten personal threats, email threats, many, many phone call threats from groups like ISIS telling him “we are going to kill you.” He’s received persecution in his own country. He’s persona non grata, and yet he refuses to give up.
Praveen … Many of you have met him. He’s stood on this platform. About a year ago, Praveen was arrested on trumped-up charges, was sent to prison. For as long as I’ve known Praveen, which is about … I think I’ve known him about six or seven years, every single year, multiple radical Hindu organizations post on Facebook “we are offering X amount as a bounty to have this man killed. We want him dead.”
And Sergei, in a communist country for pretty much all his life, has been an outsider because he’s a Christian. In recent years, the persecution has intensified till in the last year and a half or so, he gets regular calls and now visits from the KGB telling him that it’s not long for him until he’s going to be in a Gulag labor camp.
These are representatives of almost all … Virtually all of our North Hills missionaries and partners work in places that are very dangerous. Most of them work in places where, if it were publicly known that they were missionaries, as it were, they would be imprisoned or killed. This is our month to pray for the persecuted church. And you should know when we pray for them, it’s not just some general, broad thing of people that we’ve never met. It’s most of the people that our partnerships are with. And yet, they don’t give up.
And Peter reminds all the people to whom he’s writing of the people who are living right on the front lines. I’m telling you this morning it is my deepest honor to call these people my friends. It is our greatest honor to partner with them, and they don’t give up.
And then Peter talks about his son, Mark. He talks about the ones who are next up. Mark was a companion of the apostle Paul. At one point when he was with Paul, things got hot, and Mark cut and run. And Paul said, “You know what? I don’t want that kid on my team.” But a man named Barnabas came and found Mark and took him in and restored him, until eventually, Mark became so close to the apostle Peter that Peter calls him his son. Now, to us that’s just a nice term that we use. But in both Roman and Greek … In all of Roman, Greek, and Jewish culture, to call someone a son is the highest honor you can give them because the son, the oldest son, was the person who received all the wealth of the family; if the family had land, all the honor of the family. They’re the ones that carried the family name. So, Peter takes this kid that Paul said, “I don’t want that kid,” and he says, “You know what? I’m calling him my son.”
Mark, as most of you probably know, wrote one of the four gospels, right? It’s called Mark. And what’s so interesting about that gospel … It is by far the least flattering about Peter. He highlights Peter’s failures more than any of the other gospels, which says to me that Peter felt comfortable to let it all hang out with Mark. And isn’t it beautiful that a young man who failed miserably and [was] restored was the one who was perfectly positioned to tell the story of how Peter failed miserably and was restored? And Mark is the only gospel that includes these words from Jesus after his resurrection — “Go tell my disciples and Peter that I am going before you, that he is going before you into Galilee.” So, he chronicles the restoration of Peter.
As I sat with this over the past several weeks, I just felt so strongly that Peter calling Mark his son has a prophetic import to our church. What I mean by that is, it’s easy for us who are older. There’s this tendency to have very little patience for the failures and faults of the next generation. Come on, you’ve all heard it, right? “Why can’t they be like us? I walked to school seventeen miles in a ten-foot snowdrift, uphill both ways, carrying my brother and sister, and I had no shoes!” Have you ever heard something like that? Yeah? Well, Peter honors this young man, and I feel like this is a season where, at thirty-one years old as a church, we really have to think hard about how do we pass the torch to the next generation.
And to that end, I want to tell you a deeply personal story. How many of you have crazy dreams? Can you just raise your hand? Raise them up high. I need help right now. Thank you. Thank you. All, you crazy dreamers, you’ll get it. The rest … You may think this is just bad pizza, but I believe it was from the Lord.
Several months ago, I had a very vivid dream, and I was actually standing up here on the stage. Well, I was actually sitting down here, and Bryan Gilbert came up to me and said, “Allan, would you do the Scripture reading today?” And of course, I said, “Sure, Bryan, I’ll do the Scripture reading. What do you want me to read?” So, he handed me this little New Testament. It was a Gideon New Testament. And he said, “I want you to read I Kings 8:17-21.” I’ve never had a dream in my life that was that specific. So, I open up the little Gideon New Testament. I look at it and there it is, I Kings 8 … Kind of looking at it. “Okay, Bryan, I got this.” Well, the time came. I came up on the stage in my dream. I was standing right here, and I open up that little Gideon New Testament, and the lights were really bad. And I couldn’t see one word in that Gideon New Testament. It was the whole Bible, right? Because it was I Kings. But it was like a Gideon [New Testament]. And I stared at it, and I kind of did this. Any of you ever done this? Some of you, it’s coming for you. I couldn’t see a letter. So, I grabbed my phone out of my pocket, and I’m trying to open up my Bible app, and it wouldn’t open, and my phone’s glitching. And I remember in my dream feeling so ashamed and embarrassed and old. And finally I turned to Bryan. I said, “Bryan, I can’t read this. I’m sorry.” He says, “It’s no problem.” So, he came down. He just read it, no glasses. And what I felt in a very deep way in my heart, as I was kind of in that in-between state of waking and dreaming, is that God was saying to me, the Father was saying to me, “Allan, for the rest of your life, there is nothing you can do that is more important than empowering young leaders.”
And so, I woke up, my wife kind of woke up. I said, “Baby, I just had this crazy dream.” I didn’t tell her the dream. I said, “What’s I Kings 8:17-21?” So, she opened up her phone, and this is what she read.
“Now it was in the heart of David, my father, to build a house for the name of the Lord, the God of Israel. But the Lord said to David, my father, ‘You did well, that it was in your heart. Nevertheless, you shall not build the house. But your son, who shall be born to you, shall build the house for my name.’ Now the Lord has fulfilled his promise that he made, for I have risen in the place of David, my father, and sit on the throne of Israel, as the Lord promised, and I have built the house in the name of the Lord.’”
So, since that time, I demoted myself. I took Nathan Arms, who was a part of my team, and now, starting next year, he’s going to lead our team. But I’ve just been thinking so much. You know, it was in middle school that I first felt the hand of the Lord touching my life. And you know, in the Bible, more often than not, it was around middle-school age that God first really laid his hand on people like David, he was middle-school age. Joseph, he was middle-school age. And how old was Jesus when he first, according to what we read in Scripture, connected to his mission? He was twelve, and he’s at the temple, and there’s this awareness in his humanity that’s dawning on him that this is my calling. Middle-school, that age is so critical, and is it any wonder why kids in middle school are so assailed by all kinds of things?
There’s a man named Tyler Staton. God is raising him up as a pure and powerful prophetic voice in our time. When Tyler was thirteen years old, he was in a church, but he was a skeptic. He wondered things like why is it that a man who lived 2000 years ago should be central in my life? I don’t get that. Tyler had a mentor, and this mentor said to Tyler, “What do you think would happen if you spent this summer prayer-walking and praying for your classmates that you’ll have next year?” So, Tyler was coming out of seventh grade, and Tyler said, “I don’t know.” And the man said, “Why don’t you find out?” So, Tyler took it as a challenge. Back in that time, you could get a directory with the names of the other kids. He was in a public school. He got the directory. He spent the summer prayer-walking and praying name by name by name for the men and women, young men and women who would be part of his eighth-grade class. And in the course of that summer, he discovered that he enjoyed being with God. God made a deep connection to his soul. And so, at the beginning of his eighth-grade year, they came back, and at 6:30 in the morning, in a math classroom, they started a Bible study. It was him and two other people. By the end of the year, they were meeting in the school theater. It was the largest club in the school, and more than one-third of his eighth-grade classmates had professed faith in Jesus Christ.
Tyler said, “I fell in love with Jesus over that summer, and I found out that God is interested in my life. He’s so interested in my life that he wants to do something through me and other people’s lives.” Tyler said, “I was never willing before that to give God the chance to reveal himself to me or to disappoint me.” I think a lot of young people, that’s where they are. They’re interested. Many are skeptical. Many are being assailed by everything in the world, things that we never dreamt of. God wants to meet with them. Many of them are ready to go on the adventure of finding out if God will reveal himself to them or disappoint them.
This church is really … When we give next week, as Jim was talking about, it’s not really for us. It’s for them. They’re next up. When we build, it’s not really for us. It’s for them. What we learn from Peter’s last words is ultimately this — the church is not Peter Hubbard; it’s certainly not Allan Sherer or the elders or our staff. The church is you. You. We are North Hills.
So, here’s the question I want to end with — what chapter are we in as a church? Peter was in his last chapter. He’s writing the end of the story. So, this is our thirty-first anniversary. So, what does that mean? Are we just adults? Are we still young? Are we on our last breath? Is church years like dog years, right? I don’t know how it equates to. Some of you understand that. I’d love to hear from you. What do you believe? What chapter do you believe North Hills is in? You can email me at email@example.com. I’d love to hear what your thoughts are.
I want to tell you one last story as you think about that. I mentioned that my life was touched in middle school. My life was touched because of something called the Jesus Movement. Anyone heard of the Jesus Movement? Oh, yeah, all you older people. Awesome. Thank you. David, you’re not old, but you know. Yeah, and I talked about this in Wisdomfest. If you were here, you heard me talk about that.
There was a man named Chuck Smith who, as I mentioned in Wisdomfest, I don’t know any man more like Peter Hubbard in that he had such a relentless passion for expository preaching, and he also had a passion for the the lost and the hurting. And one day Chuck Smith walked into the church he was pastoring, and he saw a sign, a handwritten sign on the door, “No Bare Feet Allowed.” You see, the church had just gotten carpet, and back in those days, there were a lot of people with bare feet. It was called the hippie movement. It was the time of the hippies, and some conscientious church member didn’t want their brand new carpet to be corrupted by dirty, dirty feet. In that time, an entire generation of youth had dropped out of the values and lifestyle style of their parents. These were the children of “the greatest generation.” You know “the greatest generation”? The generation that fought and died and bled in World War II to give their children a better life. And now, by the millions, those children were saying, “We don’t want your life. We reject your values. We reject everything you stand for.” Drugs circulated like candy. Marriage was thrown aside like last week’s newspaper. Authority was rejected and mocked. Parents scolded. Parents fretted. I’m telling you, if you were alive back then, it seemed like the dissolution of our culture as we know it.
At first, Chuck, like almost every pastor in America, was disgusted. But his wife, Carol, kept saying, “I would see them coming and I’d just cry. What’s wrong with their lives? They just need Jesus.” And Chuck would say, “They just need a bath.” But in time, Carol’s passion infected Chuck to the point that when he saw that sign, “No Bare Feet Allowed,” he took it off the door and he ripped it up. And he actually ended up leaving that church, a very comfortable, successful, up-and-coming church, and he moved to a place called Costa Mesa, which is right next to where I grew up. He opened a church called Calvary Chapel with twenty-five people. And he said, “I don’t know what’s going on with this hippie movement. I don’t know how we minister to them, but this is what I know. They’re going to be welcome here in this place.”
And I can’t tell the whole story, but the church began to explode. They had to buy a giant tent that they met in for, I think, two or three years, and over a period of time, for a period of more than two years, every single week on average, more than 200 young people came to Christ every week. Every week or every month, more than five hundred were baptized. Can you imagine? Five hundred! They would have these baptisms in a place called Pirate’s Cove, and sometimes up to 3000 — there’s a picture — 3000 would gather, and they would have hundreds of baptisms. And then Chuck would preach and then hundreds more would come to Christ, and they’d baptized them. Someone who was in first service came up to me crying and said, “We were there. We sat in Pirate’s Cove, and we saw the hand of the Lord on these young people.” Another guy came up to me after first service and said, “You know, I was a Deadhead (and some of you will know what that is … He was a follower of the Grateful Dead), and Christ reached me.”
In time, Calvary Chapel trained hundreds of pastors, sent them throughout Southern California and then the Pacific Coast and then all across America and then all around the world, until there were 1700 churches. It was the fastest growing church planting movement in the history of America up to that time. And when I look at this generation, I see a generation that is very much like that generation, and I see us reacting to this generation in a way that it is natural to react. Don’t you see that what you’re believing is so empty? And they already know that! Why do you think suicide is at epidemic proportions? They know that. But what was different about the way Chuck and other pastors like him approached young people in that day was that their message was this — “Everything that you’re longing for, everything that you’re looking for, everything that you’re seeking is found in Jesus Christ. This is real community. This is real love. This is real purpose. It transcends all culture.” And they flocked to Jesus Christ. And, you know, the hilarious thing? You know what all those hippies are doing now? They’re watching Fox News. They became one of the most conservative segments of America ever. So, before you give up on a generation, whatever your political persuasion is, just realize, as Carol Smith said, “They just need Jesus.”
So, when you think about this church, when you think about our future, is it time for us to settle down and settle in? Is it time for us to say, let’s just keep what we got? Keep it the way it is. Let’s “us four and no more” and put up the barbed wire because it’s all going down in a handbasket. Or is it time for us to ask the Father, “Father, what is in your heart for this generation? What must we hold on to? And what must we let go of?”
We need the Lord, and we are not here primarily for us. We’re here for everyone outside these walls. So, I’m going to take a moment right now. I just want us to have a moment of silence, and I invite the worship team to come on up right now. And I want to every one of us right now, every single one of us who professes the name of Jesus, I want you to ask two questions. Every one of us, whether you’re six or eighty. Lord, what chapter am I in? That’s the first question. Don’t make assumptions. Maybe you failed like Mark, but God will restore you. I want to invite you back into the kingdom of God and what Jesus is building. We’re going to ask God, “What chapter am I in in my life?” And we’re going to listen. And then secondly, we’re going to ask Father, “What chapter is North Hills in?” And what if God wants to write a chapter that would blow all of our minds?
So, Father, we sit before you now and we say, “What chapter am I in? Every one of us, we offer our lives to you. God, what chapter am I in? Lord, Spirit of God, speak to me now.” And Father, now gathered as your people, from all backgrounds of all ages, everything that we have as a collective body of people, every inch of carpet, every microphone, every window, every seat, every dollar, not one bit of it belongs to us. None of it. We offer it up, Father, to you. What chapter is North Hills in? Wind of God, blow on us. May we not fall prey to hopelessness. May we not be fighting a defensive action. May we not be just hoping and hanging on for dear life. But, Father, may we be the church. You have put us here to reach this city and this generation. Holy Spirit, call us, move us in Jesus’ name. Amen.