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                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

             I do not always communicate with my wife correctly. I know that the previous statement might seem preposterous to some of you (to others who have gotten to know me, it sounds about right), yet it’s true. My wife will ask a question, and depending upon my mood, I will answer accordingly. When I am feeling loving, this works out great for me. The problem is that I don’t always feel this way. Sometimes I am in a bad mood (yes, pastors have them, too) and my response is not always the best. It would have been nice, if someone years ago, would have told me how to communicate with my wife. I would have been even more appreciative if they could have also given me a chart to explain the looks I get. Some are easy to comprehend and some leave me completely baffled and weary.

                Communicating with God (prayer) can seem just as complex, with a much bigger problem. He is God. If I mess up with my wife she might get mad and make my life difficult for a little while, but she does not have the power to sentence me to eternal fire and suffering. God does have that ability. It can be scary and daunting. What if I mess up? What if I say the wrong words? What if I don’t use the correct church term? What if He does not want church terms at all? What if I am too casual? What if I am not casual enough? What if I don’t spend enough time doing it? It is really easy to see why our prayer life can suffer.

                How do we handle this, then? How do we make sure our prayers are heard? How do we pray in a way that pleases God and achieves what we want (yes, it is ok to pray for things and want them to come true.) When I was younger someone taught me an acrostic to help with prayers. It was ACTS. Each letter helped with my prayer. “A” stood for ADORATION. “C” was CONFESSION. “T” was THANKSGIVING. “S” was SUPPLICATION. If I could remember all of them, then I could truly pray the prayers of a righteous man, but was it true? I do not believe that we can simply pray the same exact way every time (nor should we), but as I have grown older and hopefully wiser, I do see the value of trying to remember each part.

                As we go through these parts, please remember that not every prayer is the same. Some prayers are very quick. A simple request then we move on. Some prayers are longer and we have more time to put into it. One thing that we should always remember is that we are to pray, constantly. That does not mean that we pray 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It means that throughout our day we continue to pray. This gives us the freedom to have long prayers and short prayers.

                We should start our prayers with ADORATION. We should show God the proper respect he deserves while also showing our love to Him. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus starts with “Our Father.” The term “Father” was a million miles away from the usual Jewish prayer. They did not say God’s holy name. They simply would say “The Name.” Jesus told us that the favorite title God the Father wanted us to call Him was Abba. Father. Dad. A true close relationship. A relationship built on love and trust. A relationship built on what God has done for us. Once we get this, the adoration becomes easy. He is worthy of our love and desires it.

                We then move to some type of CONFESSION. We must realize that sin separates us from God. I am not implying that each sin you commit will keep you from heaven. If you have accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior, then that matter is settled. You are forever his child. No sin after salvation will keep you from Him, but unconfessed sin in a believer’s life will separate you from the closeness of Him. We must be honest with God. We must acknowledge that there are places in our lives that need confession, repentance and forgiveness. One of my favorite Psalms is Psalm 24. David asks “who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place?” The answer was only “One who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not set his mind on what is false, or who has sworn deceitfully.” Only after confession can we truly take our place in the throne room of God.

                The next part of prayer is THANKSGIVING. We get to say “thank you” to the One who has given us so much. We get to express, with joy, the goodness that has been given to us. As a father, I love when I give gifts to my kids and they say thank you. I love the words and the hugs that accompany that. My kids have been given something good, and they show their appreciation. I know that it is easy to look at our lives and at times think that we have nothing good in them.  I’ve been there and done that. The truth is that even when it looks the darkest, God has still given us more good things than we could ever imagine. Our darkest days still have shining light in them, even if it takes the morning time for us to see them.

                The final part of prayer is SUPPLICATION. Supplication is the big church word that simply means to ask for something. For some of you, asking God to provide things, is not a problem. I am not one of them. I, wrongfully, grew up believing that God loved me, but He was much too busy and had much more important things to worry about than me. Running a universe and providing miracles were at the top of His to-do list. Answering my little requests was something that He might get to if He had time. I have since learned how wrong I was. My “little requests” were important to Him. I was important to Him. He takes great pleasure in the joy of his children. I matter to Him. You matter to Him. Jesus taught us to pray for forgiveness AND daily bread. The spiritual and the physical matter to God. I can go boldly into the presence of God because I am His child through the shed blood of Jesus. This gives me the right to ask Him for the things I want.

                The next article will be about how God answers our prayers. The great thing is that you do not have to wait for it to pray. As you go throughout your day praise God (Adoration), admit your weaknesses and shortcomings (Confession), acknowledge the good that you have been given (Thanksgiving), and please ask Him for the things you need (Supplication). He is your ABBA (not the silly little Swedish band.) He is your Father. He longs to hear from you today.

Marty

                On July 20, 1969 Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. With the immortal words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Man had done something that only 10 years earlier, most people would have thought to be impossible. I wonder what was going through his mind as he did the unimaginable.

                For me, what I wonder the most about was what was he thinking about the night before? I know he had to be both nervous and excited, but what else was going through his mind. I imagine that he had his mental checklist out, going over it. Coolant system on? Check. Camera fixed correctly? Check. Words to say to impress all of America and never be forgotten? Check.

                On February 22, 2017, Shallow Well will begin a new adventure. We will begin our Wednesday night Bible study (I know that the church has done it before, but bear with me on this. I’m being dramatic.) Although it is not as big as walking on the moon, it does have the chance to really change lives. I believe that God has something incredible planned for us through this.

                I know that only in my dreams, am I as important as Neil Armstrong, but I am going through my mental checklist to make sure Wednesday night it ready. Time picked out? Check – Wednesdays at 6:30. Study chosen? Check – the book of Daniel. Music? Check. Someone to watch small kids? Check. Brilliant article written to inspire people to come? Maybe.

                To be completely honest, I have no idea what to expect. In my head, I see 100 people showing up to learn more about the Bible and to pray. But I would be excited if a dozen came. The reality should be somewhere in the middle. I hope that many of you plan on being there.

                Why should you show up? I think the most important reason is that God will be there. Also, you should show up to study the Bible. This is an awesome time for us to get together and pray for lost people, sick people, and those who have a special need. Furthermore, it’s a time just for us to worship together. Corporate worship is very important for Christians.

                Another important reason for you to come is that a middle of the week Bible study is perfect to refresh yourself for the rest of your week. Spiritually, a great Sunday service keeps me excited for a couple of days. After that, the normal wear and tear of the week starts to drag me down. By Thursday night, I am spent. This means that I tend to finish the week dragging and of very little use. I do not want that. I want my week to end just as on fire for Jesus as I started. I believe that a Wednesday night service, which conveniently falls in the middle of the week, is just the refresher I need to finish strong.

                I hope that all of you will plan to attend the Bible study. For those of you that have trouble getting out at night, Pastor Donnie will be doing a Bible study at 10:30 Wednesday morning at the church. He, too, would love to have a big crowd for that. For those of you who like to overachieve and can, you can come to both. You get a double shot of Bible.

                I am excited about what God is doing here, but I am even more excited about what God wants to do at Shallow Well. There are some great and awesome things that God wants to do with us and through us. The only real question is will we let Him? I hope so. I am looking forward to seeing you on Wednesday night. The dress is casual and all you need is to bring your Bible and something to write with. God will do the rest.

Marty

                Imagine that one day you were sitting with your family at the Chinese buffet. You were minding your own business when you happened to hear a conversation from the booth behind you. In that booth, there were four people in it. An older couple and a younger couple. You were trying your best to not eavesdrop, but they were talking loud enough that it was not much work to hear what was being said. The younger couple were thinking about getting married and they were seeking out the advice of a couple that they knew had been married a long time.

                The older couple listened to the younger couple talk about how much they were in looooovvvveeee and they could not wait to get married. They talked in the sickly, sweet way that young people talk about each other. You could almost hear the old man’s eyes rolling. The young couple asked the old couple what the secret to a long marriage was. Now, you had forgot about trying to not listen in and were straining your ears to hear. Obviously, this couple had been together forever. You wanted to know the key to a long marriage. This was going to be good. In fact, you just turned around to hear.

                The old man cleared his throat. You elbowed your spouse to get his/her attention. You gave your kids the look that said quit hitting each other with noodles and listen. This old man was about to dispense marital wisdom. In a deep voice, he said,” The key to a long marriage is to quit talking to each other. Communication is way overrated. All you really need to do is just say the exact same thing to each other every day, and it would be best if you did it at the same time each day. Save your words for when there is a real need for them. Not only does she not need to hear about your day, she doesn’t want to. The less you say, the better, that way, when you have something important to say or really need something your words will have that much more meaning.”  The old women chimed in, “It’s true. He is way too busy to hear about my day. He has much more important things to worry about than me.”

                You are shocked. You know this is not right. These people must be joking. You keep listening, waiting for the punch line. It never comes. Soon, the old couple gets up to get another plate of sweet and sour pork. You yell to the young couple to forget what they just said. The key to a happy marriage is communication. Tell each other everything. If the one you looovvvveeee does not care about your day, then he does not looovvveee you. If you are not the most important person in his life, find someone else. If he is too busy to listen, then he is too busy for you. The young couple, although a little shocked at the passion and loudness of your response, are thankful. They quietly leave the restaurant. The old couple comes back. They do not even realize the other couple has left. They finish their dinner in absolute silence.

                Hopefully this has never happened to you. Hopefully people gave you the right advice about communication. Unfortunately, many Christians who might communicate perfectly with important people in their lives, have very little communication with God. One of the great weaknesses of the Christian and the Christian church is the lack of prayer. Maybe you did not realize that prayer was simply communicating with God, but that is exactly what it is.

                We would never suggest to anyone to not worry about talking to their loved ones, but how often do we do this to God? A survey that I read said that we spend somewhere between 2 to 16 minutes in prayer a day. If we use the higher number that means, we spend about 1% of our day in prayer. It would be easy to imagine that some of that 16 minutes are nothing more than rote prayers we use for meal time. Take away the three minutes of meal prayer and most Americans spend about .9% of their day in prayer.

                I know that it is not always fair to throw numbers at people and tell them to straighten up. My goal in this post is not to guilt you into praying more. Guilt might get an immediate response, but it rarely leads to lasting change. I simply share those numbers with you to make you think. Some of you may be thinking that it is none of my business how much you pray. I disagree. As your associate pastor your spiritual life is of the utmost importance to me. Some of you may be thinking that I have no idea how busy you are, and if you knew then giving God 16 minutes is pretty good. I do know how busy you are. You are as busy as the rest of us. Some of you might be thinking that you are ashamed of how little you pray. I am right there with you. I do not pray nearly enough, either. Whatever your thoughts are, the truth is that for most of us, we really do need to improve our prayer life.

                Prayer may be the single most important thing that we do every day. It is through prayer that we learn more about God, learn more about what we should be doing in our life, and have the greatest impact on others. The more time we spend with God, the stronger our Christian walk and witness. The more time we spend with God, the stronger we will become. Prayer is not just something that we simply have to do. It should be something that we desire to do.

                Some of you may be wondering why I am spending time talking about prayer. The answer is simple. I believe in it. I believe in it for my personal time and for my family. I believe so much in it that it is a major part of our Wednesday night Bible study. We are going to take time each Wednesday to pray for each other. I want you to be a part of it. I want you to be someone who not only knows that prayer is important, but also someone who spends more that 1% of their day in it. I want prayer to become so important to us that praying is just a natural part of our day. Because of this, I am going to post three different blogs about prayer. My next post will be some helpful tips on how to pray. After that I will write about how God responds to prayer. I hope that these posts will be beneficial to you. And just so you know, I am praying for Shallow Well and for you.

Marty

“For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:12

                When I was in high school there was a guy who did not like me. He probably was not the only one (I could be slightly sarcastic, before sarcasm was cool), but he was the only one who I could not figure out why. One day in class he told me he wanted to beat me up, but not in such nice terms. I think I laughed at him. My laughter did not help the situation. Fortunately, we never fought, although I felt pretty confident in the art of fisticuffs. This kid considered me his enemy.

                I am sure that we have all felt like that guy. Somebody gave us a wrong look and they went on our list. Possibly they said something we did not agree with and they became our public enemy number one. If you are like me, the person posted something that went against my beliefs and I was ready to fight.

                The truth is, I struggle sometimes realizing who my real enemy is. A politician is not my enemy (this does not mean that we have to support everything they do.) Tom Brady is not my enemy (yes, I am bitter over the Falcons losing the Super Bowl.) As a Christian, even a radical Muslim who seeks my death is not my enemy. I need to be wary of him, but our battle is not against him.

                Paul tells us in Ephesians that our real enemy is Satan and his demons who wish to destroy us. The politician who is on the opposite side of the aisle, the guy/girl who posts things we do not agree with, the atheist who disagrees with my faith, or the radical Muslim is not who I fight against. They are who we are fighting for. I stand in my faith in Jesus to win the politician, the Facebooker, the atheist, and the Muslim. Satan wants to have them condemned to Hell with him for all of eternity. He hates them as much as he hates us. He is the real enemy, and as long as he has us fighting the wrong people he wins.

                We fight this battle with truth, mercy, and grace. We must stand on the Word of God and not allow ourselves to be compromised, but also stand with compassion. We must guard ourselves from letting harshness invade us. We must be willing to accept insults and persecution in order to win the lost. We must stand like Jesus. We must stand against injustice and for the hurting.

                I do not want you to think that I believe that you should not stand up for what you believe in. If you want to argue with someone on Facebook, more power to you (you are not going to win many arguments online.) You want to put a political sign on your car or in your yard, that is fine. You can stand for any number of things. Just remember that the real battle is not against the people that do not agree with you. The real battle is against Satan.

                I also believe that it is worth noting that the war we are fighting is already won. The birth of Jesus, was a time of great spiritual conflict, as God in flesh appeared on earth to redeem mankind and defeat the hordes of hell. We already have victory and peace in the war with evil and death. Our greatest, and only true enemy, has already been defeated Our battle is to make sure that he does not take more people with him. Let us work hard to achieve this outcome.

Marty

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