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           Two summers ago I stood in the parking lot of the Lorraine Hotel where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. I stood not far from the spot where he was shot. I turned around and saw where his killer shot from. I watched the people around me as they looked at the same places I looked. Some stood with tears in their eyes. Others looked slightly bewildered.

             A few hours earlier, I was helping pump gas at a local gas station for a church. I pumped gas for all types of peoples with all types of skin color and all types of beliefs. An hour after standing at the Lorraine Hotel I walked down Beale Street. Once again, I stood shoulder to shoulder with people who were different than me.

             As I think about Dr. King’s legacy, that trip to Memphis, and racial issues in the present, I have conflicting emotions. I am sad that we still live in a country where people are judged based on the color of our skin. I get angry when I see people use this for their benefit. I get excited when I see people of different races living, working, and playing together.

             Ultimately, when I think of Dr. King, I think of Jesus. I truly believe that Dr. King was pushed to do what he did based on his personal relationship with Jesus. If this country has any hope of reconciliation, it will not come from people yelling at each other or trying to force people to believe a certain set of beliefs. The only hope that we have is in Jesus.

             When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was (Matthew 22:36-40), he told us that it was to “Love the Lord with all your heart, all your soul, and with all your mind.” He did not end the conversation right there. He added the second greatest commandment. He told us “to love your neighbor as yourself.” After that, he astonishingly told us that “all the Law and all the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” In other words, the Old Testament was built on loving God and loving others. If we are to truly please God, then we must love our neighbors. The Bible teaches us that everyone we come across is our neighbors (Luke 10:25-37). In fact, in the Parable of the Good Samaritan the true neighbor was a person quite unlike who people would have imagined was the neighbor.

               I believe that racial issues are a heart issue. Heart issues are only solved through Jesus. If we want to see a better world we must not only live the life that Jesus calls us to live, we must also share Jesus with others. A world that loves Jesus and lives for Jesus is a world where we all will get along.

Marty

           Ah, snow days. The Johnston’s current situation has one child in his room watching an Indiana Jones movie by himself (got to love pre-teens), while the other has turned our living room into her personal playroom complete with her Minnie Mouse kitchen. Hot chocolate has been drunk, pajamas have been worn all day, and plenty of binge watching of A&E shows. Snow days are enjoyable.

                Both of my kids love snow days, but for different reasons. Caleb loves snow days because he gets to stay out of school. A snow day means that he does not have to go to bed early and he doesn’t have to get up early. He gets to spend the day sitting around. Charissa loves snow days because she loves playing in it. She loves trying to make snowmen, snow angels, and throwing snowballs. Two different kids with different reasons for loving snow days.

                I have noticed that people kind of feel the same about church. Many people that love church, love it for different reasons. I love church for the Bible teaching. I can put up with bad music, uncomfortable seats, and rude people (I don’t believe that Shallow Well has any of those) as long as the preacher is correctly teaching the Word of God. My wife loves church for the community part of it. She loves how church members help sharpen each other, the fellowship of the saints. We both love church for different reasons.

                I know that not everyone loves the church. Many have been hurt by it, and some simply reject the teachings of it. We should strive to help with the healing of those who have been hurt, and we should have answers for those who reject the teachings.

                I hope that those who are reading this loves the church as much as I do. I would love to hear what you love about the church the most. More than anything though, is I want you to invite people to the church. The best way to get people into church, is to invite them into church. I know that sounds simple, but it actually works. Let us all make it a goal this year to invite as many people as possible to church this year.

Pastor Marty

           The Johnston’s love Christmas. We bake a lot of cookies, drink a lot of eggnog, and watch as many Christmas movies as possible. We can quote movie lines from Rudolph, Charlie Brown and Elf. We start listening to Christmas music as soon as stations start playing it, and are constantly comparing Christmas songs (my favorite novelty song is “The 12 Days of Christmas” by Straight no Chaser. If you love 80’s music, and who doesn’t, you will dig the sweet little ‘Africa’ part.) We have two Nativity scenes in our house. We have an elf named Anakin who sometimes hides in the same exact spot two days in a row. We go out of our way to find Christmas lights. And my wife’s cheesy, sausage biscuits on Christmas morning come a close second for reasons I get up early on that morning.

            Don’t get me wrong, there are parts of Christmas that are not all raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens (this is not a Christmas song!!!) The lines at stores are way too long and never have enough cash registers open. My kids want everything that they have ever seen on a commercial, or that their friends have. Someone wishes me a “Happy Holiday” instead of a “Merry Christmas.” Family and friends want to spend time with me or my family, instead of just letting me spend time in my recliner. And it seems as though, there are way too many versions of A Christmas Carol.

            Hopefully you laughed at that last paragraph. Long lines are an inconvenience, but not nearly as much as not being able to go to a store. My kids’ lists are, really, less than a page long. I don’t particularly care what you wish me, but you will get a “Merry Christmas” from me. My recliner, though comfy, is less entertaining than my family and friends. Also, can you really have too many versions of A Christmas Carol? (I have currently watched nine versions of it! Top that!!)

            Christmas really is a time to enjoy the many blessings of God. I know that for some people this time of the year can be depressing. Pain, suffering, and loneliness are magnified during a time when others are celebrating with loved ones. If that is you or you know someone that is like that, please remember that Christmas really is about gifts, or more exactly THE GIFT. It is because of the gift of Jesus that we have a hope that this world can never defeat us (Jeremiah 29:11). It is because of the gift of Jesus, that our mourning will be turned into joy (John 16:20). It is because of Jesus, that we are never alone (Hebrews 13:5). It is because of the gift of Jesus, that are goodbyes do not have to be permanent (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14). You are not alone and you are not unloved.

            Christmas really is a time of joy. It is a time for us to smile more, laugh more, give more, and love more. It is a time to drop by and see someone that is alone or hurting and spread some JESUS cheer. It is a time to hug your kids more, no matter how old they are. It is a time to celebrate. It is a time to celebrate that Jesus stepped out of heaven and put on flesh to save a lost and dying world. It is a time to remember just how much God loves us. In case you forgot how much, let me share one of my favorite Christmas verses: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

            Now excuse me, I just saw there are about 10 more A Christmas Carol movies, that I need to see.

Marty

              On my desk, there is an old picture of me as a kid with my parents and two older sisters. I have chubby cheeks with lots of freckles. My sisters are both missing teeth. My mom has much longer hair than I remember her ever having. We are definitely wearing late 70’s or early 80’s clothes. I’m not sure if we were ever the typical American family, but we look like it in this picture.

                My dad is also in the picture. He has long hair, which is strange because he never let me grow my hair long. He has a mustache. It looks odd because for most of my life he had a goatee. He is also wearing a suit. I have no memory of that suit, in fact, I don’t really remember him ever wearing a suit.

                Four days into 2007, my father passed away. The ravages of cancer took his voice, his strength, and eventually his mind. I remember the day he died. I was teaching and the vice-principal came and got me out of my class and told me to go see my dad. My mom had called and said that he would not make it much longer. I rushed to their house and spent the next few hours watching him, and waiting for his last breath. It was the saddest thing that I have ever dealt with in my life.

                I miss my dad. It has been ten years and I still think of questions that I need to ask him. I still want his advice for my life. I want to go to the Waffle House with him one more time. I want him to argue with my son (he loved to argue, much like Caleb.) I want him to meet my daughter, he would have loved her.

                My father was not a perfect man, he had more than a few faults. He was wise, though. He helped me avoid many stupid decisions with his wisdom. I may not have liked it, that he thought my ideas would not have worked, but looking back, I am glad that he did not let me make those bad decisions.

He was also very generous.  If there was one quality that he had that I wish I had more of, it would be his generosity. One of my goals this year is to be more generous. More generous with my money (not that there is a lot of it). More generous with my time (I have the same amount that I had last year.) More generous with kind words and actions. In a culture where selfishness is as common as breathing, I want to be an exception. I owe, at least, that to my dad.

Marty

Shallow Well,

Thank you, so much, for making my family feel so welcome here, and in this beautiful community. Jennifer and I have desired for a long time to be a part of such a caring and warm church family. You have gone out of your way to make us feel welcome and have been so sweet to our children (we know that it is much easier being sweet to them than to us.) We are looking forward too many fruitful years serving you and this community.

I want to make it a habit to share with you weekly, through our website, some of the things that God has put on my heart. Please check weekly the website for important information about events and announcements and messages from Pastor Donald and myself. Feel free to call me out if a couple of weeks go by without a message.

I have truly enjoyed the past week here at Shallow Well. As silly as it sounds, one part of my day that I enjoy is lunchtime. Not necessarily because I love food (which I do very much), but because for most weekdays for the last four years, I have eaten lunch in a 20-minute time interval while surveying a lunchroom full of middle schoolers while trying to carry on a conversation with several stressed-out teachers. Some days we simply had to laugh at how ridiculous the situation was.  Today, I simply went to my office and ate my sandwich in peace. I had the radio playing praise songs as I check emails, sports scores and anything else I wanted to search.

It is often said that the little things make all the difference. I do believe that sometimes this is true. Eating lunch without having to make sure Johnny Middleschooler is not dumping milk on someone, is a little thing that has made my life a little better. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Johnny Middleschooler, but I also love listening to Lauren Daigle sing “You Have My Surrender” (if you don’t know who she is you should! Google her and listen, it will be worth it. I promise.)

As much as the little things make life better, let us not forget the BIG THING. Jesus is the BIG THING. He has come to give us life, and life more abundantly. He has come to give us peace that flows like a river. Peace at lunch is great, but peace in life is much better. The next time you are marveling at the little things that make your life better, please don’t forget that the little things come from God to point us to the BIG THING, which is Jesus. Every good gift is a gift from the Heavenly Father who loves us more than we can ever imagine, and much more than we ever deserve.

Now excuse me as I have a few more minutes for lunch. I think I might turn off the radio and just enjoy the quiet.

** However, in the future, if you are ever in the area for lunch I also would enjoy the company of my church family.

Marty

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