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“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8

            If there is one verse that should define Shallow Well’s mission’s efforts, it is that one. I feel so strongly about it, that it is on the back of our T-shirts. This verse is a clear mandate that as Christians it is not enough to simply stay in our church and do nothing. If we call ourselves followers of Jesus, we must obey Jesus in all things. We might do okay in following some of the rules he has set up for us, but we (including me) do not always want to take the church outside of our four walls. We have a desire to be obedient without also being active in the world around us. I know that I struggle with this.

            I have not always had the greatest passion for missions, but I have done missions. I have been to Savannah, New Orleans, and even New Hampshire to show and share Jesus, but it was more because I was supposed to, not because it was an inner drive to be His witness in these places. A few years ago, I went to Memphis for a couple of days with a church we were attending. It was the first mission trip I had been on in probably five years. It was a simple three-day trip with a lot of riding to get there. I thought nothing of it except that I felt the need to be obedient and go. While there, I was sent with others to a subdivision near the church we were serving. I started knocking on doors to invite them to the church and possibly share Jesus if I could. It was hot and muggy. The houses seemed to go on forever, but instead of feeling tired or disappointed I realized that I loved doing this. We then went to a gas station to help pay for gas some of the customers. Once again, I loved it. The next morning, I taught children’s church in that church so the churches normal teachers could be a part of the service. It felt good. I realized in that little time in Memphis, Tennessee that mission work was not something I had to do to be obedient, but something I wanted to do to serve others. I knew that whenever I got back into a leadership position in a church that I would push mission work. I would lead that church to go and serve.

            Not everyone feels the same about this. I recall the words that an older pastor said to William Carey (the future father of modern missions), “When God pleases to convert the heathen, he will do so without consulting you or me.” Not everyone desires to go. Not everyone has this heart. I start dreaming and visualizing about what we can do, and before long I start hearing the doubters. Satan likes to try to tell me that no one wants to be a part of this. You are wasting your time. During the planning stages I go through excitement stages and then despondent stages that no one will want to go. I surge and sputter. I praise and I complain. I occasionally walk away from it, but God will not let me walk to far. He brings me back and tells me to get to work. I plan, and He will provide the workers. I promote and He will bring in the support. He will open the doors that need to be open and close the ones that need to be shut. I just have to keep working.

            A week and a half ago (July 22-26) was our Hometown Mission Week. The last two summers we went away to work. Kentucky was awesome and West Virginia was really good (except for the rats.) I started looking for another state to which we could go. Every call I made just did not work out. My plan was to go to somewhere in Appalachia again. God’s plan was to stay home, so we stayed home, I was not sure how this would work out, but it was not my job to make it work, just to make it available. I called the people in charge of helping others in our community and told them we wanted to help. I could not tell them how many we would have, but we would have somebody. They said come, so we went. 41 people from Shallow Well went last week. 40 of you gave of your time to help in our community. We built flower boxes for East Lee Middle School. We built a ramp for a disabled family. We finished a shed for a lady that had been ripped off by someone else. We did yard work for a lady who needed help. We cleaned at Family Promise. We cleaned and decorated our church. We fed people at the Breadbasket. We delivered food at the CUOC. 41 people in Shallow Well were Jesus’ witnesses in our Jerusalem.

            I was not sure why God wanted us in Sanford and not Tennessee, but after working here I figured it out. We were here because we needed to be reminded of the needs right around us. We were here because people needed help that they would not have gotten if it was not for Shallow Well. We were here because it allowed people to serve that would not have been able to if we went somewhere else. We were here because this is where God wanted us this summer.

            I want to thank everyone who served. I want to thank you for giving of your time and talents. I want to thank the adults who were patient and taught our youth how to do new things. I want to thank the adults who gave up their time to help those who needed it. Thank you.

            I want to thank all those who donated to help this week happen. I know many of you wish that you could have physically helped, but you knew you could not, so you gave. We could not have done it without you. Thank you.

            I want to thank our youth. Thank you for serving. Thank you for trying new things, thank you for helping the less fortunate. I pray that you will have a heart to serve others everywhere. I pray that you do not just do mission trips simply because you are supposed to, but because you want to. Thank you for your work.

            For those that served, I pray that your work was not just physical but spiritual. I hope that we do not just have different thoughts about the area around us, but that we have different thoughts about Jesus. I pray that this church will always desire to be witnesses of Jesus in our Jerusalem, our Judea’s and Samaria’s. I pray that you will go to the ends of the earth with the message of Jesus.

MJ

              

                It is said that there are two things that you never talked about at the dinner table – religion and politics. Those two subjects would almost always cause some type of argument. I believe now we can add another subject that will bring about ill feelings – the economy. We have clear facts on the economy, but we argue over what they mean and how we feel about them.

            At the last report, the United States economy was growing. More jobs were being added, fewer people were unemployed, and wages have gone up. These numbers are easy to find, and they do not lie, yet they do not tell the whole story. We can examine the wages. They have risen by over 2.8% in the last year, but so has inflation. It has risen at 2.7%, which means that the increase in wages is offset by inflation. The numbers tell one story, but surveys tell us that most Americans do not feel that the economy is that good.

            After we spend time arguing over the economy, we turn to our personal wealth or lack of it. The wealthiest people keep getting wealthier, and everyone else is not. We, in America, cry wealth inequality while we spend an average of $164 a day. Over 3 billion people in the world live off of less than $5.50 a day, and still 10% of the world’s population lives off of less than $1.90 a day. As bad as this is, this is a decrease in the percentage in the last decade and there is hope that the extreme poverty in the world can disappear in the next decade.

            Taking all this together, the US economy is either booming, or it’s a bust. Americans are getting wealthier or poorer. We are doing better than most of the world, and most of the world is better off than it used to be but is way behind us. What one person sees as good times, another sees as gloom and doom. No wonder we cannot agree on economics and wealth. People cannot even agree on the interpretation of undisputable facts, and then our politics and our religion (whichever side of the political spectrum you are on, determines your outlook on the economy, and your religion determines what you think should be done with our wealth or lack of it) are brought into the discussion.

            The debate over wealth and economics will never be settled this side of heaven. Some people will never have enough, while others will always have too much. Trying to wade into this debate is a no-win situation. A better place for a Christian to interject is to remind other believers that no matter how much cash you may or may not have, or how many possessions you own or wish you owned; you have already been made wealthy in Jesus.

            Paul writes:

I always thank my God for you because of God’s grace given to you in Christ Jesus, that by Him you were enriched in everything—in all speech and all knowledge. In this way, the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you, so that you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you will be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; you were called by Him into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Corinthians 1: 4-9 HCSB – emphasis mine.)

            The key word in this passage is “enriched.” The word in the Greek means to be “richly furnished,” or more specifically, they were made wealthy. It is in the passive voice (I am by no means a grammar expert, but I try) which means that the verb “enriched” is the most important part of the phrase. Paul is telling the Corinthians that, in their salvation, they were richly furnished or made wealthy with what they needed. In What were they wealthy? Paul shares four ways they were wealthy:

  1. They were wealthy in all speech and knowledge
  2. They were wealthy in all spiritual gifts
  3. They were wealthy in endurance
  4. They were wealthy in fellowship with Jesus.

             Is there any greater wealth than these? Is gold worth more than speech and knowledge, especially when salvation is on the line? Are we better off with diamonds than with spiritual gifts? Which of these will better build the kingdom of God? Can stocks and bonds give us the strength to continue on when life gets hard? Can money truly buy friendships that will last, or even more important, fellowship with our Savior? The true wealthy are not the ones with the most materials, but the ones who are closest to God.

            Our culture places a greater value on material wealth. Jesus did not. He gave the proper perspective on material riches in Matthew 6:19-21. Every bit of material wealth we accumulate will be left behind, and what is not stolen by thieves will be destroyed by moths or dust. The wealth we spend most of our time trying to attain will not add a day to our lives, nor will it be taken with us when we die. The wealth that God has enriched us with, on the other hand, will last forever. What we do with our speech, knowledge, gifts, endurance, and fellowship has eternal consequences.

             It is a waste of time and energy to continue in the endless debates over the economy and wealth. All the debates will do is cost us time and friendships. You will not change many, if any, minds with your take on the economic numbers. You will, however, change lives with the wealth that God has given you. Will you spend your time trying to accumulate wealth that will not last, or will you accept the wealth God has already given? Will you store up treasures that will disappear, or will you store up treasures that will last forever?

MJ

                In the summer of 1967, over a 100,000 young people put flowers in their hair (San Francisco, Be Sure to Wear Flowers in your Hair), loaded themselves into a VW van with at least one guitar, and made the trek to the Haight-Ashbury section of San Francisco. These young men and women had rejected the consumerism that their parents had embraced, and looked longingly into the promise that lots of drugs and sex would free them from the chains that their parents had become enslaved in. They were ready to “turn on, tune in, and drop out” as the writer Timothy Leary encouraged them to do. Popular culture would refer tot his time as “The Summer of Love” and these people would be called “hippies.”

                Unfortunately, many found out that San Francisco was not the utopia they were searching for. There were no places to stay or sleep, not enough food to eat, the drugs were causing them to crash hard, the STD’s were hurting, and they were not as welcome as they thought they would be. Crime skyrocketed, and laws were passed to criminalize much of their behavior. By the end of the summer, many of these young people packed up their belongings and returned from whence they came.

                A part of the “Summer of Love” that is often missing from the pages of history is a revival moment that started with these hippies. Many Christians saw the hurting and suffering of these young folks, and instead of looking down at them because they looked different, they chose to share the Gospel with them. The freedom that Jesus offered turned out to be exactly what they were looking for without the letdown the drugs and alcohol always had. The young men and women did not cut their hair, put on shoes, change their clothes, or change their taste in music, but their lives changed forever. They became known first as “Jesus People”, and then later mockingly called “Jesus Freaks”. Much like the early followers in Antioch who were supposedly insulted by the term “Christian” but embraced it, these young people proudly accepted and proclaimed themselves to be Jesus Freaks. Their movement was called the Jesus Movement. It is estimated that over 250,000 people gave their lives to Jesus at that time. Time Magazine even had a cover story about them. Their style of music would inspire what we know today as Contemporary Christian Music and the praise and worship songs we sing.

                The Jesus People of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s is considered by many as the last great revival that this country has had. These people, who were not always welcome in many churches, spread the gospel of Jesus across this country and even into Europe. As they initially traveled west, I doubt many people thought that they would change the world in a positive way, yet they did. One lesson from them that we can take today is that God can use anyone to spark a deep change in our land.

                The reality is that it does not take much for a revival to begin. God showed Solomon what was necessary to see this happen. He told him after Solomon had built him a temple. God said,”  and My people who are called by My name humble themselves, pray and seek My face, and turn from their evil ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14). All we need to do is humble ourselves, pray, seek God, and turn from our evil ways. At that point, God will hear us, forgive us, and heal our land. We do our part, then God does his.

                One of my great desires for this year at Shallow Well is to see a great revival occur. I want to see people freed from the bondage of sin, families restored, lives changed, and our church explode with people. I would love to see our alter flooded with people and prayers. I would love to see people saved every week and we baptize regularly. I want every pew packed with people hungry to learn more about God. How amazing would it be if we had to start a second service to accommodate all the people? I know that this might be a little uncomfortable for some. The thought of change scares you. To you I ask, isn’t rescuing one soul from hell worth a little discomfort? Many of you share the same desire I have. To you I ask, what part do you need to take in seeing this happen? Have you done what God requires of you in 2 Chronicles? Are you sharing and inviting?

                I truly believe that God wants to do something amazing here. If I did not believe that, I would not be here. I would love for some future generation to tell the story of Shallow Well as a motivation. I believe this can happen if we want it to. Will you join me this year in making this happen by being a 2 Chronicle believer and follower?

MJ

                One Sunday morning many years ago, I was riding with my Mom to church. I was a teenager, so by that time we did not have many deep discussions. This particular Sunday, however, we were running a little behind and the cars in front of us kept getting slower and slower. I think I made some comment like, “Somedays it just isn’t easy to get to church.” I joked probably about us going home (it was a joke because I loved going to church.) My mom took this as a teaching moment. She told me that church isn’t supposed to be easy, there is supposed to be a sacrifice, a giving of something, in worshipping God and attending His house. If we are really serving Him, it will cost us something. Our salvation is bought and paid for by the sacrifice of Jesus, but our sanctification is built on us giving up some of the things we most want to keep.

                My mom knew about sacrifice. She grew up with an abusive, alcoholic father, who would also probably be identified as bi-polar (the alcohol and the bi-polar were two different things.) When she was a little girl, she went to live with an older brother and his new wife. Their marriage did not last, but my mom stayed with her former sister-in-law. No one really went to church from her family, and they were ok with that. She then met my dad and fell madly in love with him. As they dated and then married, my dad took my mom to the church his family attended. The church, especially the ladies, took my mom in and taught her about Jesus, about how to be a wife and how to be a mother. It was not easy for my mom. She did not grow up this way. The way she had seen others live, while not the best way, was much easier than what Jesus expected of her.

                My mom loved what the church had to offer. She listened as the ladies poured their lives into her’s. She learned to sacrifice for her husband and for her children. It was not easy, but it was worth it. I have no doubts that she was the greatest influence on my life for at least the first 25 years of it. Any struggles that I have, and any time that I think about quitting anything because it gets too hard, I remember her words about sacrifice, “If it’s worth it, it will cost us something.” I remember that her words meant something because I saw them in action.

                Most of us today want ease and convenience. Christianity Today recently published an article about the vice of ease. For the last 100 years, the American household has gotten a lot easier because of technology. In fact, everything seems to have gotten easier. We like the ease, but unfortunately, it has not made us happier or more satisfied. Why? Because Our souls do not crave ease. Our souls crave work, adventure, excitement, and accomplishment. Our physical bodies may want ease, but our spirits want effort and the sense of a job well done. We actually do want sacrifice. If it costs us something, it means more to us.

                King David understood the cost of sacrifice. In 1 Chronicles 21, David made a mistake. Following Satan and not God, David orders a census to count his fighting men. This, combined with God already be angry with Israel for its many sins (2 Samuel 24), caused a great plague to sweep through the land. Thousands of people were dying. David repented of his sins and begged God to relent. The angel of the Lord had his sword drawn over Jerusalem ready to attack when God stopped him. The exact place was the threshing floor of a man named Ornan. Ornan and his sons saw the angel just as David had seen him. They were rightly afraid. God ordered David to build him an alter right there. Ornan was perfectly happy to give the land to David (remember, he had just seen the angel with a sword.) David would not take the land for free. King David said to him, “No, I insist on paying the full price, for I will not take for the Lord what belongs to you or offer burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” David understood that in order to please God and do what He told him to do, it would cost him something. David would have to sacrifice.

                David bought the land, paying 15 pounds of gold, and built an alter to God there. He offered both burnt and fellowship offerings on that alter. The Lord sent fire to consume the offerings. The angel of the Lord put away his sword and the plague ended. The alter would stay for a little while longer. Its location would become the temple that David’s son Solomon would build for God. What David gave up, in both buying the land and offering a bull, would become the most holy place in all of Israel. It is possible, and likely fitting, that the spot the alter was built was where the most holy of holies would be situated in the temple. God used David’s sacrifice to bring about the building of the Jewish temple where God would reside. Many years later, after having been rebuilt twice, Jesus would also enter this temple.

                A true follower of Jesus understands that following Him requires sacrifice. He does not promise that our life will become easy. He does tell us that his yoke is easy (Matthew 11:30), but the word easy is best thought of as manageable. Following Jesus requires sacrifice. Sacrifice is not always what we want, but in the end, it is what we need. The great thing about it is that God will use our sacrifice to do some pretty amazing things.

MJ

                My best friend growing up was my cousin Gary. I did not have a brother, so he was as close to a brother as I would have. Some of the best things I ever did as a kid or a teenager, he was a part of. It is also equally true that some of the stupidest things I ever did he was there for those, also. We had a large group of friends, and I always liked think that we made our friends better people. The truth is, we probably did not impact our friends as much as we thought we did. How could we? We really were just like them. We did not have much to give to make them better. I wish we could have been more like a much more famous and important set of cousins that were born 2000 years ago. They not only affected their friends, but they changed the world with their lives.

                If you have not figured out who the cousins are, they are John the Baptist and Jesus. They were born nearly six months apart. The story of their birth announcements is found in Luke 1: 8-38. An angel came to John’s father Zechariah and later to Mary. As you read the passage, there are four truths that the angel is announcing not just to the parents, but also to the whole world.

                The first truth is the truth of hope. Both John and, more importantly, Jesus were bringing a hope into the world that had never been seen. Before their births, God had not spoken to Israel in over 400 years. The last words He spoke were found in the book of Malachi, which also happens to be the last book of the Old Testament. The book of Malachi is centered on a series of questions. God would point out their sins, and they would question whether or not what God was saying was true. The Israelites were, at best, halfway serving God. They made an appearance of doing holy things, while holding back from God what was his. He was warning them. His last words were about a prophet that would be coming (John the Baptist) and a warning if they did not change. They did not change, so God punished them. He not only did not speak to them, he sent foreign countries in to take over. After each invasion, the people would look for the promised Messiah who would free them. For four hundred years they searched, and God was silent. The people were losing hope. Then one day an angel appeared and told an old priest that the words of Malachi were being delivered in his son. Then the angel spoke to Mary and told her that the promised King would be her son. Hope was about to be delivered in two cousins.

                The second truth was the truth of the Word of God. The Old Testament made many promises about a Messiah. The people kept looking. Occasionally a person would show up and get the people’s hope up. That person would then fail as a Messiah, and the people were back to square one. It is not hard to imagine that many started looking at the Scriptures as some type of fairy tale meant to keep everyone’s hope up, but never actually delivering on the goods. Half-truths and outright lies would soon take the place of the truth. When lies replace the truth, chaos ensues. We see this today in our country. We have been lied to by politicians, preachers, athletes, and just about everyone else. As I heard one man say many years ago, “[we] would rather climb a tree to tell a lie then stay on the ground and tell the truth.” We have been lied to so many times by so many people we just expect it. This is a terrible way to live. The births of John and Jesus break up the lies. The birth of Jesus fulfills at least fifty distinct prophesies and maybe as many as three hundred. If only nine are fulfilled, it would be like being blindfolded and asked to find a specific marked silver dollar in a state as big as Texas that has been covered two feet deep in silver dollars (https://www.jesusfilm.org/blog-and-stories/old-testament-prophecies.html). They are truths that you can count on and believe in.

                The third truth is the truth that God performs miracles. Something supernatural had to occur for both John and Jesus to be born. John was born to an older couple that had given up hope of ever having a child. God had never promised them that they would, so they probably had given up hope. They may have been making plans to retire and move to Morehead City and spend their final years with just each other. Then an angel showed up and told them they would have a child. Some may say that this is not really a miracle. No laws of nature, or the universe were broken. That is true, but for this to happen, God had to work within the laws he created to do something no one else could do or think could be done. Jesus’ birth was clearly a miracle. God did break the laws of the universe to make this happen. Mary was quite clear that she was a virgin and had never known a man intimately. Childbirth could not happen. It was a miracle. We needed this. We needed not only a savior, but to be reminded just how big a God, God is. We needed to be reminded that the laws of the universe are for us, not Him. We needed to know that nothing is too big for Him, and that He can do whatever He wants to do whenever He wants to do it. The truth of miracles reminds us of the bigness of God, and how much He loves us. He will step outside the laws of the universe to save us.

                The final truth revealed in the births of John and Jesus is about repentance and reconciliation. John was born to preach a very specific sermon. His sermon was one of repentance for forgiveness of sins. He was sent to prepare the way for the Lord (Luke 3:3-4). Before we can ever truly know God and serve Jesus, we must repent of our sins. Fortunately, their births were not just about repentance. It would get frustrating if all we ever had was repentance. The birth of Jesus brought something even greater. He brought reconciliation after repentance. We are made right with God. We are brought back into God’s family that we left when we sinned. We have been reconciled.

These Christmas cousins should remind us of the incredible meaning that Christmas has. It is not just about gifts, lights, trees, and a jolly, old, fat man. There is nothing wrong with any of these in their proper place. Their proper place is behind the story of Jesus. If at any time these things become bigger or more important than Jesus, we have lost the truth of Christmas. Let us keep our eyes and minds focused on the truth and celebrate what Christmas really means.

MJ

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