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                Kids today, right? All they like to do is play video games and stare at their phones. It’s not like it was in my day. In my day, kids played outside all day and walked uphill, in blizzards to school, every day. Kids today, do not care about anything. They have no drive or ambition. I worry about the future if they are the ones who are going to be running it.

                Have you ever had those thoughts? Be honest. We all have. It seems to be the opinion of so many people today. Kids today are not what they used to be. It is easy to have these thoughts. They do play a lot of video games and they do spend a lot of time on their phones. They do not play outside as much as we did, and hopefully they never will have to walk uphill in a blizzard both ways to school, but let me tell you something – there is a lot more to them than we give them credit for.

                This month (August) I have had the privilege (and yes, I do mean privilege) to get to spend a lot of time with the kids of our church. I have come away very impressed with them. They are some of the hardest working people that I have met in a long time. Between the mission trip in Kentucky and working in the schools trying to get the teachers ready for school, the only job that they ever said no to was one involving spiders, and I had no problem with them not performing that task (I killed the spider.)

                It is easy to look at children today and claim that they have no idea what it was like back in our day, and how hard it was. It is true. Our day was different than theirs. If we are going to be honest, we must also acknowledge that we have no idea what it is like to be a kid today. The dangers kids face today, especially associated with the electronics, are a hundred times more dangerous than what we ever faced. In some ways, we did not have nearly the stuff they have, but they have many more dangers than we faced. I am not sure it is a fair trade.

                I say all of that to point out that kids today are not worse than when we were, just different. I believe that too many times we are too quick to point out the weaknesses of kids today. Sometimes the strengths of our kids need to be pointed out, too. I can say, without a doubt, that the kids at Shallow Well are awesome. I could not be more proud of the work that they have done this month.

                I do not agree with the thought that our kids are only the future of the church. I believe that they are the present and the future of the church. And from what I saw the last three weeks, the present and the future of Shallow Well is bright.

                “Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.” Psalm 8:2

Marty

                When I was in college, I was taking a multi-culturalism class (this is just a fancy way of saying that we were learning about other cultures.) One of the assignments in the class was that each student was to go someplace where we would be a minority, and then report about the situation. I decided to go to an African-American church. I was very much the minority in the sanctuary. Everything was going great until the “welcome of guests” time. Everyone knew I was a guest. I stuck out pretty obviously. I figured I might have to raise my hand or something like that. It did not go down that way. The pastor asked all the guests to please stand and introduce themselves. I was the only guest. I was the only person standing. I happened to also be the only person that did not look like everybody else.

                I stood as nobly as I could, and tried my best to not let my voice squeak as I introduced myself. Every eye was on me. I am sure many of the people in the church were wondering why I had entered their church. There were a few suspicious eyes cast my way. After what seemed like a thousand minutes, I was finally able to sit down. Then the church stood up, and many of the church members came by to greet me. They were super nice and very welcoming. I enjoyed myself at that church so much, that the next week I brought two of my friends with me. Part of it was I could not wait to see them have to stand up in the church like I did. I “forgot” to tell them about that part of the service. The pastor congratulated me on bringing guests. I got an A on the assignment.

                Being a first-time guest at a church is a little scary, especially if you do not know people there. A church can be loaded with landmines. A guest will wonder a thousand different things like: is there a place for children, where are the bathrooms, am I sitting in someone else’s seat, do I have to give for the offering, will anyone talk to me, what is the quickest way out of the church if they start handling snakes? All of these thoughts (except for snakes-unless you are visiting a mountain church) can lead to a visitor not being able to enjoy their time at a church.

                I know that we do not have a ton of visitors, so you may not think it is important to think about these things right now. I disagree. There is an old business saying that goes, “dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” The idea is to always be proactive and thinking two or three steps ahead. If we wait to try to figure out how to make guests comfortable after God has started sending a lot of guests (and I believe that He will), we will have already let to many guests leave with the wrong impression.

                Thom Rainer, a man I have mentioned before, has spent most of his adult life studying churches with the goal of making them better. He regularly writes articles to churches about how to make guests feel more welcome. He has many suggestions, but I want to share a few with you. I think that these can and should be done by everyone. We should not think that it is somebody else’s job to make guests feel welcome. We should go out of our way to do this (without being creepy.) Here are a few things we should get in a habit to say to our guests:

“Thank you for being here.”

“Can I help you with anything?”

“Here is my email address. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask.”

“Let me introduce you to ___________________________”

“Do you have plans for lunch after the service? If not, we would love for you to come with my family.”

                I recognize that for many of you, this will take you out of your comfort zones. That is not a bad. A huge problem in any church is when we get too comfortable. We should be pushed to be different. Our goal should be to make guests feel much more comfortable than we feel. We never know what our acts of Christ-likeness will do for others. It may be the kindness that saves their lives, or introduces you to your new best friend. It may also have no immediate effect. Either way we will never go wrong with showing kindness and hospitality to our guests. I am pretty sure this is Biblical (It is! - 1 Peter 4:9.)

                As always, I love you, and let us strive to be even more like Jesus in everything that we do.

                The hardest part of the Johnston’s moving to Sanford was dealing with all the stuff we had collected (sorry mom, I love you and miss you). Even before we packed one box of the things that we used regularly, we had at least 20 boxes of unpacked things to make a decision about. We decided to have a yard sale. I dreaded the day we chose to do it. I knew the work that would be involved. We had to advertise, get tables, sort through everything (seriously, Who knew Charissa’s clothes would fill so many giant bags? She is such a girl!), price and label everything, and then set it up outside, so that complete strangers could rummage through our things, while judging our tastes.

                The day of the yard sale turned out to not be the ideal day for yard saleing. It was cold with, what felt like, a 100-mph wind. A clothes rack kept falling over. Clothes were constantly flying off the tables, and not in a good, moneymaking way. The good thing was that it was not raining. My mom was kind enough to take the kids for the day, so it was just my loving wife and me. We kept making excuses to be able to go inside where it was warm and no wind. The weather was keeping all the potential customers away. I kept a steady eye on the time, wishing it to speed up so we could finish.

                At the end of the allotted time we closed shop. It was not the best yard sale that we had ever been involved in, but we still made money. We also accomplished our goal of getting rid of a lot of our unneeded stuff. There would be quite a few less boxes to move (and the men and women who helped us unload our truck and climb three flights of stairs with it said amen.) It was work, but at the end of it, it was worth it.

                Now, why would I tell you about a yard sale experience? It is because, as a church, we are going to have a yard sale. On May 20, from 8-1, we will be doing one. It is going to be a little different than other ones. We are not asking you to donate your unneeded treasures for us to sell and then dispose of. We are going to ask you to “rent” a space from us, for you to sell your stuff. You will pay us $30 to get one of the parking spaces that will be set apart (or if you have a lot of stuff, you can rent two for $60.) You will sale your stuff and keep the profits. You can sell whatever you want that is church appropriate. If you have tools to sell, bring them. If you have children’s clothes, bring it. If you sell women’s clothes that look like a rainbow exploded on them you can sell them. If you make crafts and need a place to sell, bring them. Every church member and family of church members are invited to be a part of this (also if you have real close friends that you do not mind vouching for, they can be a part of our yard sale.)

                Here is the cool part (besides getting rid of things and making money). The money that you pay the church for the spot will be going for our mission trip to Kentucky. We have 26 people going. Although we found a very cost-efficient trip, we still have a lot to pay for. We have quite a few parents with their kids going. I want each person to have to pay as little as possible, and this is a fantastic way to do it. Many of you have said that you want to help with this trip, and this gives you a way to help. You get to give to us, while making something for yourself.

                I really hope that many of you will take part in this event. We need as many people as we can get to be involved. The more people we have selling, the more people that will show up. I will be giving more details as we get closer to the event. If you are interested, please let me know. If you know people that might be interested, but will not read this, let them know.

                As always, I love you guys and I am thankful to be a part of this wonderful church.

                Marty

                Maybe you have noticed the tone of this country. Maybe you have noticed the constant fighting that people who disagree with each other keep doing. Maybe you have noticed how we seem to no longer be okay with disagreeing with each other. It now feels like it is not just about being right, but about destroying anyone who disagrees with us. I am tired of this. I’m tired of the ugliness. I’m tired of the anger. I’m tired of the backbiting, the whining, the complaining, and the hostility. I’m tired of feeling like we are all enemies. I’m tired of seeing us all arguing the same arguments while getting louder each time.

                Do not get me wrong. I do believe that it is okay to have opinions, and to be able to share your opinions. I am just tired of the way that we are doing it. It also bothers me when I see Christians become the antithesis of Christians when people disagree with them. I believe it is time for us to bring back civility into our world. I believe that this should fall at the feet of Christians. If we claim to follow Jesus, then we should act like it. So, how do we do this? I believe that in Romans, Paul gives us the answers:

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

                We must first start by blessing those who are our enemies. We are to bless them instead of cursing them. This is the opposite of how we tend to act. Someone does something bad to me, I want to see them pay. Paul tells us to bless them. This means that we are to ask God to bless their lives. I know this is hard, but this is what the Bible commands.

                 We need to start celebrating people’s successes and mourning with them during their tough times. If we became more supportive and compassionate, we would have less time, or desire, to fight with others. It is hard to get mean and nasty with people you do not know when you are spending your time with the people that need you.

                We are to live in harmony with one another. This does not mean that we must agree with each other, it just means that we do not pick fights with those who are different or believe differently than us. I have some absolute truths in my life that I will not compromise on. This does not mean I cannot be friends with people who feel differently than me (As a point of clarification this about the people we come into contact with, work with, or live near. A church, on the other hand, cannot allow unbiblical truths to become accepted in the church. We must stand for Biblical truths.). People need to know what I believe, but that does not mean that I get to be mean and nasty about my beliefs.

                Ultimately, we are to strive for peace when it is up to us. We have all seen in recent times that there are certain people or groups that will not chose to live in peace with others. There is nothing that we can do to insure peace. Fortunately, most of the people on this planet, do want to live in peace. We let the authorities over us, decide how to handle those who do not seek peace. Those who do seek it, we bring it to them. If this means that we should keep our mouths closed (especially when not involving Jesus), then we keep our mouths closed. Everyone does not need to know what we think about climate change or taxes. If my view on the designated hitter (that is a sports term for those of you who are not sports fans) gets people angry, then I need to keep it to myself.

                Finally, we need to trust in the Lord. Our enemies, if they are our enemies based on us living a Christian life, are God’s enemies. God clearly tells us that he will be the one who brings about vengeance. This should scare us. We should want no one to experience God’s vengeance, but if our lives and words cannot change them, then we let God avenge us. This frees us from having to be God, which we are all incapable of being.

                Let us remember Paul’s commands to us the next time a politician, comedian, athlete, etc., says something we disagree with. Our job is not to get angry and demand that they change their beliefs to be just like ours. Our job is to show and speak Jesus to them. The same goes for the next time a family member, neighbor, coworker, or friend says something that we do not like. Instead of continuing the ugliness of others, let us bring in Jesus. Our goal is to bring people to Jesus, not to simply win arguments or make sure our opinions are heard. If we strove to live more peaceably with others, maybe others would strive to live more peaceably also. Would it not be great if others started noticing that we, as Christians, are making things better for everyone else?

Marty

                In 1982, the movie Rambo: First Blood came out. If you are not familiar with the movie (and it is ok if you are not), John Rambo was a former green beret who basically took on a whole town police department with just his survival knife. His survival knife was awesome. It had everything one would need to survive, hence its name. Like most boys who enjoyed being outside, I wanted one, badly. My level of excitement only went up when a local store started selling them.

                I immediately went into Operation-Got to Have One. Every possible chance I got, I asked. It became my mission to get one and I hounded my mom as much as I could. I played the, “My life is not complete without one” card. My loving mom simply told me that I would have to wait. My parents did not have the money at that particular time to get it for me. I would have to wait for the next payday. My little, kid mind could not comprehend this, so I kept on pestering her for it. My mother is a resolute woman and she stood her ground. She was not going to spend money, they did not have, for a knife that she knew I did not really need to survive. Eventually, she did buy the knife for me, but only when it was the right time for it. I spent the next two months with that knife strapped around my leg, as I pretended to be Rambo. Sadly, that knife would not have allowed me to take on a whole police force. It was only good for making my pants sag (and this was way before anyone wanted to walk around with sagging pants.)

                I know that for a lot of us, our prayer life feels like this. There is something we really want (sometimes it really is important or necessary, and sometimes it will only make us feel better), so we start asking God. We may start off very ‘churchy” in our prayer requests. We use church words and ask very solemnly. We do not get the answer we want, as soon as we want it, so we move into begging. We may or may not get our requests, but we still feel like there is something missing in the way God answers our prayers. A good question to ask then is, “How does God answer prayers?”

                Several months ago, I was listening to James Merritt, the pastor at Cross Pointe Church in Georgia. He was preaching on God answering prayers. Dr. Merritt is famous for his alliterations, and this sermon was no different. He said that we get: 1. A Direct Answer, 2. A Delayed Answer, 3. A Different Answer, and 4. A Denied Answer.

                 Jennifer and I were listening to that particular sermon after meeting with the search committee of Shallow Well. We knew that we loved Sanford, and that we really liked the people that we were meeting with, but we wanted to make sure that we were doing what God wanted us to do. We started praying about whether or not we should come here. We wanted to hear God’s voice and be obedient.

                We prayed and then waited for His response. I am glad to say that we got a direct answer. He made it clear that this is the church He wanted us to come and serve at. It was not an audible voice, but it was clear enough for both of us.

                We had spent the many months before this, talking to other churches. I really wanted to get back into full-time ministry, and I knew God wanted that from us as well. When we started praying about this, we got a delayed answer. God did not tell us where He was sending us, or when He was sending us. It would be more than a year after we started the process of looking for a position that He put us in one. All we knew was, he was sending us out. We had to wait for his answer for the remaining details.

 I was looking for a senior pastor position. In fact, 99% of the churches I sent my resume to were senior pastor positions. That position was not what God wanted for me. When the time was right (when Shallow Well came calling) I got a different answer than the one I thought I would get. He wanted me to be an associate pastor. During this time, we met with some unique churches. It was clear that for some of those churches the answer was no. This was a denied answer. I cannot tell you how happy we are that God said “no” to us about those churches.

                God does not always answer our prayer requests the way that we want Him to. Sometimes it really is just a “yes’ or “no” answer. I may not like the “no”, but I appreciate knowing. The harder answers, are the delayed answers. God’s time is not our time. His time is better than our time, so we need to learn to be patient. I am also thankful for the different answers He gives us. I am glad that He knows the big picture and He wants the very best for us. Many times, we do not see the very best, we just see what we want.

                As Christians, we know that we should pray. Hopefully we even know how to pray. The hardest part is the answer to our requests. Ultimately, we just must trust God and trust His timing. He loves us more than we could ever imagine. He only wants the best for us. 

Marty

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