47. Mars Hill Church

Mars Hill Church

Better is open rebuke than hidden love.

Proverbs 27:5

The following morning I put on my favorite outfit. White K-Swiss shoes with black soles, fitted gray slim-cut Volcom pants, a brown pleather belt Dust gave me, and my all-time-favorite-now-unfortunately-departed-due-to-so-many-years-of-use white American Eagle plaid cotton collared shirt. With styling wax spiffing up my hair and a few spritzes of my favorite cologne, I Am King, by Sean Jean, I borrowed Dust’s truck and headed to church.

Only about a twenty minute drive from San Mateo, South Shores sat on a hill overlooking the ocean just a few miles up the tail end of the six-hundred-fifty-five mile Pacific Coast Highway. Cresting the rim of the hill and turning right into a large parking lot, I noticed dozens of people hovering around the entryway. The unidimensional blue sky contrasted with the curved red clay shingles layered upon the white stucco building with tall arches and windows. A cross the centermost point of the circular roof covering the sanctuary shone like a beacon on a hill.

After the service, I wanted to the youth and/or college ministry leaders to meet the young adults my age. Not sure how I did it, but I must have asked around for the youth pastor and eventually was led to a man with curly black hair and a wide, squinty-eyed smile.

“Hi, my name is Dana, nice to meet you.”

“Hah, wow, Dana from Dana Point?”

“Yeah I know, I get that a lot. And you are?”

“Ryan.”

“What can I do for you?”

“Well, I’m a Marine and I recently got stationed near San Clemente and I’ve been looking for a church for a few months. I was hoping to get involved in whatever way I can, or at least learn about youth groups or young adult midweek services or Bible study groups that you offer.”

“Oh yeah, for sure we’d love to have you! We have a Thursday night group with a college and high-school mix of students starting at 6:00 and my brother Drew leads a Bible study on Tuesdays around the same time.”

“Okay, great, I’d love to check them both out.”

“For sure, we’d love to have you,” Dana said happily. His eyes lifted from mine scanning the crowds of people outside. “Ah, Drew’s over here. Come with me.” I followed Dana to his slightly shorter and stockier brother chatting with two other young men across the patio towards another building.

“Hey Drew, this is Ryan, he’s a Marine looking to meet some guys our age.”

“Hey man, I’m Drew, good to meet cha,” he said, extending his arm for a handshake.

“Hi, I’m Ryan.” I reached out to meet his hand with a firm grip. Once he released mine, he pointed over to the others one at a time.

“This is Chad and Scott.” The two others greeted me warmly before Drew spoke up again. “You should totally come out to our group Thursday. I had to cancel my Tuesday Bible study this week but we’ll be back at it next week. We’d love to have you.”

“Awesome, yeah for sure. I’ll be there,” I said happily. After exchanging some more small talk I decided to take my leave. I scanned the patio and parking lot one more time to see if I could identify that young woman from the bar. She was nowhere to be found.

I didn’t care though. All I wanted was to find a church and meet some good people, and it seemed like this would be the place for that. As I walked to the truck though, I marveled at how I ended up here from a chance meeting in a bar on Halloween. I chuckled to myself. God works in mysterious ways.

The guys at South Shores church quickly earned my respect. Both Dana and Drew had a wealth of Bible knowledge and answers regarding topics I’d thought about for so many years. Dana’s sermons were intricate and eye opening and something about the way Drew taught the Bible always left me wanting more. 

While at Drew’s house, we were going through a section of Scripture where the Apostle Paul confronts Peter for hypocrisy he’d fallen into. 

Drew read aloud from the book of Galatians. “‘But when Cephas,’ which is another name for Peter, ‘Came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy,’” he paused for clarification. “So what Paul writes here in Galatians 2 is that Peter began to dissociate from the Gentiles when this party of respectable orthodox Jews arrived. This all happened after Peter’s vision in Acts 10 starting in verse 9. Do you all remember that one?” 

“Oh yeah, the one with the sheet being rolled out of the sky with all different kinds of birds and animals?” Chad said.

“Yep,” Drew nodded before continuing. “Remember this was when God told Peter to kill and eat the animals in the vision, many of which were considered unclean under Jewish law. God then follows up by saying ‘What God has made clean do not call common.’”

“So, what does this have to do with Paul and Peter?” I asked.

“Good question, I’m almost there,” Drew said. “We find later in Acts 10 that God wasn’t just talking about food being clean. Peter makes the realization that God announced the Gentiles, those previously outside of the Jewish community and therefore separated from God, to be considered clean and acceptable in light of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. When Cornelius, the centurion from Joppa visits Peter after having his own vision from God, Peter says this in Acts 10:28, ‘God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.’” 

“Ah, I think I get it,” I said quietly to myself.

“So consider this in light of the passage in Galatians. If anyone knew that the old laws and customs separating Jews from Gentiles had been abolished, it was Peter. He would teach that circumcision and other laws are no longer requirements for entering the church. And that’s a great thing, right? Could you imagine getting circumcised in your twenties just for church membership? Haha!”

I chimed in, “Nope. One of the guys in my old platoon got an elective circumcision and he was limping for days. I can’t imagine doing that without painkillers.”

“Yeah I have no clue how they did it. Must’ve been rough. Anyway, basically, all I’m saying is Peter knew better. He promoted the Gospel that we are all saved by grace and accepted the Gentiles as such, but when these Jews firm in their conviction that Circumcision is the way to God, he cowered in fear and began to dissociate from the Gentiles and give the Jews special treatment. To finish our section, Paul then said, “‘But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the gentiles to live like Jews?”’” Drew held another short pause to let things sink in a bit. “Well, what can we learn from this?”

At least ten seconds of silence hushed over the room. Bible study groups often have this awkward tension after nearly any question the leader proposes. Luckily, many of the guys in this group knew their stuff and could cut the tension. 

“We’re all hypocrites,” Scott said. Everyone chuckled. “But seriously, we are,” Scott continued. “I mean, if Peter, the guy who saw Jesus face to face for three years listening to his teaching, his unconditional love for all people and his miracles still displayed hypocrisy at times then we will certainly be hypocritical.”

“Good observation Scott,” Drew said. “That’s why we need Jesus, to forgive us of our hypocrisy and to continually strive to be gracious to everyone around us as sinners no different than anyone else. Any other observations?”

“Sometimes we need to be confronted,” Grant said.

“Amen to that,” Drew said as he raised both his eyebrows. “I’ve needed my fair share of confrontation over the years. But definitely. In our moments of weakness and blindness, many times we need someone to put us in our place to help us realize our sins. Proverbs 27:6 says ‘Faithful are the wounds of a friend.’ I’ve had to keep that close to my heart. Haha! Sometimes even pastors need to do this too. This one pastor rebuked his whole congregation during a sermon. Man, it was intense, but sometimes that’s needed.” Drew paused one last time. “Anything else?” Nobody responded. “Well that’s all I got for tonight guys and gals, thanks for comin’. Feel free to hang out.”

I stuck around for a little while, partly for the fellowship but also because Drew’s comment about a pastor yelling at his whole church intrigued me.

“Hey Drew,” I said as I approached him, “What happened with that pastor you were talking about who confronted his church?”

“Oh yeah, the guy’s name is Mark Driscoll, the pastor of Mars Hill church stationed out of Seattle.”

“Really? Seattle?”

“Yeah, you never heard of it? It’s huge now. I think they have like ten campuses.”

“Huh, no I haven’t. I’ll have to check it out.”

Maybe it was novelty, maybe it was my familiarity with yelling in the Marine Corps, but for some reason I wanted to know more about this guy. I shelved the name of the pastor and the church in the back of my mind, but I decided to stay longer because I found such a good connection with Drew and the other guys in the group.

Part of my attraction to Drew was his knowledge of the Bible. He was maybe a little younger than me, but said he’d only been a Christian for about two and a half years. Once his brother Dana confronted him and helped Drew get his act together, Drew had been studying the Bible ever since. Now, his Bible knowledge far eclipsed mine and I’d considered myself to be a believer since about nine years old when things finally clicked.

Having been in the Marine Corps for over three years now and with a mind hungry to learn and engage in a mentally stimulating topic of interest, I decided to ask Drew about which resources I should read first to gain a better grasp on the Bible. 

“Hey Drew, you said you’ve been a Christian for not even three years. How did you learn so much so fast? He turned to me surprised but with a smile.

“Well, my brother does work in the church if you hadn’t noticed.”

“Haha, yeah, makes sense.”

“All jokes aside though, Dana recommended some resources for me to read. You ever heard of A.W. Tozer?”

“No.”

“Get his book, The Knowledge of the Holy. Such a small but dense book man. It’s like sipping fine whiskey; you have to savor each sip and can only handle so much at a time. But the insights are incredible. Definitely get that one. Also, check out Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. I’ve read it through about two times. Dr. Grudem is an amazing teacher and he covers nearly every topic in his book. If you start with those, you’ll be on the right track.”

“Okay, I’ll check those out for sure. Thanks a lot.”

“No problem. You comin’ to group Thursday?”

“Yeah for sure.”

“Awesome. I’ll see you there.”

“See ya.”

The next day I looked up the pastor. Once I typed in Mark Driscoll into YouTube, it wasn’t long before I found the clip of him screaming at his church. After watching the clip I wanted to watch the whole sermon. His words described and defined men and masculinity in a way I’d never heard before. He convicted me. He snapped me to attention. He taught me wisdom I should have learned from my father. He called me to be more than I was. Once I watched the sermon, entitled Marriage and Men, I was hooked. I downloaded years worth of sermons eager to learn more from this charismatic pastor. For all intents and purposes, I was now a member of both South Shores and Mars Hill Church.

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