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Here at the FBC our desire is to delight God by developing a church full of people whose integrity is beyond question, whose faith is beyond reason, and whose compassion is beyond compare. So come on in, look around, and explore the world of Newton FBC. We sincerely hope you enjoy your visit!

Rein Schmidt
Sam White
Brad Tarr
Eric Schmidt
John Dryden
Sunday Morning Worship
9:00 AM
Sunday School
10:30 AM
Sunday Evening Worship
6:00 PM
Wednesday Bible Study
6:30 PM
Saturday June 25, 2016

Some of you may have had an experience in a flight simulator. A flight simulator is set up so that an individual can have the experience of flying an aircraft as a training event without actually flying an aircraft. The simulator mocks the actual flying experience as closely as possible, even trouble scenarios, to help potential pilots learn how to fly. The obvious advantage is if the pilot makes a mistake, there are no actual consequences. You simply hit reset and try again.

Wouldn't it be great if our lives were like that? Wouldn't it be good to have trial runs and then be able to hit reset? The thing is you can't. As followers of Christ, we know we can have a fresh start when we come to him and are forgiven. We know God forgives us for what we have done; however, we need to remember that we can still experience the consequences of our mistakes. Therefore, we need to take care of how we live. We can't just go around saying, "I'll live how I want because God will forgive me." I find that there aren't many folks who would actually say that, but there are those who live as if what they do in their lives will not bring about consequences. Yes, there is forgiveness with God, but there are still consequences to actions.

Consider the case of David. God forgave him for his terrible choice of sleeping with Bathsheba and then having her husband killed, but David still experienced the consequences of losing the child (II Samuel 12) and facing family strife (II Samuel 13) as a result.

We cannot view God as a "cosmic flight simulator" and all we need to do is simply hit reset. We should not presume upon the forgiveness of God. God is a God of love, grace, and mercy, but he is also just. He will forgive us for our bad choices, but not keep us from the consequences of the choices we make.

Paul wrote, "What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means!" Watch what you are doing as you live your life; there are consequences to your choices that can't be reset.

Pastor Steve Willis

Friday June 24, 2016

In a number of his writings, Paul tells us to offer encouragement to each other. This is usually not a difficult thing, as we know others who need encouragement, and we know we appreciate supportive words and deeds when we are in a position of need. However, Paul also tells us to offer words of correction when necessary. This is a little bit stickier. For a great many reasons, corrective encounters can be difficult. Still, they can be helpful and can be a form of encouragement.

In I Thessalonians 5:14-15, Paul tells us, "And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else." Here we see Paul giving instructions to offer words of correction where correction is needed and words of support where support is needed. He also tells us a little about the spirit in which this should be accomplished, "Be patient with everyone." In other words, don't withhold correction, but don't rush to judgment either, and make sure you do this in the right way.

When correction is needed, three things need to be kept in mind: 1) The nature of the problem must be considered; 2) Our motive and approach for correction must be thought through, and 3) God needs to be involved from start to finish. Galatians 6:1-2 offers further comment on this, "Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ." In both of these passages, we see Paul's comments on not only what should be done, but how it is to be accomplished.

Correcting others is usually more difficult than encouraging others, but in Paul's mind they are linked. Both should be done with a view to helping someone else grow in their faith. We all have times when correction is necessary because we all are prone to mistakes. When we find ourselves on one end or the other of this scenario, remember to make room for God's involvement. In this way, correction can be corrective without causing controversy.

Pastor Steve Willis

Thursday June 23, 2016

Isn't it amazing how much we let money control our lives? Whether we have money, or don't have money, it seems to occupy a prominent place in our existence. With the state of the economy, money certainly has a prevalent spot in media circles. This only serves to enhance its position in our thinking. Money is necessary, but we really need to get a grip on it, rather than let it get a grip on us.

Paul wrote to Timothy about this. He said, "But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is at the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows. (1Timothy 6:9-10 NLT) He makes a point here about money mastery instead of being mastered by money.

Whether you have money or whether you don't, keep it in perspective. Don't allow it to be THE focal point of your life, or you will wake up one day wondering what has happened with your life and where it went. Take steps to be good stewards with what you have; learn to be content with what you have (or what you don't have) and you will find a much more joyful and peaceful existence. God wants your focus, so don't allow money, whether it is money woes or "Money! Whoa!", to block your view.

Pastor Steve Willis

Wednesday June 22, 2016

"It is no longer enough that we pray that God may be with us on our side. We must learn to pray that we may be on God's side." Isn't that a great statement? Do you wonder who made it? Think it might have been some well-known theologian or a popular preacher? Well, actually it was one of the most famous scientists of the 20th century - Wernher von Braun. He developed the V-2 rocket for Germany which was used in warfare in WWII (no, he didn't design the rocket for this application). He later emigrated to the United States where he became the father of the space program. He had a profound effect on the history of the 20th century. While his intelligence is obvious from his accomplishments and contributions, equally obvious is his profound understanding of his relationship with God.

Many times we pray to try to "change God's mind" and to ask him to cause something to happen in a way we think is best. Instead, we need to be pray that we learn to come into conformity with what God desires and what he has designed. We need to let him act in the way he knows is best. Praying in this way shows that we trust him and that we understand his concern and commitment to our well-being.

Matthew 7:9-11 gives a commentary on this understanding, "Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!"

Von Braun understood this. He knew we should trust God and get on the same page with God, instead of trying to convince God to get on the same page with us. This isn't "rocket science" (oh, I couldn't resist that). It is just a matter of trusting God!

Pastor Steve Willis

Tuesday June 21, 2016

Often we struggle in our faith because of the suffering we see in the lives of others and the suffering we experience in our own lives. We often wonder what we did to cause the pain we have, or why we are enduring the struggle we are facing. The writer of Psalm 10 asked, "Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?" Maybe you have felt that way at times, or perhaps even now have a similar question in your heart.

Philip Yancey wrote an excellent little book on suffering entitled "Where Is God When It Hurts?" In this book, he gives some thoughts about the reasons that God allows suffering:

1. Suffering helps us realize our urgent need for redemption.

2. Suffering helps us experience our dependence on God and our interdependence with one another.

3. Suffering helps us distinguish between necessities and luxuries.

4. Suffering helps us respond to the call of the gospel because we may have become so desperate that we cry out to God.

God does not allow suffering for no reason. The reason, or reasons, may not be clear to us when we are surrounded by the struggle, but we know we can trust God to be with us and to see us through for his glory.

There is abundant evidence in Scripture about the presence and provision of God in the midst of trials and tribulations. Turning again to Psalms, we find this statement: "When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all." (Psalm 34:17-19)

This psalm plainly states that we should not expect to be free of afflictions; but we can expect God's presence and help in the midst of afflictions. I don't know what you are facing today, but rest assured as you continue to trust in the abundant resources of our loving God, he will provide a way for you to find strength in your struggle and to ultimately be delivered from your pain.

Pastor Steve Willis

Monday June 20, 2016

When my girls were younger and we would be walking, sometimes they would say, "Daddy, I am tired. Would you carry me?" "Of course I will," I would tell them. Then, I would lift them up on my shoulders and carry them for as long as they wanted. I really miss those times. I do this now a bit with my grandchildren, though for some reason I don t try to carry them far.

I don t carry my daughters around anymore, but I know they still love me and still need me as their father. They still depend on me to do things for them they need and I gladly do all I can for them. That act of dependence reflected in their request for me to carry them is something I truly miss, but I know they still love me. They simply have outgrown their need for this.

My girls may have outgrown the need to be carried by their father, but we should never outgrow the need to be carried by our Father. God is always willing to pick us up and carry us when we get tired and are unable to continue on our own. Unlike our children who come to a point where this is no longer necessary, we should never try to achieve a point where we lose this dependence upon our Heavenly Father. Deuteronomy 33:12 tells us, "Let the beloved of the LORD rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one the LORD loves rests between his shoulders."

Are you "resting between his shoulders?" Don't ever think that you get too big to do this. We are dependent upon God, and we never outgrow the need to rest between his shoulders. He wants us to do this, and we need his care.

Pastor Steve Willis

Sunday June 19, 2016

My dad was my hero. Now, dad was a hero in the classical sense of the word - the medals he was awarded during WWII evidenced his status. However, for me he was a hero for another reason. He was always there for me. He always let me know that I was important to him. Proverbs 22:6 talks about training your children - "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it." Implied in this verse is the idea that you need to spend time with your children. How else will you fulfill this exhortation to train them? Dad was there for me.

My dad was my guardian. He provided oversight and care and protection for me. The idea of guardian is just what I stated - a person who provides oversight and care and protection for another. Parents do this. My dad did this for me. I always felt safe when Dad was there. I always felt like things were going to be just fine. I never worried if I was going to be cared for or not - Dad made sure I was taken of. Probably the best term I can use here is secure. With Dad, I always felt secure. Luke 11:11 offers an indirect commentary on the role of a father as a protector and provider, "Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead?" Dads are to be guardians - my dad certainly was.

My dad was my mentor. Dad didn't instruct with words so much as he did with actions. He modeled for me the life of someone who was strong, intelligent, confident. He was a man of the utmost integrity. My dad taught me so many things about how to live. His life was incredibly eloquent. The scripture addresses this idea of the father as teacher and mentor both directly and indirectly. Proverbs 22:6 which is cited above is the direct statement. You can read some indirect statements about the father's role as teacher in passages such as Psalm 44:1 or Isaiah 38:19 where we read, "The living, the living--they praise you as I am doing today; fathers tell their children about your faithfulness." My dad was my teacher.

Today we honor our fathers. I certainly want to honor mine. Dad has been gone for many years now, but what he gave to me is still with me. Dads - that should be our desire - to pass on to our children what will help them even years after we are gone. Happy Father's Day!

Pastor Steve Willis

Saturday June 18, 2016

In 1979, my wife and I moved to Texas so that I could attend seminary. One of the things that impressed us with Texas was its immensity. When we arrived at the Texas border, we realized we still had a long, long way to go to our destination. Texas is a big state. Of course, the size of the state is relative. Texas is a large state, but is dwarfed by the size of the earth, which, in turn, is dwarfed by the size of the solar system which is dwarfed by the size of the universe. The universe is dwarfed by the size of the One who created it.

There is a saying that "everything is bigger in Texas." Well, everything is bigger with God. God is truly big. This means he has a big heart, a big concern about his creation, a big love for us. We truly have a "great big wonderful God." Paul proclaims about God, "Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!" Indeed, we have a big God, but he is not so big that he doesn't care for us. Our great, big, wonderful God cares for each of us and knows all about us. As the Imperials once sang:

We've got a great big wonderful God

A great big wonderful God

A God that loves every one of us

Done so much for all of us

A great big wonderful God!

Pastor Steve Willis

Friday June 17, 2016

As I opened the box and surveyed the hundreds of parts inside, my first thought was, "What in the world have I done?" The beautiful gazebo that I had ordered for our back deck came shipped to us in two large boxes and didn't look anything at all as was pictured. What to do? Well, the first thing was to find the instructions and see where these parts fit. This was complicated by the fact that the instructions had gotten wet and were unreadable. This is story for a different time - suffice it to say that I was able to replace the instructions and went forward from there.

Going forward meant following the instructions carefully to see where all those little parts fit. I learned long ago that when you assemble something of this sort, you don't freelance; you follow the instructions. And you remember that each piece, regardless of how small and insignificant it may seem, is important. With the help of friends through a few sessions, and following the instructions, we now have an attractive gazebo in the middle of our deck.

A thought that came to me from time to time throughout the process was, "It would be great if we had the person who designed this gazebo here to help us. That would make things go better." That would have been a great advantage.

We have that advantage in our lives. We have the Designer with us as we put pieces of our lives together. We may have times where we feel as if our lives are in pieces and we don't know how things go together. At other times, we may not be sure what options to follow to put things together the right way. When this happens, it is best to make sure that we are following the instructions given us, and that we allow the Designer to weigh in on what goes next. When we do this, the "What in the world have I done?" moments are eradicated.

Jeremiah 29:11 tells us, "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.'" Psalm 32:8 declares, "I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you." Let God take the lead in the assembly process in your life. Then you will turn those "What in the world have I done?" moments into, "Look what the Lord has done!"

Pastor Steve Willis

Thursday June 16, 2016

You know, clouds are an ambivalent entity. Those white, fluffy clouds that dot a pristine blue sky are really nice; but a thick layer of gray clouds bringing rain and gloom can be rather depressing. However, you just need to remember that the clouds are not really the "main" feature - they have not replaced the sun and the sky, they are simply masking the sky. They don't replace what is there. They only give the appearance that "they are in charge." Many of you have had the experience of taking off in a jet on a dreary, overcast, rainy day and then, after ascending a few thousand feet through the cloud barrier, witnessing the glorious appearance of a beautiful sky and the radiant sun. What a sight! The sun hadn t gone anywhere; those goofy clouds were just trying to hide it!

The next time you face a circumstance that brings on dreariness, sadness, even depression, remember that the sun and the sky have not left for good. The things that you are facing are simply masking what is really there. It may take some time, and it make take some work, but you can rise above those clouds to experience the glory of the sun. This is the hope of the follower of Christ - we do not need to worry about the presence of the blue sky and the warm sun - they will never leave. Let God help you ascend through that barrier of clouds that is trying to be the "main feature" in your life.

Psalm 37:5-6 says, "Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun." God can and will lift your spirit above the gloom. He will bring the sun in your life because it hasn't gone anywhere - there is just a "pretender" trying to block its light. Stay calm in God - the clouds will part and the sun will shine.

Pastor Steve Willis

Wednesday June 15, 2016

This morning I had been working at my computer for about fifteen minutes when I realized I was about to get into trouble for something I had not done - I hadn't put the bacon in the oven for our breakfast. In this situation, "getting into trouble" is a relative description as I might not have actually been in trouble; we would just have had the disappointment of no bacon for breakfast. Of course, I took care of the situation forthwith.

The scripture states that we can get in as much trouble for what we don't do as for what we do. James 4:17 states the principle, "If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn t do it, it is sin for them." This principle is illustrated in the Old Testament in a number of places. Deuteronomy 22:1-2 says, "If you see your fellow Israelite s ox or sheep straying, do not ignore it but be sure to take it back to its owner. If they do not live near you or if you do not know who owns it, take it home with you and keep it until they come looking for it. Then give it back." Failing to follow this prescribed action would be wrong.

The New Testament has a number of examples as well; the most famous of which is the story of the Good Samaritan. I would imagine that you remember in the story there were two travelers who bypassed the man in need and went on their way. That was wrong.

In our busy days, we might be tempted to ignore the ox or bypass the person in need. James tells us what God thinks of such activity, or rather inactivity. Don't fail to do what you need to do. This failure could lead to no bacon for breakfast!

Pastor Steve Willis

Tuesday June 14, 2016

A recent storm left its mark on my neighbor's garage. Winds felled a large tree directly on top of the structure, leaving the roof in shambles. It was a big mess. Professionals were called into action, first taking care of the tree. For a couple of days, it looked as if some gigantic invisible hand had squashed the roof. Then, more professionals got into the action and rebuilt the garage. When you drive by today, you notice nothing, which is good. Unless you had been a witness to the damage, you cannot tell that anything happened. The roof is as good as before. Well, actually, the roof looks better than before. There had been a slight dip in the ridge line that is no longer there - the ridge line is straight.

This can be our lives. We are damaged by sin and look like a storm has hit us. When we give ourselves to Christ, the damage can be undone. We are made perfectly new. Ezekiel 11:19-20 tells about what God does for us, "I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh." We are made better than we have ever been. It is more than just being restored to the original sinless state that Adam and Eve experienced. Can you imagine if my neighbor's garage had been made into a structure that would never suffer damage again? This is not possible in the case of the garage, but it is the reality in the case of a life that has been placed into the hands of the Savior. We are being made into a creation that gives no evidence of the effects of sin and will never again be marred by the effects of sin.

Philippians 1:6 tells us, "He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." This is the reality for all who follow Christ - new life that will result in a person that will never be tainted by sin again. As the old Gospel song says, "I'll have a new body, praise the Lord, I'll have a new life!"

Pastor Steve Willis

Monday June 13, 2016

As I was doing my research for today's article, I came across this account from 2003, "After a man shot and killed two people at Los Angeles International Airport in 2002, some began insisting that armed guards be placed at every check-in area. Others said that individuals should be screened before entering an airport terminal. But a consultant on airport security said, 'If you move the checkpoint, all you re going to do is push the problem to another part of the airport. There will always be a public area that is vulnerable to these kinds of attacks.'" Rather ironic, isn't it?

This weekend we have been tragically reminded of how vulnerable public places are to attack. There have been many solutions offered to try to thwart such attacks in the future. The problem is when one solution is applied, another way of perpetrating such a monstrous deed will rear its ugly head. We live in a world that is unstable and unsafe and as much as we want to do something about this, we have seen that man's attempt at providing safety can only extend so far.

Evil exists in the world and the only way to stop this evil is through the power of the love of Christ. That is why we should be diligent in bringing this life-changing message to others. Our ultimate refuge is in the hands of God. We live in an unsafe world, and we will not totally eradicate our vulnerability to violence, but we can allow the knowledge that God is still in control and is bringing us to a time when all violence will be silenced to encourage us.

Psalm 46:1-3 tells us, " God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging." What we need to see in these verses is that they do not say, "God will keep us from trouble" but "God is. . .an ever-present help in trouble." We want evil to go away, and God will do that. There will be a time when "They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks." (Isaiah 2:4) Until that time, we should look to him for a refuge as we face our troubled world. Pray for the families of the victims of the Orlando tragedy.

Pastor Steve Willis

Sunday June 12, 2016

Baseball is one of the most unrealistic games. It has been said that hitting a round ball traveling at 95 miles per hour with a round bat is one of the most difficult things to do in sports. And if you are able to do so every other time you are at bat, you would be put into the Hall of Fame at the end of your career. Although good in baseball, this type of percentage would simply not make it in many other life situations.

Take parenting for example. If you only make the right call as parents in fifty percent of your opportunities with your children, then you might end up with some problems and wondering where you went wrong. Of course, parents aren't going to "bat 1000", but they do want to do the best they can as they raise their children and would like to be better than 50%.

Hitting a baseball may be hard, but compared to parenting, it is a piece of cake. And there is no minor league for parenting. Parenting demands time, good judgment, willingness to say "No" when necessary yet the ability to say "yes" even when it scares you to death, and many other skills that require balance and insight. Those who think that learning to change a dirty diaper will be the most demanding task of parenthood will indeed find themselves surprised. In actuality, they will learn that there will be surprises at every turn in bringing up their progeny.

Parenting is indeed full of struggles, and demands much of fathers and mothers, but it also brings joy and fulfillment when you see your children grow into people that respect, and are respected by, others. Above all else, depending on God's help is something that is more than helpful, it is actually necessary. Proverbs 22:6 tells us, "Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it." A help to this process is a dependence upon God as your children grow.

We are a little more than half way between Mother's Day and Father's Day. Those of you who are currently parents are to be commended for your efforts as you teach your children. All of you who are not currently in the role of parents should lift up those who are and offer support and encouragement as you have opportunities. We need to do what we can to help our parents have a high batting average.

Pastor Steve Willis

Saturday June 11, 2016

As I was driving home from a hospital visit yesterday, I passed a field of wheat that looked like it was just about ready for the combine. I was mildly surprised at this, although I should not have been. It is the right time for wheat to be ready for harvest. It is just that we have had such a wet and rainy spring, in my mind I was surprised the wheat was able to ripen. Ultimately, it does not matter what I think, the wheat is almost ready, and it will need to be harvested.

We need to have this mindset when it comes to the spiritual harvest. The disciples must have been having a difficult time thinking it was time for harvest because Christ said to them, "Don t you have a saying, 'It's still four months until harvest'? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest." (John 4:35) We often have the same problem. For some reason, we can't seem to get it through our heads that now is the time for harvest. We talk about the shortness of life, and the need to use opportunities when they present themselves, but we don't carry over these concepts into our thinking about bringing the Good News to others who need to hear about Jesus.

We find in Matthew 9:37-39 a description of another occasion when Christ commented on the readiness of the harvest: "When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, 'The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.'"

We need to look at others with the eyes of the Savior; then, we should do something about the harvest for the sake of the Savior. It doesn't matter what we think about the progress of the fields, Christ said it is time for the harvest. As my grandfather used to say, "You need to make hay while the sun shines." The Son is shining - make hay!

Pastor Steve Willis

Friday June 10, 2016

I read an article this morning about how one commentator was replacing another on a TV network. The reason or the replacement is that the new commentator had some skill sets that makes him a better analyst on television. Both of these men were excellent golfers when they competed on the PGA tour, but it just seemed that one had a better aptitude for commentating on golf than the other. The article made a point to say that this was not a slight of the replaced reporter, or his knowledge of golf. The new reporter simply had a bit more poise and ability to share insights that made him preferable for this assignment. This act of replacement didn't mean the original commentator was going to be shelved for good, it just meant he would move to another role that better suited his abilities.

This same scenario happens in a variety of circumstances - one person has a better aptitude for accomplishing a job than another. Of course, given a different situation, the roles could very well be reversed.

The same is true of the church. People have different strengths and gifts, and we should do the best we can to find the area where are particular abilities are most needed, then exercise these abilities. Paul spoke of this concept in a number of ways. He reminded the Corinthians that "I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow." (I Corinthians 3:6) He spoke of exercising a variety of gifts in I Corinthians 12:4-6, "There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work."

We all have work to do, and we have different skill sets, as it were. We should make an effort to define our skill sets and then exercise our abilities for the glory of God and the good of the church. None of us can use the excuse, "Well, I am just not that good at that. . ." to get out of ministry - we just need to discover the ministry that fits our gifts. We shouldn't feel slighted in any particular area, because there is plenty of work to go around. Sometimes we just need to move to another role that better suits our gifts. We all have a job to do - do it to please God!

Pastor Steve Willis

Thursday June 09, 2016

I have always enjoyed riding motorcycles. I was never an avid rider, and I haven't ridden in quite a while, but when I did, I had a blast. One of the challenges of riding a motorcycle in knowing how to take a curve. Sometimes newer riders get themselves in trouble because they tend to fixate on a stationary object when they are riding through a curve. This causes a couple of problems. First, it makes it hard to judge your speed accurately. Secondly, the motorcycle tends to go in the direction you are looking, so this means if you are looking intently at a tree, you could end up hitting the tree. What needs to be done is to turn your head a bit so that you can look at the road through the curve as much as possible. This takes care of the problem of judging the speed, and then you will be able to see possible obstacles much more quickly. You need to look ahead to where you want to go.

We need to do this in our lives. We need to look ahead to where we want to go. Often we encounter curves that require us to adjust our vision so that we can see as far as possible to make sure we keep going the right way.

Nehemiah did this as he approached the obstacle of rebuilding the wall. He continued to look ahead at the goal of the rebuilding rather than focus on the stationary objects surrounding him that would keep the people from finishing the task. After his initial inspection of the condition of the wall, he said to the people, "You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace." (Nehemiah 2:17) He looked ahead to the completion, rather than focus on the obstacle of repairing the damage. When he faced opposition (see chapter 4), he did the same thing. He continued to look ahead rather than focus on the stationary objects around him that would have discouraged the effort.

We need to do the same thing. We need to look ahead so that we will continue on the right path and so that we can see obstacles realistically. We have not been promised an easy ride through life. We know we will encounter curves. By focusing on where we re going and the God who goes before us, rather than the obstacles we face, we ll find that He provides what we need to accomplish the ride.

Pastor Steve Willis

Wednesday June 08, 2016

Fred Bauer tells of an artist who was asked by a visitor to his studio why there was a single red rose painted on the white wall just above his drawing board. "I spilled some soup one day," answered the artist, "and rather than paint the entire wall, I decided to turn the stain into something of beauty."

That is just what Christ does with our lives. We are stained with sin. He takes all of our imperfections, all of our warts, and transforms us into something beautiful. Some of us are overly concerned with what we have done, our struggles, our appearance, or other things. We need to turn our lives over to Christ. He makes us beautiful and transforms us inside and out. I Corinthians 5:17 tells us, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" We often sing the chorus written by Bill Gaither that reminds of what Christ can do:

Something beautiful, something good

All my confusion, He understood

All I had to offer Him was brokenness and strife

But He made something beautiful of my life.

Give Christ the stains of your life, and watch him make a rose!

Pastor Steve Willis

Tuesday June 07, 2016

Yesterday I was driving back from St. Louis when I came upon a section of the road that caused me to have a flashback. Let me see if I can explain. Years ago, I was returning home from a trip to Barnes Hospital in St. Louis, heading east on I-70. I-70 and I-55 intersect for a time around Troy, Illinois. I was not aware of this back then but what happened on this trip indelibly burned this fact into my brain. As I was tooling along the interstate, I began to notice that the landscape didn't look all that familiar. I eventually realized that I was traveling north on I-55 instead of east on I-70. How in the world did this happen? Well, as I said earlier, I-55 intersects with I-70 at Troy. The point where they separate into north I-55 and east I-70 is rather subtle. If you are not paying attention, as I was not, you can miss the lane to I-70. What makes it even more interesting is that for a few miles, you will see exit signs to some of the same towns that you would find on I-70. So, for a time, the two roads really look similar.

How could I have prevented this from happening? How can you keep from going the wrong way? Well, knowing about the characteristic of the intersection would help. Also, if you have a guide such as a compass, GPS, or a smartphone, you could probably avoid taking the wrong road. GPS technology was not readily available at the time of my mistake. Perhaps the best thing would be to have a person with you who had been on the road before and could tell you to make sure and go the right way.

We sometimes face a similar dilemma in life. We have two paths that look identical - which way should we follow? One is right, one is wrong - which way to go? Well, we have some assistance. Our Heavenly Father can provide us with information so that we can know the right way, if we listen to him. Proverbs 2:5 encourages us to "understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God." We also have the guidance of the Holy Spirit to help us with the decision. John 14:26 tells us that "the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you." Finally, we do have someone who has been this way before, and will be there to lead us. Christ can and will provide leadership in our lives. He died for us to give him the right to be our leader. We read in Hebrews 7:25, "Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them." Make sure you are on the right road!

Pastor Steve Willis

Monday June 06, 2016

There are many things that cause great fear to some, but to others pose no problem at all. Take heights, for instance. There are many who wouldn't climb a ladder for love nor money; however, others have no fear as they regularly scale heights as part of their work, for recreation, or for some other reason. Some fear electricity and wouldn't attempt to work with anything electrical, while others work with "power" daily.

I have an inordinate fear of storms, yet the scripture tells us that God has no fear of storms at all. As a matter of fact, the author of Psalm 97 uses the imagery of storms to describe God and his power. Of course, God has no fear of storms as he is the one who created the forces underlying the storms. Psalm 97:1-4 tells us, "The LORD reigns, let the earth be glad; let the distant shores rejoice. Clouds and thick darkness surround him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne. Fire goes before him and consumes his foes on every side. His lightning lights up the world; the earth sees and trembles."

Yes, there are many things that bring fear to some, but to others pose no threat as they have the skill, ability, and knowledge to utilize the "scary" things in a positive way. There are many circumstances and situations in our lives that bring us fear. That is why we need to trust our scary lives into the hands of Someone who knows how to change what brings fear to us into something good. BOO! Did I scare you? Trusting God with our lives will reduce fear in our lives.

Pastor Steve Willis

Sunday June 05, 2016

Today is the 49th anniversary of the beginning of the Six-Day War. On June 5, 1967, Syria and Jordan, with weapons supplied by the Soviet Union, began shelling Jerusalem and other cities in Israel. Egypt sent 80,000 troops and 900 tanks to invade Israel. Cairo radio announced, "The hour has come in which we shall destroy Israel." In an amazing move, Israel destroyed 400 Egyptian planes that were still on the ground. Then, they were able to drive Syrian forces out of the Golan Heights. Israeli forces captured all of Jerusalem, which had been under divided control since the formation of the nation of Israel in 1948. A picture of an Israeli tank stuck in the Lion's Gate circulated worldwide. Almost as soon as it started, the war ended with a decisive and improbable Israeli victory after only six days of conflict.

Much has been written about this war, and, of course, Israel has fought three more wars since then to maintain their sovereignty. Some wondered when this war began if it was the fulfillment of Ezekiel 38 that begins, "Son of man, set your face toward Gog of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him." (38:2) Something that we must not forget is that God is not finished with the land of Israel. Prophecies concerning end-time events are "Israel-centric."

The tide of public opinion may turn hostile towards that little country situated on the eastern side of the Mediterranean Sea, but God has not turned away from her. Events that are taking place in that area now are setting the stage for the fulfillment of end-time prophecy. As we see these events unfold, we are constantly reminded of the control of God and that his righteous rule will be established. Our time to live for him is now as we look forward to what he has for us in the future. We should be reminded of this as we remember the anniversary of an unlikely military triumph.

Pastor Steve Willis

Saturday June 04, 2016

Did you ever see the movie "Somewhere in Time?" The movie, which stars Jane Seymore and the late Christopher Reeves, is about a man who goes to sleep in a room in a hotel. He wakes up and finds that he is in the same room, but it is about a hundred years earlier. He meets a young lady with whom he becomes quite intrigued. Of course, the problem is she is in one "time zone," and he is in another. This makes for some interesting situations.

We don't have any choice as to what time period in which we are born. However, we can choose how we are going to live during our time in history. How are you choosing to live your life?

Mordecai pointed out to Esther that she was born for the time in which she lived. Esther faced a great dilemma - a dilemma that called for her to literally put her life on the line for the sake of her people. Mordecai encouraged her to make the right decision when he said to her, "Do not think that because you are in the king's house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this (Esther 4:13-14)?"

Living close to God will allow us to find ourselves in situations where we may have the opportunity to intervene in a positive way. We cannot choose when we live, but we can choose how we live. And "who knows but that you have come (to this circumstance) for such a time as this?"

Pastor Steve Willis

Friday June 03, 2016

Four high school seniors skipped school one day. When they returned the next day to classes, they found out they had missed an English quiz. They explained to the teacher that they had a flat tire the day before which caused them to miss the class and, of course, the quiz. The teacher said, "Well, o.k., I guess you can make up the quiz. Take your seats and get out a pencil. First question - which tire was flat?"

We think we can get away with lying, but lying, like all other sins, will "find us out." People of the tribes of Reuben and Gad wanted to settle in the land on the east side of the Jordan. God was not all that pleased with their request, but told them they could do so as long as they crossed over the Jordan and helped their brothers subdue the enemies in Canaan. If they did, they would be free to settle on the east side of the river. They told God they would be willing to do this. God warned them not to try to pull a "fast one." He said to them through Moses, "If you will do this--if you will arm yourselves before the LORD for battle, and if all of you will go armed over the Jordan before the LORD until he has driven his enemies out before him-- then when the land is subdued before the LORD, you may return and be free from your obligation to the LORD and to Israel. And this land will be your possession before the LORD. But if you fail to do this, you will be sinning against the LORD; and you may be sure that your sin will find you out. (Numbers 32:20-23)

Don't try to go for a big cover-up. Your lies will be discovered. There seems to be a special thing with lies - once you tell one you usually find yourself telling others to gloss over the first lie you told. At some point, the truth will be revealed and you will be discovered. The short-term gains from lying are worth little when compared to the long-term benefits of the truth. Now - which tire was flat?

Pastor Steve Willis

Thursday June 02, 2016

Trial verdicts are polarizing events. On the one side, there are people who are happy with the verdict because they feel justice was served. On the other side, there are people who are unhappy, and perhaps even enraged, because they feel justice has been denied. Such was the case with the O. J. Simpson acquittal that took place 20 years ago. This event was revisited in a television series over the past few months and opened up new debate about the verdict.

We have watched this scene play out in many trial events with varying degrees of drama that is tied into the notoriety of those involved. Solomon has something to say about this. He said we cannot expect perfect justice from imperfect people. He wrote, "Furthermore, I have seen under the sun that in the place of justice there is wickedness and in the place of righteousness there is wickedness." (Ecclesiastes 3:16) This is not an excuse; it is simply a statement of reality.

We instinctively want justice, but often justice is not there because of the failings of people. That is why we need to put our faith in God, not people. Solomon goes on to write, "I said to myself, 'God will judge both the righteous man and the wicked man,' for a time for every matter and for every deed is there.'" (Ecclesiastes 3:17) If we put our faith in imperfect people, we would all lose hope. We need to place our faith in a perfect God. The search for justice can only be satisfied by trusting in God who is always just.

Pastor Steve Willis

Wednesday June 01, 2016

I have always heard that while Rome burned, Emporer Nero played his violin. Well, he more than likely played his lyre, as the violin was not developed until the 16th century. Why would he have been so nonchalant? Some historians think he may have set the fire himself. He wanted to burn the city so that he could rebuild the city and name it after himself. After the fire, he needed a scapegoat. Christians proved to be a convenient target for his false accusations. Nero s accusations were responsible for a horrendous outbreak of persecution against Christians. Christians were used as human torches, made to face wild animals in coliseums, and brutalized unmercifully. More than likely, he was responsible for the deaths of Paul and Peter.

The results of the persecution were not what one might expect. In the wake of the incredible suffering, the Church grew, multiplying tremendously. Other times of persecution followed, each serving to cause the opposite of expected results. The message of Christ spread and thrived until Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire under Constantine in A.D. 313. Quite a turn around.

Historically, the church has thrived under persecution. God has a purpose for persecution. What would seem to be something that would destroy is used by God to bring growth. Yes, this is hard to understand, and this is why we need to look to God and not to circumstances in our lives. Emily Sper wrote, "The purposes of God are right, although we may not see, just how He works all things for good, and transforms tragedy."

I Peter 4:12-13 says, "Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed." Persecution is not desired, but those who think it is a means to destroy God's work are clueless about God's design.

Pastor Steve Willis

Tuesday May 31, 2016

"Who's in charge here?" This is a question that is asked to determine the person who is in control and is probably the best one to answer a question, provide information, take care of a problem, or to give an explanation as to why things are as they are. Some may ask that after events in our world leave us wondering who is in charge. Of course, we know who is in charge, and we know that God will bring things about according to his perfect plan.

A story found in I Kings 1 reminds us that indeed God is in charge. David was old, and a potential successor was taking steps to ensure his place on the throne. David's oldest living son, Adonijah, had gathered a sizeable constituency to promote his position as the next king. However, David, through God's leadership, had chosen Bathsheba s son, Solomon, as his successor. Adonijah's actions posed a serious threat to the plans that had already been made. In I Kings 1, you can read and see how God's choice is preserved through his sovereign ordering of events that lead to Solomon being placed on the throne.

God is indeed in control. We need to follow the advice given in I Kings 2:2 and "observe what the LORD your God requires: Walk in his ways, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and requirements, as written in the Law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go." We need to walk in God's ways and trust in the sovereign Lord. Doing this will keep us from wondering just who is in charge.

Pastor Steve Willis

Monday May 30, 2016

Today is Memorial Day. This day has its roots in the Civil War, when people started getting together to lay flowers on the graves of those who were killed in the conflict. On May 30, 1868, Gen. John Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic issued a proclamation that May 30 be a day of remembrance of those who gave their lives in battle. May 30 was chosen as there were no battles fought on that day, and it would be a time of year when flowers would be abundant. It was actually first known as Decoration Day, and those of my generation and older probably remember using this term for this holiday. It was not until 1971 that it became an official holiday of the U.S., and the observance was set to be the last Monday in May. This year, of course, the observance falls on the actual date of the original celebration. At 3 p.m. local time, individuals are to stop for a moment of silence. The day has broadened to be an observance of all of those who have died.

I don't know how you will spend today, but I hope you do take some time for a "memorial." Remembering death can bring sadness, but we as followers of Christ know that death need not be feared. We know that those who die in the Lord live on. So, we can take time today not just for a memorial, but for a celebration. I placed flowers on about 20 graves the other day - loved ones and family members, some of whom I never met in this life. However, because of our shared hope in Christ, those I "remembered" will be those I will someday meet and for those I knew, I will see them again. I Thessalonians 4:13-18, Paul reminds us, "Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore, encourage each other with these words."

This Memorial Day, I am encouraged by the knowledge of our hope in Christ. My desire for you is that you are as well. Happy Memorial Day!

Pastor Steve Willis

Sunday May 29, 2016

I enjoyed Dr. Seuss as a kid, and I enjoyed reading Dr. Seuss books to my girls when they were young. I now am getting to read them to my granddaughter. I always admired the way "Dr. Suess" used the English language. The rhyming schemes were so appealing, making you want to read more and more. They just sounded so good! One of Dr. Seuss' classics is "On Beyond Zebra" (1955). In this book, the narrator of the story explains the alphabet to his young friend Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell, "most people stop" with the Z . . . . "BUT NOT ME!"

In the places I go

there are things that I see

That I never could spell

if I stopped with the Z.

I'm telling you this

'cause you're one of my friends,

My alphabet starts

where your alphabet ends!

It is all well and good for Dr. Seuss to go "beyond the alphabet" to make new words and express new ideas, but we certainly shouldn't do that with the Scripture. Revelation 22:18-19 says, "I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book." In spite of this plain warning, there are many groups today who tell us we need something more than Scripture to fully understand God's message to us. God has given us all we need to know in the Scripture. Don't think you need something more to fully understand God's message.

Many use the English language in such a way that it just sounds so good to hear about "other" revelation, "more" scripture. However, sounding good and actually being good can be two different things. It may work for Dr. Seuss to add things, but it doesn't work with Scripture! Rely solely upon the only Word God has given us - the Bible.

Pastor Steve Willis

Saturday May 28, 2016

One of the saddest stories I have ever heard in my life is the story of Humpty Dumpty. I think you remember it - "Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty together again." This story always bugged me when I was a kid. I would think of other ways for the story to end - having the men fix him, having the king fix him, even somehow changing the story so Humpty didn't fall. Just think of it: to be broken in such a way that repair is impossible. How sad that would be.

We often feel as if our life is in pieces. Circumstances occur that cause us to feel as if we are falling apart. Sometimes decisions are made that leaves lives in pieces. It may seem as if the pieces will never go back together again. However, this isn't Humpty Dumpty, and the king's men aren't the ones responsible for putting the pieces together. They couldn t do it anyway. There is someone who can, though. He has the ability, he has the desire, and he knows what to do. Christ can take your brokenness and restore you completely. He gave his life to mend broken lives.

Do you feel as if your life is in pieces? Do you know someone who is shattered or broken and needs Christ's love? Joanie Yoder writes "What the king's men couldn't do, the king can!" Psalm 31:12-16 talks of God's restoration, "I am forgotten by them as though I were dead; I have become like broken pottery. . .But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, 'You are my God.' My times are in your hand. . .Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love." Let Christ put things back together again.

Pastor Steve Willis

Friday May 27, 2016

In his book, "The Pursuit of God, " A.W. Tozer wrote, " Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned not to each other but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshipers [meeting] together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be were they to become unity-conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship.

Tozer's comments were designed for worship experiences, but what he said is true in all facets of our relationships with other believers. When we are in tune with Christ and walking with him, it is difficult to find ourselves at odds with other believers. Turning your focus upon Christ can help avoid much of the petty things that tend to cause friction with others. Developing a rich relationship with Christ helps us to develop our relationships with others and allows us to see the insignificance of our differences with others.

Paul reminds us in I Corinthians 12:12-13, "The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free and we were all given the one Spirit to drink." When we are connected to the head, then everything else works as it should. Keep in tune with Christ, and you will keep in tune with others!

Pastor Steve Willis

Thursday May 26, 2016

In a number of his writings, Paul tells us to offer encouragement to each other. This is usually not a difficult thing, as we know others who need encouragement, and we know we appreciate supportive words and deeds when we are in a position of need. However, Paul also tells us to offer words of correction when necessary. This is a little bit stickier. For a great many reasons, corrective encounters can be difficult. Still, they can be helpful and can be a form of encouragement.

In I Thessalonians 5:14-15, Paul tells us, "And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else." Here we see Paul giving instructions to offer words of correction where correction is needed and words of support where support is needed. He also tells us a little about the spirit in which this should be accomplished, "Be patient with everyone." In other words, don't withhold correction, but don't rush to judgment either, and make sure you do this in the right way.

When correction is needed, three things need to be kept in mind: 1) The nature of the problem must be considered; 2) Our motive and approach for correction must be thought through, and 3) God needs to be involved from start to finish. Galatians 6:1-2 offers further comment on this, "Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ." In both of these passages, we see Paul's comments on not only what should be done, but how it is to be accomplished.

Correcting others is usually more difficult than encouraging others, but in Paul's mind they are linked. Both should be done with a view to helping someone else grow in their faith. We all have times when correction is necessary because we all are prone to mistakes. When we find ourselves on one end or the other of this scenario, remember to make room for God's involvement. In this way, correction can be corrective without causing controversy.

Pastor Steve Willis

Wednesday May 25, 2016

When I was a youngster, I found a cocoon hanging in a little tree. My mom told me to leave it alone and it would change into something really pretty. Well, my impatience got the best of me as you might imagine, and I tore into the cocoon one day, thinking I was helping the process and would discover this thing of beauty. Instead, I found a mess. My impatience caused that mess. Letting our impatience get the best of us usually does cause a mess.

In this day and age, it is easy for use to forget the virtue and the results of patience. We are so used to instant gratification. We want to be able to see results now; we want to be able to contact others with no waiting; we can pick up what we need at stores that are open 24 hours a day (we even have one right here in our little town). We don't want to have to wait.

Waiting, though, is often the best thing that can happen. Patience is often the means by which we can witness the full power of God. Waiting patiently for the process going on inside that cocoon and allowing it to break open on its own would have allowed me to witness something spectacular. Instead, all I have is a memory of an ugly mess. That is what can happen in our lives when we try to force issues and demand results before the time they are ready to appear.

Proverbs 19:11 tells us, "A person s wisdom yields patience." Paul wrote about patience a number of times, including Galatians 5:11, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience." Patience produces perseverance. Patience allows us to let God do what he wants in our lives so that the end result is something of beauty, not a mess.

I have often seen the phrase "Be patient - God isn't finished with me yet!" on t-shirts, bumper stickers, and other places. We need to practice what we preach.

Pastor Steve Willis

Tuesday May 24, 2016

There is a lot of work being done in the fields right now. This is a usual activity at this time of year for those who live in farm country; however, this year the activity currently taking place has special significance. Our spring has been cold and wet - conditions that are not conducive for planting crops. Now that there is a window of opportunity to get crops planted, farmers are working feverishly to take advantage of it. And when I say window, that is just what I mean. More rain is in the forecast in the next couple of days, so they need to take advantage of the conditions now.

This is a statement that is true of our lives. We need to look at our lives as a window of opportunity that at some point will close. We should take advantage of the "dry conditions" while we can as there will be a time when conditions will change. This can refer to specific opportunities that come our way at certain times in our lives, and it certainly refers to our lives in general.

Parents need to enjoy and spend time with their children while they can. Kids grow up and become adults (now that was an earth-shattering revelation wasn't it?). We need to take advantage of job opportunities. We need to be good stewards of our finances as there will be a time when our earning ability is not there. I could go on and on with examples. Paul gives this advice, "Be very careful, then, how you live not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity." (Ephesians 5:16)

As I said, this refers to our lives in general as well. We only have so much time on earth, have you prepared for the time when you will leave? An example of how not to live is found in Luke 12:16:21, The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.' Then he said, 'This is what I ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I'll say to myself, You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry. But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?' This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God."

Make sure you take advantage of the window of opportunity you have been given. Accept the Gift that God has for you in Jesus so that you will be ready when the window of opportunity closes.

Pastor Steve Willis

Monday May 23, 2016

All of us have character flaws and imperfections. Most of us readily admit our shortcomings and want to do what we can to improve in these areas. Some folks just don't get the fact that they aren't perfect. Don't you just love to be around these people? Well, that's another line of thought I'll pursue sometime. Back to our character flaws and imperfections. How many times have you said, "I need to be more patient," or "I need to be a better listener," or "I need to be less irritable?" If you haven't said this, you may need to do some introspection. If you have, you know there are areas in your life on which you need to focus. And that is really the point and the positive side of struggling with some of our imperfections. When we do, we acknowledge our weakness and our need for help. Those flaws in our character can actually help make us more dependent on God as we rely on him for assistance in dealing with these issues.

Paul acknowledged this and tells us, "To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong (II Corinthians 12:7-10)."

Paul knew there were areas in his life he would like to see changed. He understood the purpose of these issues, and chose to use them as reminder to him of his dependence upon God. We can stew and fret about some our "problem areas," or we can acknowledge their existence, turn them over to God, and allow him to use these weak areas to build our character and strengthen us. I have always loved God's response to Paul with regard to Paul's struggle, "My grace is sufficient for you." Indeed, God's grace is sufficient for us - let his grace take charge in your life and watch his power overcome your weakness.

Pastor Steve Willis

Sunday May 22, 2016

One way that firefighters attempt to extinguish a wild fire is by setting back fires. The strategy is to use these controlled fires to burn out the areas ahead of an uncontrolled blaze so that when this latter blaze gets to the already burned out area, it too will burn out because of a lack of fuel. Now, this idea of "fighting fire with fire" might be a good thing to do when trying to control wild fires, but it is not a good idea in other areas.

If we try to fight "fire with fire" in our relationships, we will do more harm than good. When we use anger to counter anger, or answer an unkindness with an unkindness, or answer hatred with hatred, we make matters worse and are ignoring what Christ taught us. In Luke 6:27-31, we read his words, "But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you."

Fighting fire with fire has its place, but not in our relationships with other people. Treat others as you want to be treated, Christ said. This is a much more desirable means of handling interpersonal "fires" that often come up. Use your reservoirs of grace to put out the flames of anger when there is a flare-up. This is a better way of "fire-fighting."

Pastor Steve Willis

Saturday May 21, 2016

Have you seen anyone with a semicolon tattoo or maybe just have a semi-colon drawn on their wrist? They aren't just enamored with a particular punctuation mark; the colon is a mark that identifies them with a movement called "Project Semicolon." This organization was founded by Amy Bluel, a young lady in Green Bay, Wisconsin, who suffered through the suicide of her father as a young girl and then faced abuse from her step-mother. Her faith in Christ helped her to persevere through the depression and struggles that followed.

To help others who struggle with addiction, depression, and self-harm, she founded Project Semicolon. Their message is simple, "A semicolon is used when an author could have chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to. The author is you, and the semicolon is your life. By encouraging people to share their marks and stories, Project Semicolon seeks to instill hope and open up a dialogue about mental health. The goal is to provide support for those who are struggling.

Whatever struggles you face, remember that there is always hope. When we are in Christ, we always have hope. Paul wrote, "We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed." (II Corinthians 4:8-9)

We will always face situations in life that make our life difficult. Some face more hardships than others. A constant reminder of how one can have hope is important to help us cope with the stress we face. The presence of Christ in our lives is a perpetual source of hope on which we can depend without question.

Hope involves believing that God can draw good things from bad circumstances. There are many examples of this in the Scripture, and there are many who have experienced this in their lives. Project Semicolon seeks to bring people together so that these stories of hope can be shared. We can have hope because God is a God of hope. God makes a semicolon a really appropriate symbol in our lives.

Pastor Steve Willis

Friday May 20, 2016

This is the anniversary of one of the greatest events in aviation history - the beginning of Charles Lindbergh's solo Atlantic crossing in "The Spirit of St. Louis." The 33 1/2-hour flight was a landmark in aviation history and paved the way for growth in the aviation industry. In our day and time of "frequent flyer miles", sometimes it is hard for us to realize the enormity of this accomplishment.

A barnstormer with a St. Louis-based company, Lindbergh became committed to making the flight. It would require a great deal of ingenuity and a great deal of faith. First, the plane only had one engine. I don't think I have to elaborate on what this meant. Secondly, he would have to "fly blind." In order to carry enough fuel, extra tanks were added that obscured his straight-on line of sight. This meant he would have to trust the instruments on his panel. During the flight, he would often have to fight off the effects of fatigue that caused him to struggle with the use of the gauges as his guide. He needed to rely upon them completely or he would veer off course, run out of fuel, and crash in the Atlantic. His survival depended on his trust in his instruments.

This is another aspect of Lindbergh's experience that is taken for granted today. Pilots of modern aircraft must constantly look to instruments to know where they are and how they are flying. Trusting one's own thinking leads to flying off-course, maybe even flying upside down, and not being able to realize your error. You can't use "landmarks" as guides; "turn right when you get to the third cloud on the left" doesn't work. I remember watching the biopic "The Spirit of St. Louis" when I was a kid and being absolutely enthralled with this concept of "flying blind." How can you do this? It is something that simply must be done.

This is the way it is for followers of Christ. We need to trust our Guide completely in order to stay on course. Sometimes we feel as if we are "flying blind." At those times we know we can trust Christ's navigation. Actually, we should trust Christ's navigation at all times and avoid saying, "I have this." We never "have it" without his leadership.

Proverbs 3:4-5 tells us, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not to your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your path." Paul gave this admonition, "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ." (I Corinthians 11:1) We need to trust Christ even more fervently than Lindbergh trusted his instruments. Our survival depends on it.

Pastor Steve Willis

Thursday May 19, 2016

Whoever first coined the phrase "Don't sweat the small stuff" had a good idea, but we need a little balance here. The idea behind this advice goes to stress relief - we shouldn't worry about little details that are not that significant. Richard Carlson has even written a book about this - "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff - And It's All Small Stuff." I appreciate the book and its intention, but there needs to be discernment.

I can think of three circumstances where "small stuff" proved very consequential - the Apollo 11 mission was saved by a felt-tip ink pen; the Challenger space shuttle was doomed by a little O-ring; and the Titanic was compromised by inferior rivets. I don't have time to go into all the details about these events so if you are curious you can do some research on your own. However, in each of these situations it was "small stuff" that played a big role.

I am all for stress relief, but I do know that there are scenarios where we very much need to take care of the small details. A little crack in a dam can lead to big problems. A little inattention to our personal and spiritual habits can lead to big problems. "Oh, it isn't that big of a deal, this little lie isn't going to hurt anyone." This thinking is not wise. We need to be aware that little things can have a big impact.

Christ tells us, "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much." (Luke 16:10) Small things matter - make sure you gain some perspective here. Yes, there are times when we don't need to "sweat the small stuff," but there are times when we do. Pay attention and pray for discernment to know when to take care of the small stuff.

Pastor Steve Willis

Wednesday May 18, 2016

Dwight D. Eisenhower experienced the winding, narrow roads of Europe during World War II, as he made plans to move troops, equipment, and supplies from one place to another. So, when he became president, he used these experiences to persuade Congress to pass the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 leading to the construction of our present-day interstate highways.

Can you imagine what travel by automobile would be like had this not been done? Well, some of us can remember what travel was like before interstates; however, there weren't nearly as many vehicles then as there are now. A way was prepared for future access.

This is what we need to be doing as followers of Christ. We need to be preparing access for others to find Christ. It was said of John the Baptist that he was the "voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.'" (Matthew 3:3) We need to be doing this as well. We need to do what we can to level out the roads, take down the mountains, build bridges over obstacles, and whatever else needs to be done so that others may see the way to Christ. How are you doing in your spiritual engineering?

Pastor Steve Willis

Tuesday May 17, 2016

I have said it before and I will say it again - technological advances and social media are wonderful tools but they can be a detriment to proper interpersonal communication. This is nowhere any truer than in the area of appropriate confrontation. There are times when confrontation is necessary, but with the advent of social media sites, we are losing our ability in this area.

Social media sites allow one to vent, and even rant, on issues or people without the usual features, and even constraints, that face to face communication brings. This can result in "under done" or "over done" episodes. Employers can now send lay-off notices via email. Corrective missives can be sent without the possibility of immediate feedback that is often helpful in scenarios where confrontation is needed. We need to be aware of this and ask ourselves hard questions before we take to the "airwaves" to share our concerns or to communicate with others about an issue that needs to be addressed.

Confrontation is rarely an easy thing to do, but we see from scripture that it is often a necessary thing to do. Paul had the unenviable task of confronting Peter because of the error that Peter had allowed to creep into his ministry. We read in Galatians 2:11-14, "But when Cephas 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. 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?'"

This was the sort of issue that needed to be dealt with directly and not on Facebook. There are times when this is the case today. Use your discernment before you sign in.

Pastor Steve Willis

Monday May 16, 2016

Do you have the courage to say "surprise me" when you are ordering at an ice cream shop, or a restaurant, or some other place where you are asked for a choice? I read a story once about a wife who always said to her husband "surprise me" when they were ordering ice cream at a dairy bar. This usually takes a little bit of courage on the part of the one who asks for the surprise, and a little bit of faith as well. You need to trust that the person whom you ask to do the surprising will not select something that is bad, or perhaps even harmful.

We can do this with God, you know. This takes courage and faith, but we can tell God to surprise us and we know that what we will receive will be more that what we expected. Actually, if we do this with God, we can usually expect to experience something unexpected. Throughout the Bible, we read how God delights in doing the unexpected for his people. This may mean holding back waters so you can pass on dry ground (Exodus 14:25-31). It may mean being thrown into a den of lions and witnessing the closing of the lions' mouths (Daniel 6). It also means watching him forgive and embrace those who confess their sins (Psalm 130:1-4)

God delights in doing the unexpected and asks us to trust him as he works in our lives. He is not confined by our limited imaginations or our meager expectations. He is pleased when we demonstrate trust in him and show our faith through times when we are "surprised." We can have faith in him because we know he will never do anything to harm us and has nothing but our best interests in mind.

Christ reminded his followers, "If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!" (Matthew 7:11) He wants to bless us more than we can ever imagine and will do so to the ones who demonstrate faith by saying, "Surprise me!"

Pastor Steve Willis

Sunday May 15, 2016

I am sure you have heard the familiar adage "what goes around comes around." This refers to the idea that a person's actions, whether good or bad, will often have consequences for that person. Lee Atwater, a former Republican National Party Chairman and chief strategist for George H. W. Bush's successful presidential bid in 1988, found this out the hard way. In 1980, while devising campaign strategy for a congressional candidate in South Carolina, Atwater learned that the opposing candidate had once been treated for depression with electro-shock therapy. He published this information and did a great deal of damage to the image of the candidate. When the candidate tried to contact him, he rebuffed his attempt by saying that he had no intention of communicating to a man "hooked up to a jumper cable."

Ten years later, Atwater was himself "hooked up." Afflicted with cancer, he was attached to IV's, monitors, and other machines. Not long before he died, he wrote a letter of apology to the man who had been on the receiving end of his cruel statements, asking to be forgiven for his thoughtless tactics. His ruthless methods and heartless words now were haunting him as he hovered close to death.

This reminds us of how we must be careful with our actions and our words. Statements made today or actions pursued today in the "heat of the moment" can cause us pain at some point down the road. Think carefully before you use those choice words or inflammatory actions against someone else. Your words and/or your actions could come back upon you.

Read Christ's words in Matthew 12:33-37, "Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. . .The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned." Indeed, "what goes around comes around."

Pastor Steve Willis

Saturday May 14, 2016

I read an article recently that reported on a "taste test" of hamburgers from different franchises. What amazed me about the article was that there are so many hamburgers to compare. We are so used to having choices in so many areas of our life. We get used to the opportunity to "pick and choose" when it comes to hamburgers, laundry detergent, cars, vacation getaways, and so many other things. I remember a certain peanut butter commercial that acknowledged there were choices available, but stated that "Choosy Moms choose Jif."

This may be good when it relates to these areas of life, but we must remember we don't have that option when it comes to what God asks of us and what is necessary for pleasing him. We can't just "pick and choose" what we want from God's Word and expect to please him. We certainly can't do this with regard to our eternal life - there is only one way to heaven as Christ made plain in John 14:6, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." It is great to be able to pick and choose in many areas, but remember not to apply this mindset to our relationship with God.

Just before his death, Joshua challenged the people, "choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve. .But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD (Joshua 24:15." He went on to remind the people, "You are not able to serve the LORD. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you (Joshua 24:19)."

God wants what is best for us and knows that there are areas where it is fine to have choices, but when it comes to serving him, a restriction of choice is necessary. So, go right ahead and experiment with those hamburgers. Just don't experiment with God.

Pastor Steve Willis

Friday May 13, 2016

Each Sunday in our morning worship, we pray the Lord's Prayer. Praying the prayer, we ask the Father to "Give us this day our daily bread." When we ask him this, we are asking for provision for the day. We are asking for guidance for the day. We are asking for illumination for the day. When Christ prayed "give us this day our daily bread," he was putting emphasis on a crucial concept in our spiritual lives - we must trust God day by day. We only know the moment in our lives. What is past is past. We don't know the reality of moments to come, or even if they will come at all. We must trust God with the events of the now, and we rely upon him to provide for the now.

In the day when Christ lived, most did not know from day to day what provision would be there for them. Work opportunities, what was available to eat, goods that were available, were usually available for that day, with no guarantees for the next. But, what else did you need? If you have what you need for today, there was no cause to worry about tomorrow, as tomorrow would bring new provisions.

When God provides for us, it is for our daily needs. We are not able to see beyond today's provision to know what will be done about tomorrow. However, when the needs of today are met, why worry about what might happen tomorrow? God has provided for today, he can provide for tomorrow as well, so leave that detail in the hands of God. This is called faith. When God provided for his people when they were wandering in Sinai, he provided their daily bread through manna. There were strict regulations about gathering more than what you needed for the day, except on the eve of the Sabbath. God ordered this circumstance to show the people he could be entrusted to provide for their "daily bread."

We need to trust God for our daily bread, and realize that tomorrow is to be left up to him. Jesus tells us, "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own (Matthew 6:34)." Trust God for your daily bread, leave tomorrow in God's hands.

Pastor Steve Willis

Thursday May 12, 2016

A tremendous discovery has been made - the Rubik's Cube can be solved from any of the 43,353,003,274,489,856,000 possible starting positions in just 20 (or less) moves! Isn't that astounding! Well, for any of us who have ever dabbled with a Rubik's Cube, it is sort of amazing. I really got a kick out of the scene from the 2006 movie "Pursuit of Happyness" where Chris Gardner (played by Will Smith), in order to impress a potential employer, solves a Rubik's Cube as they are traveling in a car. My response to the scene was "yeah, right." But, this new study shows it is possible!

Life throws Rubik's Cubes at us at times - seemingly unsolvable puzzles that frustrate and confuse. We rotate, spin, ponder, fret, and sometimes fume, but the colors just don't seem to match. However, there is a solution. We might not be able to see it right away, but there is an answer to whatever is causing us frustration. An important source of resolve in our quest for a solution is God's provision.

God wants to help us with those seemingly "unsolvables." In Daniel 5 we read of Belshazzar's problem - writing on a wall that begged for an interpretation, but his "people" couldn't help him. Then some of his advisors told him of a man who perhaps could. We read in Daniel 5:12, "This man Daniel, whom the king called Belteshazzar, was found to have a keen mind and knowledge and understanding, and also the ability to interpret dreams, explain riddles and solve difficult problems." And where did he get his problem solving expertise? God and God alone!

God will help us - Psalm 46:1 tells us, "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble." Don't allow the Rubik's Cube to fry your brain - let God help you solve the questions you face.

Pastor Steve Willis

Wednesday May 11, 2016

I am always impressed when a store employee actually takes me to what I am looking for when I ask where to find something rather than just pointing out the correct aisle. Now, I don't actually expect this, and I am not disappointed when this doesn't take place; I just am really grateful when it does.

As I think about this, it reminds me about the outlook I should have as a follower of Christ who would like to see others embrace the truth of Christianity. Since this is the case, I need to be willing to do more than just vaguely gesture in the general direction of Christ. I need to be willing to spend the time to walk along the way with others and do what I can to take them to Christ. Now, it is not up to me to do the convicting, and it is not up to me to do the convincing, but it is indeed my role to be a guide to others to help them find the right path.

When some inquisitive disciples expressed an interest in Christ's work, Christ said to them, "'Come,' he replied, 'and you will see.'" (John 1:39) Later when Philip's testimony was met with a skeptical response from Nathanael, Philip replied, "Come and see." (1:46) We should be willing to walk with others to help them come to belief in Christ. When others express a desire to know more about Christ, we need to be willing to say "Let me take you there!"

Pastor Steve Willis

Tuesday May 10, 2016

I recently came across a trivia question that read "In the human body, there are a) 60 miles; b) 600 miles; c) 6,000 miles; d) 60,000 miles of blood vessels." Which would you pick? Well, if you chose "d", you chose correctly. Can you imagine that? Our tiny little 11-ounce heart pumps 2,000 gallons of blood through those 60,000 miles of vessels each day. At a rate of 70-75 beats a minute, that is a rate of over 80 gallons an hour. Every day, the heart uses an equivalent of enough energy to drive a truck for 20 miles. Over a lifetime, that would be the same as traveling to the moon and back. A healthy heart can do amazing things. On the other hand, a heart that is not healthy is a problem. Both my wife and I have experienced this.

The same can be said of our spiritual heart. Throughout the scripture, the term "heart" is used for the center of one's being, the real you, the force within you that makes you who you are. If our spiritual heart is neglected, we suffer. Proverbs 4:23 says, "Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it." While this may indeed apply to our physical heart, the context makes it plain that our inner heart is the subject of this advice.

How can we keep our heart healthy? The writer goes on to give some practical tips for this: "Keep your mouth free of perversity; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil." (vss. 24 - 27) He had already given the advice of heeding his words (vs. 20)

Heeding God's words and following God's ways leads to a healthy heart. Following this advice can help us avoid a spiritual heart attack.

Pastor Steve Willis

Monday May 09, 2016

I am a Trek fan. Not the bike, the TV and movie series, STAR TREK. In the second Star Trek movie, "Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan," Spock enters a radiation-filled room to make a necessary repair so that the Starship Enterprise can continue to operate and the crew can be saved. A dying Spock says to Captain Kirk, "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one."

I have always thought it interesting that similar words are found in Scripture. The words of Caiaphas about Christ found in John 11:50 are "You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish." My, what a statement. Yet, even though Caiaphas was speaking in malice, this was exactly what Christ did. Verses 51 and 52 continue, "He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one." The needs of the many took precedent - Christ died for the many.

We know this to be true, and we know we have hope because of Christ being willing to sacrifice himself for the needs of the many. We praise God for this, yet we often fail to apply this principle to guide our lives in the church. We forget that often the needs of the many may outweigh the needs of the one - especially if we are the one, and it is our need that should be tabled for the greater good of the church. When it involves our need, we sometimes push the issue to the point of disrupting the unity of the body so that our "rights" are preserved, our needs met.

The ministry of the church is more important than one's personal desires or wants. We must consider the unity of the body and the welfare of the "many" when considering our personal actions. Ask yourself this question, "How is what I am doing affecting the church and the ministry of the church?" We really need to consider the welfare of the church over our personal desires. Live for the good of the body of Christ. It's the logical thing to do. More importantly, it's the biblical thing to do!

Pastor Steve Willis

Sunday May 08, 2016

In reading about Mother s Day once, I found something which surprised me. Towards the end of her life, Anna Jarvis, the lady who had championed the idea of a Mother's Day, became disillusioned with how Mother's Day was being observed. Just before her death in 1923, she said, "I wish I had not thought of a Mother's Day." Why? She felt as if people had lost their focus in their observation of Mother's Day and that the observance had become too commercial. Sound familiar?

Whether or not this was true about Mother's Day, it does show a flaw that exists within our character about which we should be aware. We can easily lose our focus upon that which is important and go after "rabbit trails," or even follow a path that is detrimental to our spiritual lives. We see so many examples of this in scripture. We see so many people who forget their spiritual heritage and then focus on something that is contrary to true belief in God.

Take Ahaz for example. We read about him in II Kings 16. Ahaz became king of Judah when he was 20. His father Jotham had been a godly king, as was his grandfather Uzziah. However, Ahaz forgot his godly heritage and "did not do what was right in the sight of the Lord his God. . .But he walked in the way of the kings of Israel (16:2-3)." We are not sure why he changed, but one thing we can say with certainly is that he lost his focus. As a result, he was a failure. The rest of chapter 16 tells of his struggles and his continued wrong doing. He cultivated unholy worship and made unwise political alliances. All because he forgot his heritage and lost his focus.

Don't forget that we have the same tendency. We can easily forget our spiritual heritage, our need to follow God, and lose our focus. If this happens, we will indeed fail. I feel for Anna Jarvis, it shows the tendency of mankind. Buck the trend - stay true to God!

Pastor Steve Willis

Saturday May 07, 2016

No one likes conflict, and yet conflict comes into our lives on many occasions. Some people take the stance that all conflict is bad, and that Christians should avoid conflict at all costs. Well, conflict isn t pleasant, but not all conflict is bad. Positive things can arise from conflict, if handled properly. The apostle Paul wrote in Romans 12:18, If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Now, this is indeed good advice, but we know from other scriptures that Paul was no stranger to conflict.

Acts 15:37-39 records one disagreement, Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus. . . We also read in Galatians 2:11, written by Paul, When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. As you read further about these situations, you find that both had positive outcomes. Why? Because the conflict was handled correctly. Mark became a trusted friend of Paul s, and the conflict in Galatians helped Paul, Peter, and the early church to get on the same page regarding the doctrine of salvation by faith alone.

Stephanie Zonars gives some tips on handling conflict:

1- remain calm: when we attack, others are more likely to attack back; when we are calm, others are more likely to follow suit.

2- give personal examples: when you _________, I felt __________ ; stay away from you always or other accusatory statements

3- listen: give the other person an opportunity to be heard it s amazing what you might learn!

We don t like conflict, and conflict that is handled badly can be very destructive. However, many constructive ideas and actions are born from conflict that is handled correctly. When the inevitable happens, use it as an opportunity to build!

Pastor Steve Willis

Friday May 06, 2016

Can you believe we are already a month into the 2016 baseball season? As we exist in the present and look to the future, let me tease you with a name from the past - Bernie Carbo. Now, unless you are a Cincinnati Reds or a Boston Red Sox fan, you probably won t recognize this name. He came up with the Reds in 1969, had a great rookie year in 1970, hitting 21 home runs. Carbo didn t fit the conservative mold of the Reds because of his flamboyance, so he was traded, eventually ending up with the Red Sox. There, he did some things in the 1975 World Series (against the Reds, as many of you remember) that has made him the answer to a couple of sports trivia questions: Who holds the record for the most pinch-hit home runs in a series? (Carbo, 2. actually shares this record) and Who hit the home run which tied the game and set up Carlton Fisk s famous game winning home run in the 6th game of the 1975 series? (Carbo).

What I think is more interesting is what Carbo is doing now - he is an evangelist who travels and speaks at churches across the nation. In a TV interview sometime back, he told of how he wants to impress on as many people as he can that God loves them and wants to have a relationship with them. He also speaks in schools on anti-drug themes and positive self-image emphases. It is interesting to see the impact he is having on folks now.

I was a Carbo fan, and was disappointed when the Reds traded him in 1972, but it is nice to see that we are indeed playing on the same team now. As many people as he might have influenced as a professional baseball player, more are being influenced by his current ministry. And the message he now conveys has a greater impact - we can live forever with God if we make the right decision.

God asks the question in Isaiah 6:8, Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" And I (Isaiah) said, "Here am I. Send me!" It is good that Bernie Carbo answered God s call. But we don t have to be a former professional ballplayer to be used of God - he wants to and can use you, if you say yes to him. I hope that you do because it is indeed time to play ball!

Pastor Steve Willis

Thursday May 05, 2016

Today is Cinco de Mayo. This is celebrated as a holiday in Mexico and by many in the United States, although many do not know why. Some think this is Mexico s Independence Day, but that is not the case. This is a celebration of the Mexican Army s defeat of invading French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. The Mexican Army was led very capably by General Zaragoza, and turned back the French who were intent on occupying Mexico City and taking over the entire country.

As stated earlier, many people of Mexican descent living in the United States celebrate today as well. However, it may be a day that should be celebrated by the all of the U.S. Why? Well, the French, under the command of General Napoleon III, had more than Mexico in mind. They wanted to create a means of supplying the Confederate Army during the U.S. Civil War. Had they been successful, who knows what might have happened? They had invaded Mexico under the pretense of wanting to collect Mexican debts to France, but they had an ulterior motive because of Napoleon III s hatred of the U.S. Deception was at the heart of the French effort.

This should not be too surprising. Deception has played a huge part in human events throughout history. We as believers face an enemy who is the Master of deception. Satan s trickery is what causes us to constantly be on the alert. Paul comments on this is II Corinthians 11:13-14, For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.

We need to be aware of Satan s propensity to used disguises and deception to trick us into doing and believing things that are not true. How do you avoid these? The best offense is a good defense, a coach once said, and that is true in our Christian life. Know the Word, continue fellowship with other Believers, exercise your prayer life, and you will be prepared for this deceit. Say, since today is a holiday, official or not, let s celebrate our independence in Christ! Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Pastor Steve Willis

Wednesday May 04, 2016

What are you known for by those who are close to you? Is it your intelligence? Your passion for golf? Your love of music? Your love of your family? If someone interviewed the ten people closest to you and asked them, "What does he really like?"; what would they say? I read about a man who seemed to be consumed with a desire to build up frequent flyer miles. He once bought $3000 of the same kind of pudding because there was a promotion offering frequent flyer miles for purchasing this brand of pudding. He received 1.2 million miles for this. It seemed he was consumed with the acquisition of frequent flyer miles, and he was known for his desire to build up the miles.

What about you? What are you known for? What do others see as being the most important thing in your life? There was no way to mistake the burning passion of the apostle Paul - he loved Christ and he wanted others to know Christ the way he did. Listen to what he says in Philippians 3:7-11, "But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead."

So, for what do you want to be known? Do you want to be known for your love of pudding, or your love of the Savior? Let others see your love of Christ in how you live for Christ.

Pastor Steve Willis

Tuesday May 03, 2016

Herbert Vander Lugt writes about Pat Fillmore: "Pat Fillmore has been a pioneer missionary in Irian Jaya for 40 years. She taught people to read and brought them medications and medical techniques. She maintained airstrips, built septic systems, and repaired generators and appliances. In addition, she established and managed a quality Bible school, and translated parts of the Bible and many study courses into the language of the people to whom she ministered."

Those are some significant accomplishments! You've surely heard of Pat Fillmore, haven't you? If you have, great, but I must say that I hadn't heard about her until I read Mr. Vander Lugt's article. There are so many people who have many great accomplishments, yet we never know about them. There have been many of these people throughout history - there are many even now who fit into this category.

Sometimes we feel like we may be laboring in a "vacuum" as what we do goes unheralded. Keep a healthy attitude about what you do. On the one hand, don't feel like what you are doing is "insignificant" because you don't attract a lot of attention and on the other hand don't feel like you need to be "noticed." Put yourself in the shoes of Paul's anonymous colleagues he refers to in Philippians 4:3, "the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life." Who are these people? Well, we don't know. However, God does - and that is what matters. What we do for God does not go unnoticed by God. Colossians 3:23-24 tells us, "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving."

Always keep in mind we are serving God. This helps keep the "attention" factor in perspective.

Pastor Steve Willis

Monday May 02, 2016

We are blessed with a lot of young children in our church, and I have also been blessed with two marvelous grandchildren. It is so fun to watch them grow and develop. I especially love to watch the kids go from the crawling stage to the walking stage. That is always such a big change - it is certainly a significant milestone for the child, the parents, everyone! What is neat is you don’t see the little ones sitting around debating the merits of walking - “Do you really think walking is superior to crawling?” “Do you think there is truly any merit in walking? What is in it for me to move from crawling to walking?” “You know, I am just not sure I want to head that direction.” “What if I fall?”

What a laugh! Of course, there is no debate - the kids just simply walk! They don’t let what might be “concerns” keep them from doing what they want to do - walk! They especially don’t let the last concern stop them - yes, they will fall. But they get back up and go at it again.

Don’t let “fear of falling” keep you from moving into a new stage in your spiritual development. Sometimes you will find that you will stumble - but don’t let that be an excuse for not trying, for not growing, for not moving ahead. Psalm 37:24 tells us, “though he stumble, he will not fall, for the LORD upholds him with his hand.” God is there for us - so walk! Run! Jump! Grow! Go forward with God - and just watch and see where those steps take you!

Pastor Steve Willis

Sunday May 01, 2016

Well, today is the first of May, May Day. There are a number of holidays in various countries associated with this day. So, it is a significant date on our calendar. Of course, there is another kind of May Day, the mayday distress signal that is used in air, sea and boating emergencies.

According to Wikipedia, the Mayday call sign was originated in 1923 by Frederick Stanley Mockford. A senior radio officer at Croydan Airport in London, Mockford was asked to think of a word that would indicate distress and would easily be understood by all pilots and ground staff in an emergency. Since much of the traffic at the time was between Croydon and Le Bourget Airport in Paris, he proposed the word "Mayday" from the French m'aider.

There are times in our lives when may feel like sending out a mayday signal. We feel like things are crashing down around us, we are trying to hang on as best we can, we feel like the waves are crashing in over the bow of our boat. Rest assured - our mayday signals are heard by God. He is there for us in the crisis events of our lives. Psalm 46:1-3 reminds us, God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.

Your mayday signals are not falling on deaf ears - God hears you and knows your distress. He will not let you keep flailing around helplessly. God will not fail you!

Pastor Steve Willis

Saturday April 30, 2016

Little Timmy was really troubled. He had broken his Grandpa's reading glasses, and he didn't know what to do. No one had seen him take them from the table by his Grandpa's favorite chair. He had been told not to bother the glasses but he enjoyed pretending he was Grandpa, and the glasses added to the effect. Now, he didn't know what to do because he had dropped them and watched helplessly, as both of the lenses popped out. What was he going to do? He could put them back on the table and say he didn't know how they got that way. He could hide them, and then Grandpa would just assume he had laid them somewhere else (he was always losing them anyway). But he knew the right thing to do was tell his Grandpa what he had done and tell him he was sorry. If he did this, he knew his conscience would be clear. That is what he did and Grandpa wasn't too mad after all. Of course, the best part was the fact that he had a clear conscience.

There is something to be said about a clear conscience, isn t there? When we do things we shouldn t, and then try to cover up our error, there is always something inside of us saying, Hey, you know better! We read of folks in the scripture who were stricken in their conscience because of something they had done. After an ill-advised accounting of his fighting men, we read of David, David was conscience-stricken after he had counted the fighting men, and he said to the LORD,"I have sinned greatly in what I have done. Now, O LORD, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing"(II Samuel 24:10). David did the right thing by confessing to clear up his conscience. Job 27:6 says, "I will maintain my righteousness and never let go of it; my conscience will not reproach me as long as I live".

Keep your conscience clear! Do the right thing, and if you fail to do the right thing, ask for forgiveness. If you break Grandpa's glasses, own up to it! You will feel better, and you certainly will be happier!

Pastor Steve Willis

Friday April 29, 2016

A minister was visiting with a man whose family had just experienced a severe finanacial setback. "Everything is gone," the man said.

"You mean your wife is dead?" asked the minister.

"Well, no," replied the man.

"What about your children? Are they well?" the pastor continued.

"Yes, yes, they are fine." the man said.

"What about your health? Have your friends deserted you? What about your faith in God?" the pastor asked.

"No, no, none of those are lost," the man said.

"Then you have lost nothing of real value. You have lost nothing of lasting importance."

We often have trouble seeing things in this way. A value could be placed on all that the family had lost. The things that are priceless remained. We struggle with this perspective, but we need to do all that we can to develop the proper priorities. We need to know the difference.

Christ said, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:19-21)." Where is your treasure?

Pastor Steve Willis

Thursday April 28, 2016

There does seem to be a lot to worry about, doesn't there? However, for the believer, worry is one of the silliest activities. The scripture comments quite a bit about worrying, and why we shouldn't worry (read Matthew 6:25-34). It has been demonstrated that excessive worry can cause physical problems. Much of what we worry about does not come to pass, and much of what we worry about cannot be changed by our worry. So, why do we worry?

I believe strongly Satan knows if he can get us to worry about something, he can keep our minds from being involved in healthier, spiritual activities. That is one cause. Another cause is we simply do not keep our eyes on the Savior in the way we should. Focusing upon God is something that can help us keep our minds from worry. Also, worry demonstrates a preoccupation with self and causes us to neglect to think about others.

If you have read some of my recent columns, you know that my oldest daughter just gave birth to her second child. I have been privileged to be with her and her husband and I have watched as they have held the baby, fed the baby, rock the baby, and cuddle the baby. I have had the fun of participating in some of these activities myself.

Some folks treat worry as a mother treats a newborn baby. They cuddle it, hold it, rock it, feed it. When someone wants to take it, they jealously guard it. They want others to believe that their worries are worse than anyone else's. What is actually happening here is a preoccupation with one's self that can be remedied by looking to our Father in heaven and focusing upon others instead of ourselves. When we get our minds on something other than us, many of our worries will go away.

Quit "babying" your worry! Trust in God! Psalm 55:22 tells us to "Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall." Let God sustain you, let him encourage you. He will take good care of you!

Pastor Steve Willis

Wednesday April 27, 2016

I have always found it interesting to observe the steps atheists take to keep "God thoughts" out of society. Individuals and organizations find themselves being sued over activities that seem to be in violation of "the separation of church and state." If God doesn't exist, then why go to such extremes trying to prove his non-existence? Some atheists spew anti-God language with vitriolic hatred in their rants.

In his book, "Can Man Live Without God?", Ravi Zacharias cites a statement made by Svetlana Stalin, the daughter of Josef Stalin, about her father's death. According to his daughter, "As (my father) lay dying, plagued with terrifying hallucinations, he suddenly sat halfway up in bed, clenched his fist toward the heavens once more, fell back upon his pillow, and was dead." To whom was he gesturing? Whom did he hate? If there is no one there, then why are there such strong displays of emotion and hatred against nothing? It seems as if even the very anger vented by many who disbelieve is evidence of the existence of God - how can you hate nothing?

Of course, many objections and many arguments can be laid against the statements I have made. Then again, if God doesn't exist, why go to the trouble arguing with me? The scripture tells us, "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands." (Psalm 19:1) We also read in Romans 1:20, "For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse." If this is not true, there is no need to go to any great lengths to try to disprove it. There is nothing to disprove. Maybe Stalin would have something to say about that if he were here.

Pastor Steve Willis

Tuesday April 26, 2016

I have always been fascinated by the Argiope aurantia. You probably know this creature by its more common name - the yellow garden spider. These black and yellow arachnids are the ones that weave very intricate, precise, circular webs that serve as the stereotypical spider web. I hope you have had the opportunity to see one of these webs up close, and maybe even had the chance to watch one being created.

My first experience with one came when I was a young boy at my grandparents' home. I remember sitting on the steps of their large front porch and watching a web being spun in a bush right next to the steps. I was fascinated watching the web being created. These webs are a marvel of engineering, yet are created without any rulers, transits, levels, or anything that humans would need to use to get the measurements accurate to allow for the proper spacing and levels. At night, the spider will consume the inner circle of the web and then rebuild it during the day.

When I observe phenomena such as this in nature I gain new appreciation for the marvelous creativity of our wonderful God. These little displays are simply microcosms of his grand ability and skill. I believe God has placed these little reminders in our world to say to us, "Don't forget who I am or what I have done or what I am going to do." We shouldn't need any reminders, but frankly I am glad they are there. As we view them, they should instill within us a sense of awe and wonder of the grandeur of God and his marvelous work.

Psalm 40:5 says, "Many, LORD my God, are the wonders you have done, the things you planned for us. None can compare with you; were I to speak and tell of your deeds, they would be too many to declare." Isn't that the truth? Let the spider webs of the world speak to you about the wonders of our God!

Pastor Steve Willis

Monday April 25, 2016

I have been watching sports channels a little more than usual recently because of all the coverage of the upcoming NFL draft. I really enjoy the game of football, and following this news is simply an interesting pastime for me. A program that is found on the NFL network at various times is entitled "Gamechangers". The title eludes to the content of the show. It features players in the upcoming draft that are viewed to be good enough to have a great impact in games in which they play. They are said to have enough talent to be able to "change the game", that is, have the ability to influence the outcome of the game in which they are playing because of their high level of performance.

You know, God needs individuals such as these "gamechangers." He needs disciples who have a great influence on those around them for the sake of Christ. We find examples of such gamechangers throughout the scripture, but one reference that comes to my mind particularly is found in Acts 17:6, "But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some brethren to the rulers of the city, crying out, 'These who have turned the world upside down have come here too.'" My, what a testimony to the influence Paul and Silas were having on those they encountered in their ministry for God. Now, this statement was not made in a positive context, the speaker was referring to their efforts in a derogatory way, but it actually was a "back-handed" compliment as it spoke to the impact they were making.

Wouldn t it be good if people would say that about us? Wouldn't it be great if we were actually accused of turning the world upside down for the cause of Christ? We need to pray that we have this sort of effect on our world. We need to pray that we are true "gamechangers."

Pastor Steve Willis

Sunday April 24, 2016

St. Paul's Cathedral in London is the second largest church in England, behind only the Liverpool Cathedral. It was designed by Sir Christopher Wren in the 17th century and has been the location for many famous weddings, including Prince Charles and Lady Diana.

The cathedral has a unique feature that has garnered it the nickname "The Whispering Room." If you are under the dome of the cathedral, you can carry on a conversation with someone on the other side of the dome by simply facing the wall and whispering. The design of the dome is such that one's voice is carried clearly to the other side even if you simply whisper.

This feature of architectural design should serve to remind us of how quickly and clearly our gossip can be spread. If you don't want something you say to get spread to others, the best thing to do is not say it, especially if what you have to say could be characterized and derogatory or destructive. We should be guilty of neither inventing or spreading gossip.

Proverbs 10:19 tells us, "Sin is not ended by multiplying words, but the prudent hold their tongues." If what we have to say to others needs to be said in a whisper, then it most likely should not be said at all. Be wise in what you say!

Pastor Steve Willis

Saturday April 23, 2016

The place that brought you "Pizza! Pizza!" now is offering another improvement to this American favorite: cheese in the crust. Cheese in the crust is really not all that original an innovation. Pizza Hut used to make crusts with cheese around the edge. However, Little Caesar's now offers pizza with cheese throughout the crust. Innovations in design is the name of the game in consumer products, even pizza. Companies are always looking for an edge; always looking for that improvement that will increase sales and make more money. "New! Improved!" is the name of the game.

I know something for which there is no improvement - the grace of God. God's grace is as marvelous as can be and is absolutely priceless. There is no improvement necessary or possible for the grace of God. Titus 2:11 says, "For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people." How can you improve on that? You can't. There is no need for anything else, and there is no room for improvement.

And what is the result? II Peter 1 tells us, "His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires." God's grace is perfect, and there is no improvement for perfection.

Pastor Steve Willis

Friday April 22, 2016

As I wrote yesterday, we are with my oldest daughter's family for the birth of their second child. We are doing the usual grandparent things - taking care of the other kids while Mom and Dad are in the hospital. Hopefully they will be home tomorrow. We have worked on the nursery, washed clothes, and done other chores.

Near where my kids live there is a large road construction project taking place. Actually "large" is an understatement. The project is huge. A bypass is being constructed to connect U.S. Route 52 with U.S. Route 23 and allow motorists to go around the city of Portsmouth. What makes this project so mammoth is that they are having to move several large hills to make the road. Large bridges will need to be constructed and a lot of dirt is being moved. As you look at the machinery working on the project, you wonder "How can they get all this done?" As big as the machines are, they are dwarfed by the enormity of the surrounding landscape they are working to alter. However, a great deal of progress has already been made, and they are at a stage where it is evident that the job can be accomplished.

Watching the work helps me realize how it is that we should not be intimidated when we face large jobs. First, the workers didn't "look before they leapt" - a great deal of planning was done ahead of time so that a work strategy was developed. Secondly, it is understood that all the work couldn't be done at once. It would take a number of men and a lot of equipment doing their tasks at various locations to bring it all together. Finally, the workers realize everyone needs to do their jobs to reach the goal that is before them.

All this sounds like something we would be smart to emulate in the church. These principles are seen in the book of Nehemiah when the people encountered the task of rebuilding the wall. Nehemiah made plans ahead of time regarding the work that needed to be done: "so I went up the valley by night, examining the wall. Finally, I turned back and reentered through the Valley Gate." (Nehemiah 2:15) Groups of people divided the work, each group working on different parts of the wall (read chapter 3). Finally, everyone did their job, and the task was completed. Nehemiah 6:15 says, "So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days." Let's put these principles into practice, then the daunting task before us may not loom so large.

Pastor Steve Willis

Thursday April 21, 2016

Three years ago I wrote an article the day after birth of my first grandchild. The reason I am bringing this up is because today is the first day after the birth of my second grandchild - a boy. My first grandchild was a girl. There are a number of other differences as well. My daughter's first delivery was fraught with a good bit of anxious moments as she manifested the symptoms of HELLP Syndrome, a rare occurrence that is fatal 25% of the time. However, due to the fast actions of the medical team, and the marvelous grace of God, my daughter now has a beautiful three-year-old daughter and a beautiful one-day-old son.

This time around was a good deal different. She had to have a C-section, but this was planned and was part of the process due to her first child being delivered by an emergency C-section. This was also part of the plan to help avoid the occurrence of HELLP Syndrome again. Precautions were taken, and followed, and it made all the difference in the experience.

My daughter could have chosen to ignore the medical advice given her in light of her first birth experience to avoid a repeat problem. She could have said, "I am just going to go the way I want and that is that." Of course, you can also jump out of an airplane flying at 10,000 feet without a parachute and say, "No, I don't think anything bad is going to happen." There are simply times when we need to follow good advice.

Most often we follow without too many questions advice given us by others who are skilled and have expertise in areas where we do not. We do so because we trust their ability and skill and doing something different would not be a good idea. It would not have been a good decision for my daughter to avoid the advice given her, especially in light of past experience.

Why is it we fail at giving God the same response and respect when we receive his advice? Why are there so many who live without any thought of following God's advice when the consequences of not doing so have been made manifest time and again? Ecclesiastes 5:1-2 offers this advice that is certainly worthy of being heeded, "Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong. Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few." Good advice that needs to be followed.

I am going to follow some advice tomorrow and enjoy my grandchildren while I can. I thank God for them and do not take for granted their presence in my life in the least. Neither should I take for granted the presence of God in my life.

Pastor Steve Willis

Wednesday April 20, 2016

The European Cuckoo is really "cuckoo." A female cuckoo will invade a nest built by another bird and lay an egg, then will abandon the egg. The unsuspecting actual resident of the nest hatches the egg along with her own. Then, after the chicks have grown a bit, the cuckoo chick will force the other chicks out of the nest in order to receive undivided attention from the mother.

Paul warns against such freeloading behavior among believers, "For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: 'If a man will not work, he shall not eat.' We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat. And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right (II Thessalonians 3:10-13)."

Make sure you pull you own weight! You may say, "Well, I'm not a freeloader." I can respect that, but what about how you treat other? Be concerned about others, but don't interfere in the lives of others. Busybodies are unwelcome and unhelpful. We should never tire of doing the right thing, as Paul tells us. In actuality, busybodies are just plain "cuckoo!"

Pastor Steve Willis

Tuesday April 19, 2016

Twenty years ago, we did a renovation to our church. There were two phases too this update - one was to expand our fellowship hall and the other was to build a balcony in the church to provide more seating. A member of the church drew some plans for the project and we contacted a local contractor to do the work.

As the contractor began the construction, he came to me and said, "Come with me. I want to show you something." We walked into the church and he said. "You see that back wall? Well, we have discovered that it doesn't go straight across. It has a slight curve. This was the way it was built. Now, that will not pose a big problem. We will just adjust our work accordingly, but I just wanted to point that out."

I thought this was rather interesting. No one, not even the person who drew the plans, had noticed the curve. It was an architectural feature that went unnoticed until you placed a "straight edge" on the wall. Then it was obvious that the wall did not go straight across.

This can happen in our spiritual lives as well. We can experience curves that are imperceptible to the "naked eye." That is why we need to constantly depend upon the "straight edge" of God's Word and the leadership of the Holy Spirit to make sure we keep going the right way.

In the matter of the wall in our church, that was not a great problem, but it did require some adjustments for the alterations. In our lives we can experience curves that are of greater consequence and need to be avoided. That back wall looked so straight to us when we were looking at it. So it is with our spiritual walk. We think we are proceeding along a path that is as straight as can be, but in reality there are dangers and difficulties that we don't perceive. Proverbs 14:12 warns, "There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death." Don't just "eyeball" your spiritual walk; let God direct you through his Word and through his leadership.

Pastor Steve Willis

Monday April 18, 2016

My grandfather used to have a phrase he would use when he heard people complaining or arguing: "Quit your molly grubbing!" We have a tendency to complain or argue, don't we? When Moses was leading the Israelites from Egypt to the Promised Land, he heard one complaint after another - "We don't have any water!", "We're going to starve!", "We can't get our disputes heard!" (see Exodus 18), even "We wish we were back in Egypt!" We can really be good at this as well.

God is not really pleased with complainers. You need to read Numbers 11:1-5 to see how he dealt with some of the "rabble." Philippians 2:14 tells us to "Do everything without complaining or arguing."

We need to go against the grain of complaining and arguing. We need to do this because being a complainer really hinders our effectiveness as followers of Christ. When we give in to complaining, we are unable to channel the light and love of God in the way he would like. I would imagine God has times when he wants to say to us just what my Papaw used to say, "Quit your molly grubbing." So, quit it! Buck the trend! The choice is yours!

Pastor Steve Willis

Sunday April 17, 2016

Are there things you use in your life, perhaps at home, at work, or at other times, that you really don t have a clear understanding as to how they work? I am sure that if you thought for just a few moments, you could come up with quite a list. For one thing, I am not sure exactly how the color printer that is attached to this computer works. I mean, I put text, pictures and graphics on a project that is on the screen, hit the print control, and out pops a printed project with all the right colors where they should be, text where it should be, and so forth. Now, I understand fundamentally that ink is sprayed on the page in just the right amounts and colors to produce the project, but exactly how does the printer know all the right information? That I don t understand. However, this doesn t keep me from using the printer for things I need to produce!

Many folks don t follow the Lord because they say they don t understand how what the Bible says could be true. They don t understand the miracles, the resurrection, Christ s teachings about heaven and hell. And they use their inability to understand as a barrier to following Christ. I don t mean to sound too simplistic here, but I do think there is a simple answer - there are many things we don t understand and yet our lack of understanding does not hinder the benefit we receive from what we don t understand. Case in point: the illustration I used above. Ecclesiastes 11:5 tells us, As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother's womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things. God s Word tells us there are many things about God we do not, and actually cannot, understand. He tells us in Isaiah 55:8, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. . ."

Don t let your inability to understand all you think you need to understand about the Lord stand as a barrier between you and the Lord. There are many things in life we don t fully understand. There are many times we put our trust in things we don t fully understand. So, what is keeping you from fully trusting God?

Pastor Steve Willis

Saturday April 16, 2016

Richard De Haan once wrote about Hudson Taylor: "During one of his sermons, Hudson Taylor, pioneer missionary to China, filled a glass with water and placed it on a table in front of him. While he was speaking, he pounded his fist hard enough to make the water splash onto the table. He then explained, 'You will come up against much trouble. But when you do, remember, only what s in you will spill out.'"

So, what spills out when you encounter a troublesome situation? Let's say you are mistreated or misunderstood, do you respond calmly with patience, or do you respond loudly with anger? Living under the control of the Holy Spirit can help us with our response when we encounter one of life's jolts. We are encouraged in Ephesians 5:18 to "be filled with the Spirit." When we are controlled by the Spirit of God, our response to life's little surprises will be dominated by patience and kindness.

We cannot control our situations, but with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can control our response to our situations. Let your inner being be dominated by God's Spirit.

Pastor Steve Willis

Friday April 15, 2016

Today is the anniversary of the death of Abraham Lincoln. He died on April 15, 1865, as the result of a gunshot from a pistol yielded by John Wilkes Booth. Lincoln was watching a play entitled "My American Cousin" on the night of April 14th when Booth stole into the box where he sat and fired directly into his head. Lincoln was carried to a house across the street owned by a family named Peterson and there he died in a back bedroom of the home the next day.

There are many "what-if's" associated with this story. What if the Lincoln's had decided not to go to the play? Lincoln's wife had tried to persuade him not to go as she was not feeling well. What if the box had been secured? What if there had been a guard posted outside the door? Pinkerton security had been established and had worked to guard Lincoln on earlier occasions. Where were they? What if Booth's aim had not been good? What if there had been better detective work to uncover the conspiracy? Lincoln had received many death threats as a result of the outcome of the recently-ended War Between the States. Of course, these "what-if?" questions are all pointless. They are what-if's because they didn't take place, and there is no way to go back and make any of them happen.

We often find ourselves in circumstances where we ask "what if?" There is even scholarly research being done to explore "alternate histories" based upon the simple question "what if?" "What if?" discussion topics range from simple everyday events to complex theological ideas. A popular one is "What if man didn't sin?" The bottom line is that asking "what if?" is not going to lead to a solution and is ultimately pointless as reality cannot be changed.

Asking what if is normal, but we must take care to not dwell in this realm to the extent that it prevents us from working through consequences that are actually there because of what has taken place. Sometimes this is unpleasant - it certainly was for the Lincoln family, as well as for the nation at large, but it was the course that needed to be pursued.

As followers of God, we can be assured that God is with us at all times and will help us in our struggles with what actually is. And another aspect of following God is to realize that he is in control, nothing escapes him, and he will work out all things to ultimately bring good to us. Paul writes, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28) This helps us with our "What if's".

Pastor Steve Willis

Thursday April 14, 2016

A man went to see a psychologist because he was struggling with depression. "Doctor," he said, "I am not a happy man. It seems that no matter what I do, I cannot seem to feel better. I am just so depressed." The doctor told him, "I think you need a diversion. The circus is in town - you need to go to the circus. There is a clown in the circus named Grimaldi. Grimaldi will make you laugh so hard you will forget your troubles and you will feel better." "Doctor," the man said, "I am Grimaldi."

I have heard many variations of this story. I have read that it is indeed based upon a true story. What we learn from the story is that things are not always as they seem. We sometimes look at others' lives and secretly wish for what they have. This is one reason why God tells us not to covet. It is also a good reason to focus on our lives and what is taking place. It is a good reason to learn about being content with our blessings. Wishing for something that is not ours, for something that may not even exist, is a pointless exercise.

We should learn from Paul's experience, "I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:11-13)." ,

Remember things are not always as they appear to be. Don't wish for something that is not there. Focus on the blessings that you have. This is a big step along the pathway to contentment.

Pastor Steve Willis

Wednesday April 13, 2016

How often have you planned things only to see the plans unravel, change, fall flat, or just simply not take place in the way you envisioned? "How much time do you have?" you might say in reply to my inquiry. All of us have had this experience, sometimes in inconsequential matters, sometimes in matters that are really critical. Robert Burns wrote "To a Mouse," in 1785. There is a line from that poem that goes, "The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men, Gang aft agley." This line has come into our modern vernacular in this fashion - "The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry." This is so true.

Often our plans do go awry. This is why we need to follow the plans of someone who knows how to make plans that will not fail. Psalm 33:8-11 tells us "Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the people of the world revere him. For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm. The LORD foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples. But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations."

We know God's plans will take place just as he wants. This is why it is important for us to bring our plans in line with his. This is why it is important that we allow him to inform our plans. In other words, make sure you invite God to your planning sessions! This is a best laid plan that will not go awry!

Pastor Steve Willis

Tuesday April 12, 2016

In 1975, Marabel Morgan wrote "The Total Woman." The book went on to become the best selling book of that year. She wrote the book to put into print some ideas that she says saved her marriage.

Morgan wrote about beginning to look at her husband with the "Four A's" in mind - accept him, admire him, adapt to him, and appreciate him. This is sound advice that works both ways. If one would work to apply these "Four A's" in how one view's their spouse, it would certainly bring about a stronger, healthier relationship. Keeping this in mind can help both those who are struggling in their relationship and those who are not. This is a philosophy that is founded in biblical principles regarding relationships. It seems to be good advice in any relationship, not just marriage.

As we think of marriage and marital relationships, Paul gives this charge in Ephesians 5:33, "However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband." Utilizing the "Four A's" can help us keep this charge. And when we do this, we are not only obedient to God, we also find true happiness and joy in our marriage.

Strengthen your marriage by following a little advice found in the Scripture and defined by Marabel Morgan. Doing this will truly help you cultivate your marriage and see it grow in Christ. Remember the "Four A's!"

Pastor Steve Willis

Monday April 11, 2016

The two-headed skink is a tiny salamander found in a variety of places. The name is derived from its appearance. The shape of the tail is similar to the head, a defense mechanism to help it avoid potential enemies. Upon occasion, however, there have been specimens that actually had two heads. This is rare, and the little amphibian really can't survive that long. With two heads, the animal works against itself and is a pretty frustrated critter.

At times, this can describe the state of believers. We have two natures within us. We are born in sin, but when we trust Christ we receive a new nature that is contrary to what we were. Even after we receive this new nature, our old nature still exists and continually wants to "rear its ugly head" (pardon the pun). If we don't completely yield to the work of the Spirit in our lives and obey God, we can be pretty frustrated.

Paul talks about this in Romans 7:18-20 where he writes, "For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do, this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it."

This conflict can be pretty frustrating. How do we deal with the tension? We obey Christ. Paul tells us when we submit to Christ that we gain victory over our sin nature. He writes, "Thanks be to God who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (vs. 25) This is the way to avoid the frustration of the two-headed skink!

Pastor Steve Willis

Sunday April 10, 2016

Most of us are really ready for spring. The winter was relatively mild, but it just doesn t seem to want to go away. I had to pull my long-sleeved shirts back out. We are really wanting to see the brown give way to green, some flowers instead of dead sticks, and the trees leafing out. But even as I say this, I can hear my Mom's voice, "Don't wish your life away."

We so often say, "If only this would happen then I could. . ." or "When this takes place, I will. . ." or "I would be happier if only. . ." Does this sound familiar? In longing for a future event, we often forget to enjoy the gift of today. Each day is a gift from God and is filled with opportunities to serve him. When we spend time longing for the cloud with the silver lining, we miss the golden moments we have now.

Ron Ash wrote, "We are where we need to be and learning what we need to learn. Stay the course because the things we experience today will lead us to where He needs us to be tomorrow." Solomon shares with us this wisdom, "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens." (Ecclesiastes 3:1) We need to keep this in mind and apply this wisdom at those times when we find ourselves wishing for a better something down the road.

Psalm 118:24 reminds us, "This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it." Do just that! Rejoice in what today has for you and glorify God with what you do!

Pastor Steve Willis

Saturday April 09, 2016

A mother and her little girl were visiting friends. The friends owned a bulldog, and the mother noticed the little girl making angry faces at the dog. "Don t do that, honey." the mom said. "But, Mom," replied the daughter, "He started it!" The little girl was sort of correct, considering the natural scowl of a bulldog. But making faces at the dog was a pointless exercise.

Desiring to seek revenge when one feels wronged is just as pointless. Yet, that is the attitude some have - when you are wronged, don't get mad, just get even! If you think you need to repay every angry word or deed that is directed towards you, you will have a never-ending task.

As followers of Christ, we need to be a little more gracious when we face those who do us wrong. This is a hard task, but it is what Christ lays out for us. Christ tells his followers in Matthew 5:43-46, "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?"

Don't make faces at bulldogs! It's pointless and won't get you anywhere. Turn the tide by showing love, not anger, when you are mistreated. This is truly showing the mind of Christ!

Pastor Steve Willis

Friday April 08, 2016

It almost seems as if one's sense of smell returns in the spring. When you go outside during the winter, usually there are no particular smells that catch your attention. In the spring, you start smelling the aroma of newly-cut grass, flowers that begin to bloom, and soon we will begin to pick up the scent of backyard barbecues. These are a few of the things that we notice that have been absent over the past few months.

Paul speaks of being a fragrant aroma to God. Now, he isn't referring to producing aromas with incense as was done in the tabernacle and then in the temple during worship in the Old Testament. He isn't talking of producing smells through the offerings of sacrifices of animals and grain. He is speaking about producing the scent of service through our actions towards him and towards others. He writes, "They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God." (Philippians 4:18) He is referring to the offerings that have been made to help others both through service and through monetary giving.

We produce fragrant aromas through our gifts to God, through our service for God in helping others, and through our service to God in reaching others for him. Our acts of kindness that are aimed at others produce a sweet smell that is pleasing to God. Even as the tabernacle and the temple were filled with the scent of the incense that represented continued worship, prayer, and praise being offered to God, our lives should continually produce an aroma of service that is lifted up to our Lord.

I Corinthians 2:14 - 15 tells us, "But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing." Let's make sure we smell good!

Pastor Steve Willis

Thursday April 07, 2016

I was speaking with my secretary yesterday about an incident she experienced recently. She had attended a dance recital to watch one of her granddaughters. While she was leaving, a young lady was holding the door open. A number of people ahead of her exited through the door. When she passed her young benefactor, she said "Thank you for holding the door open!" The young lady replied, "You're welcome! And you are the first person to thank me for doing this!" Isn't that a shame? Yes, it is, but not surprising.

Folks have had problems with gratitude all the way back to the time of Christ. Do you remember the incident involving ten lepers whom Christ healed? You can read about this in Luke 17:11 - 19. Ten men afflicted with leprosy sought help from Christ. Christ healed all of them, and he told them to go show the priests that they were healed. Only one of them took the time to thank Christ for his healing. Christ responded, "'Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?' Then he said to him, 'Rise and go; your faith has made you well.'" (17-19)

Isn't that something? And as we saw earlier, this behavior is still common today. Well, don't let it be common with you. Don't be the one to not say thanks. Others may not thank you when thanks are deserved, but you can't cry over spilled milk. And you can't control the actions of others. What you can control is your own behavior. Make sure to give thanks when thanks are due; and make sure you thank God! It's what should be done.

Pastor Steve Willis

Wednesday April 06, 2016

One of my pet statements when I get a little impatient, especially when I am behind a slow moving car where a driver seems to be hesitant in making a decision, is "Even if it is wrong, do something!" Now, of course, I don't take this phrase literally and I don't propose that anyone should apply it literally. We shouldn't do things haphazardly, and we certainly shouldn't do something wrong just for the sake of doing something. However, there are times when action is mandated.

There is a parable of Christ that encourages action from the followers of Christ. In Matthew 25:14 - 30, we read the story of a man who entrusted three of his servants with differing amounts of his personal wealth. One man was given five bags of gold; a second man was given two bags of gold, and a final person was given one bag of gold. The master went on a journey and upon his return asked for an account from his servants as to what they had done with their allotments. The first two reported they had invested wisely and doubled the amount they had received.

The final servant who had received one bag replied, "'Master,' he said, 'I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.'" (vss. 24 - 25) The master was not pleased and told the servant that he should have at least invested the money in a low-bearing account and received some gain. Since he didn't act at all, what was given him was taken away and given to the others.

God wants us to be good stewards of that with which we have been entrusted. His expectations are not unreasonable, and he is generous with what he gives. But he does expect us to do something with what we have received from him! He will not say, "even if it is wrong, do something," but he does say "Do something!"

Pastor Steve Willis

Tuesday April 05, 2016

Did you happen to watch the men's NCAA Basketball Championship game last night? If you did, you are glad you did. It was one of the most exciting basketball games I have watched for a long time, and maybe the most exciting championship game I have ever watched. North Carolina inbounded the ball with a little over 13 seconds left on the clock. Then, North Carolina's Marcus Paige made an incredible off-balance three-pointer to tie the game with 4.7 seconds left. Overtime, right? Not so fast - Villanova inbounded the ball, worked a quick play to get it to Kris Jenkins, and he proceeded to drain a three-point shot at the buzzer to win the game. Hope you had taken your heart medicine. They won the game on a last-second shot with no time remaining.

While this makes for an exciting finish in basketball, I hope you are not living your life thinking you are going to make a "last-second shot" to save the day. Many of you who have not made a decision for Christ may be thinking, "I've got time - I'll do that someday." Many of you who are followers of Christ may be putting off something you know you need to do by saying, "I've got time to take care of this." Do not live with that mentality.

What did Christ say about someone who was putting off his decision to do what he knew he should do? Read Luke 12:13-21. When faced with a decision of great consequence (read the story!), a man asked, "What shall I do?" (v. 17), and then made the wrong decision by putting off the right decision. God said, "You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you!" (v. 20).

Don't put off that decision you need to make for the Lord. Don't put off what you know you need to do. Leave the last second shots for basketball where the outcome is not so consequential. Someday there will be no time left on the clock.

Pastor Steve Willis

Monday April 04, 2016

When I taught my two daughters how to drive, I emphasized the importance of on-going maintenance of their vehicle. I told them to watch the mileage so they would know when it was time for service. As someone once said, "Oil is cheap but engines are expensive." I also told them to keep an eye on the fuel gauge and not let the fuel get too low. I don't like letting the fuel get below a quarter of a tank. I just do not understand the concept of running out of gas. Cars need gas to provide the power to go - why tempt fate with letting the gas get too low? I have run out of gas only twice in my life, and that was because of faulty fuel gauges. Believe it or not.

The same can be said about Christians letting their "fuel tanks" get dangerously low when it comes to spiritual matters. Why do we neglect opportunities to fill up our tanks on knowledge of the Lord when we know we need this to grow and develop spiritually? I Peter 2:2 tells us "like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation,"

Why do we neglect interacting with other believers at study events and gatherings when we know the benefits of helping to keep each other sharp in issues of discipleship? Proverbs 27:17 says, "Iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another." Colossians 3:16 reminds us to "Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God."

Don't let your tank get low! Running out of gas in your car takes place because of neglect and the same can be said about running out of gas as a follower of Christ! Keep your tank full!

Pastor Steve Willis

Sunday April 03, 2016

The most popular image of Christ ever produced is Warner Sallman's "Head of Christ," which he painted in 1941. This image has been reproduced over 500 million times. Mr. Sallman had been working against a deadline to produce an image of Christ. He struggled with the image, how should Christ be depicted? He awoke in the middle of the night, just hours before the image was due, and penciled the rough image that would become "Head of Christ."

It is no wonder that Sallman struggled with what to paint. The New Testament does not contain any description of Christ at all. . Was he tall or short? Was his hair curly or straight? Was he homely or handsome? We really don't know. Our desire to know what he looked like is so strong that we sometimes accept images such as Sallman's as reality. This, or course, is a mistake. It really is good we don't know what Christ looked like. This makes us concentrate on what we do know something about - his ministry and his character. The New Testament says quite a bit about both of these. And since it does, these are the aspects of Christ on which we should focus. I'm glad we have no actual physical description of Christ. If we did, we would want to emphasize this in our study of Christ. We would want to imitate his physical appearance. In our appearance-crazy age, I would imagine we would do all kinds of things to "look like Jesus." I am sure that every plastic surgery would be in the mix.

What is important is that you be like Christ and act like Christ, not look like Christ. Paul talks about emulating the attitude of Christ in Philippians 2:5, "Your attitude should be the same as Christ Jesus. . ." Colossians 2:6-7 says to us: "So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness." We don't know how he looked, but we do know how he lived, so we should want to live like Christ, not look like Christ.

Pastor Steve Willis

Saturday April 02, 2016

Today will be my last day to use idioms with the word "mile" in them in my articles. I am doing that for two reasons. One, the week is over and, secondly, I am out of idioms. Anyway, I didn't want to run a mile to keep from doing this. Get it? Run a mile to avoid writing an article using an idiom with mile in it? Sometimes the phrase "run a mile" is used to express a desire to avoid a situation. If you say someone would run a mile if they had to deal with a particular situation that means they would do anything they could to avoid the situation.

What situations do you have in your life that makes you want to run a mile? Sometimes we have circumstances we want to avoid that really aren't a big deal if we avoid them. Sometimes we have circumstances we would like to avoid but we can't because we have no choice. Then there are times we have circumstances we would like to avoid but shouldn't because there will be adverse circumstances if we "run a mile." This could be health issues, personal conflicts, financial issues, and other matters could fall in this category.

What can you do when you encounter these "run a mile" scenarios? First, commit the particulars to God in prayer. Focus on him through the process. Secondly, review the consequences of avoiding the situation. Would there be harmful results if you simply went the other way? Be honest in this step. There may be times when avoidance is the best option, but you need to be settled in your mind that this is the prudent path. Thirdly, if you determine you need to proceed rather than avoid, go through the steps to this action in your mind. Develop a positive plan. Seek counsel from trusted sources if this is a possibility. Finally, be honest with yourself and with others that may be involved. Follow the path with integrity.

Proverbs 2:6 - 8 tells us, "For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity, guarding the paths of justice and preserving the way of his saints." If you feel like you need to run a mile, take some time before start.

Pastor Steve Willis

Friday April 01, 2016

"You missed by a mile!" came the stinging criticism as I watched my errant shot go wide of the rim. I was playing a game of HORSE on the playground behind our school, and that was a frequent statement whenever I was up. I was never that good at basketball, not all that bad, just not very good. This is one of the reasons that I didn't play basketball in high school - I just couldn't make the shots. Of course, I really didn't miss by a mile. We're using another idiom here. However, in the game of basketball it doesn't matter by how much you miss. If you miss, you miss. There are no points given for being close. You don't hear, "That shot almost went in - you get one point!"

This is why we can't depend on our efforts when it comes to developing a relationship with the Father. We can never be good enough on our own. We can't keep from sinning, and as the scripture says, if we are guilty of the slightest transgression, we have broken all of God's laws. We indeed have missed by a mile. James 2:10 tells us, "For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it." So, it doesn't matter how close we come on our own, we still miss by a mile.

This is why Christ's provision is so important. When we come to the Father through faith in his Son, we are brought into fellowship with God. One of the definitions of sin is "missing the mark." The only way to prevent a miss is to trust in Christ.

Pastor Steve Willis

Thursday March 31, 2016

Most of you have had the experience of driving when there is poor visibility. This may have been caused by a dense fog, or snow, a heavy rain, or even smoke from a large fire. Driving in these conditions is nerve wracking and stressful, to say the least. Driving in these conditions can be outright dangerous. It is much more enjoyable to drive when you can see for miles. Hmmm - that sounds like a good title for a song, "I Can See for Miles." Whoops - I think that has already been done - check The Who's song catalog from 1967. Anyway, as we think of driving with good visibility, we literally can see for miles.

If you are standing at sea level on flat ground, your visibility is about three miles. If you were to climb a 100-foot elevation, you would be able to see for almost 13 miles. In other words, the higher you are, the farther you can see. You can see for miles and miles and miles. I thought I would continue with this "miles" analogy - check out the previous two posts if you haven't read them yet.

As we think about how far we can see; elevation plays an important role. That is why there are watchtowers. This understanding has been around for thousands of years. In the scripture, there are references to literal watchtowers, and the idea of a watchtower is also used idiomatically to refer to keeping watch in our lives for things that may bring us harm or to being able to see God's work in our lives in a clearer way. Habakkuk 2:1 says, "I will climb up to my watchtower and stand at my guardpost. There I will wait to see what the Lord says and how he will answer my complaint." In other words, we need to make an effort to put ourselves in a position to better see and understand God's work in our lives.

We aren't talking about climbing a literal watchtower, but what we are saying is that we need to do things to improve out spiritual vision - things like prayer, spending more time in Scripture, and just as importantly, removing things that impede our vision. This involves clearing out the sin in our lives so that we have a better focus on God's work and his desire for us. Scripture is full of references about avoiding sin. Psalm 119:133 tells us, "Direct my footsteps according to your word; let no sin rule over me." We need to be able to see for "miles and miles." This will only happen when we do our part to improve our vision.

Pastor Steve Willis

Wednesday March 30, 2016

Yesterday we examined the idiom "walk a mile in my shoes." Let's continue using the "mile" theme. I would imagine you have heard the expression "going the extra mile." And I would also imagine you have an idea of the meaning of this phrase. Simply stated, it refers to someone doing more than what is expected in a particular scenario. The effort could be focused on an individual, it could be for a group, it could simply be for one's own benefit.

Where did this phrase originate? From the scripture - read Matthew 5:40-41: "and if anyone would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles." Some versions translate this verse, "and if a soldier makes you carry his gear for one mile, carry it two." Why would you do this? Because it is unexpected, and doing something like this is a great way of reflecting the heart of Christ.

Doing more than what is expected is one meaning of this phrase, but there is more to it. There is also the idea of how to respond to a negative affront. Not only should one go beyond what is expected, but the follower of Christ also seeks to respond in kindness in the face of mistreatment. Rather than seek revenge, Christ's followers retaliate in love. It s a powerful and hopeful way to respond, one that reflects the new life of God s coming kingdom. And it s one of countless ways to emulate the gracious love of our Father in heaven. Be sure to "go the extra mile."

Pastor Steve Willis

Tuesday March 29, 2016

In 1970, Joe South had a big hit with a song he wrote, "Walk a Mile in My Shoes." Of course, this is an idiomatic way of saying that we can benefit from appreciating another person's point of view or particular circumstance, experience, or dilemma. This is a good thing to put into play when it comes to conflict resolution. When we make an effort to see things in the way that someone else sees them, this goes a long way to help in resolving a difference of opinion, or even help to avoid conflict to begin with.

Amos 5:3 tells us, "Do two walk together, unless they have agreed to meet?" This verse speaks to the idea that unity is produced with we determine to walk along the same path. This means working so that our walk coincides with another's walk. This takes place when we constantly work to see someone else's point of view.

When you walk together, you see the same sights, you hear the same sounds, and you experience the same surroundings. Doing this helps avoid conflict. As Joe South said, "Walk a mile in my shoes, walk a mile in my shoes, Yeah, before you abuse, criticize and accuse, Walk a mile in my shoes."

Pastor Steve Willis

Monday March 28, 2016

Do you have a favorite recipe? I have several, but one I have used on many occasions is a recipe I got from Campbell's years ago for Chicken Fettuccini. I have shared it with a few people. I love sharing recipes with others, but what drives me nuts is when I hear that a recipe I have shared didn't work well because the person got too creative with the instructions. Why do that? The recipe is the way it is for a reason. I can't help it when the recipe doesn't work because of substitutions and changes.

This is probably the way God feels when we try to get creative with what he has told us to do. Peter gives us a recipe for spiritual success in II Peter 1: "His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love." (vss. 3 - 7)

This is a great recipe for godly living. When we follow the recipe, we will see great gains spiritually. If we choose to be creative, we will experience negative results. Follow God's recipe!

Pastor Steve Willis

Sunday March 27, 2016

Some time ago I came across an interesting comment in an internet news story: "Leaders of a national atheist group say the best spot to find a nonbeliever is in a place of faith." Now, whereas this may be true, being a nonbeliever is a rather risky stance.

This weekend, there is more focus on Christ and his life and death than at any other time in the year, including Christmas. The story of the Resurrection evokes responses from devout believers as well as rigid nonbelievers. The story of the cross polarizes people. The message emphasized at Christmas about an unusual birth produces a great deal of debate, but not nearly as much as that of the news of one rising from the dead. The scripture maintains belief in Christ's death and resurrection is that which brings salvation. Believing in his birth is simply believing in the existence of Christ and does not bring justification. Only through belief in the death, burial, and resurrection can one obtain eternal life. And this is what atheists shun. You cannot argue with the existence of Christ; but you can deny his ministry and his deity. Actually, you don't need to be an atheist to do this. This is why the statement above is so sad and so true. You do not have to be an atheist to acknowledge that it is possible to sit in a church week in and week out and still not be a true follower of Christ. Acknowledging and accepting his reality is not sufficient for eternal life; one must acknowledge and accept his deity and ministry.

Christ lived, and he was crucified, and he rose from the dead. Paul asserts the truth of this in I Corinthians 15:3-8, "For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born." Christ did this on the first day of the week after his crucifixion. Believe this and live; reject it and forfeit life.

Pastor Steve Willis

Saturday March 26, 2016

During the week of the crucifixion, today is a day of mixed emotions and reactions. There must have been a widespread amazement to the events of the day before - the darkness, the rending of the veil between the Holy Place and the Holiest of Holies, and the resurrection of many dead people. The followers of Christ are confused, devastated, and afraid. The apostles have found a retreat in a room somewhere in Jerusalem. Most of the soldiers involved probably went about their lives - they had done this before, although Matthew 27 tells us that some of them were deeply moved by the events.

I don't know what was going through the minds of Pilate and Herod - neither were strangers to crucifixions - but this one was different. Pilate had to think about the events of Friday as the religious leaders wouldn't let him alone even though he had done their bidding. They were worried. The scripture tells us they were worried that Christ's followers would come and try to take the body. So, "The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. 'Sir,' they said, 'we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, After three days I will rise again. So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.' 'Take a guard,' Pilate answered. 'Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.' So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard." (Matthew 27:62-66)

What about Christ? That is a good question. Many teach that he "descended into hell" to release captive saints that were waiting his deliverance. This is based on Ephesians 4:8 and I Peter 3:18-20. I take these verses to refer to his descent to the earth and his ministry there, not a descent into hell. We do know that he went to paradise - remember his promise to the dying thief? (Luke 23:43) As to what else he did during this time - well, we don't know everything about him, do we? Oh, but we know what he will do tomorrow! My, what tomorrow will bring!

Pastor Steve Willis

Friday March 25, 2016

What happened on this day, Friday, during the "last" week of Christ's life should go without saying. However, we need to say it; we need to rehearse the details to remind us of the incredible path God chose that would lead to redemption for those who choose to follow. After the arrest in Gethsemane, there was a night of interrogation and abuse through the trials of the Sanhedrin.

As dawn broke, Jesus was taken to Roman courts before Pontius Pilate, then Herod, then back to Pilate. Pilate gave the people a choice - Jesus or Barabbas. We know whom they chose. Events raced forward like a flood - the scourging, the crucifixion, the darkness, the earthquake, the veil of the temple torn in two, the graves of dead saints opened, the seven statements from the cross, the spear, Christ's death, and, of course, the burial. All in one day - a day we call Good Friday.

Christ was born at night and it became day; he was crucified during the day and it became as dark as night. A divine exchange took place - he bore our sins upon him so that we may have freedom from sin. "Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous." (I Corinthians 5:12; 18-19) This is why we call today Good Friday.

Pastor Steve Willis

Thursday March 24, 2016

Today is Thursday, Maundy Thursday, as we sometimes call it. The term "maundy" comes from the Latin word "mandatum" which means "command." This is a day when we reflect on Christ's final teachings before he is crucified.

Christ gave his disciples some pretty definitive commands on Thursday before his crucifixion. Matthew 26 tells us how he gave the disciples instructions on where to go and what to say in finding a location for them to celebrate Passover. Verse 18 says, "Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, 'The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.'" Before celebrating the Passover, he washes their feet and later tells them, "A new command I give you: Love one another." (John 13:34) During the Passover observance, he gives them bread and tells them "Take and eat; this is my body." (Matthew 26; 26) After the supper he gave them the cup and said, "Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." (26:27-28) He tells them to "do this in remembrance of me." (Luke 22:19) Later, they would leave the room where they shared this last Passover and go to Gethsemane. There he would talk with His Father, chide his disciples for falling asleep, come face to face with his betrayer, be arrested and taken before the Sanhedrin.

We need to remember his final commands as they tell us how we should relate to ourselves, our fellow believers, and our marvelous Savior. Make every day a "maundy" day by choosing to live by the commands of Christ.

Pastor Steve Willis

Wednesday March 23, 2016

Wednesday of the week of Christ's crucifixion was a very significant day. Of course, all of these days are significant. Wednesday is significant as it is a day of planning and plotting. According to John 12:47-50, "Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. 'What are we accomplishing?' they asked. 'Here is this man performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.' Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, 'You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.''

There it is - minds are made up, a decision is made, now the only thing left to do is to determine how to implement the decision. And as this is being debated, in walks a man with just the ticket to put the scheme in motion. Judas "went to the chief priests and asked, 'What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?' So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver. From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over." (Matthew 26:14-16)

Everything is coming together for the religious leaders. What they do not realize is that they are setting in motion a plan that had been put together long before their present meeting. What happened on "Spy Wednesday", as some call this day, is not going to be a surprise to Christ. Still, when you think about it, all the diabolical plotting gets to you, doesn't it? How could they be so blind? A good question, but their actions will have consequences they would never expect.

Pastor Steve Willis

Tuesday March 22, 2016

Monday night of the week of Christ's crucifixion seems to have spent at the home of Jesus' friends - Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. He returned to Jerusalem on Tuesday morning and spent the day in teaching, in confrontations with the religious leaders, and in preparation of his disciples for life without him. He told the story of the talents. He wanted to remind his followers that they had only one life and they should choose to spend it wisely. They had an opportunity to determine how they would live; they should choose to live for the Lord. We have the same choice. He also spoke of paying taxes. How are you doing on your taxes, by the way?

On Tuesday evening, Jesus and his disciples left the temple area, crossed the Kidron Valley, and made their way up to the Mount of Olives. As they were leaving the temple area, his disciples called to his attention the buildings they saw. To this, Christ replied, "'Do you see all these things?' he asked. 'Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.'" (Matthew 24:2)

When they arrived at the Mount of Olives, they asked him when these things would take place. There, Christ spent some time talking about a future time and what would take place. He gave signs that indicate when future things would take place. He emphasized the need for readiness by telling the parable of the Ten Virgins. Then, they walked back to Bethany to spend the night.

Pastor Steve Willis

Monday March 21, 2016

Today is Monday of Holy Week. Yesterday we celebrated the entry of Christ into Jerusalem to the accolades of a huge crowd. (Matthew 21:1-11) People called out his name and showed their reverence for him as they treated him as a ruler returning home from a victorious military campaign. When he arrived in Jerusalem, he cleared the temple of the moneychangers, demonstrating that God wants purity in worship. (Matthew 21:12-17) He feuded with the religious leaders and used scripture to show that what was taking place had been predicted (see Matthew 21:42).

As the day closed, Christ returned to his friends' home in Bethany, the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, to spend the evening. (21:17) He returned to Jerusalem on Monday. On the way to Jerusalem, he cursed a fig tree that was barren of figs. The disciples were amazed at how rapidly the tree withered. The tree is a symbol of outward goodness that does not come from the heart. We must realize that God wants service from people who have changed hearts. Unless one allows Christ to transform the heart, there will be no fruit. The result of no fruit is judgment - remember the teaching of Christ found in John 15:1-7? Fruitless branches are pruned, gathered, and burned. Bearing fruit shows that we are in Christ, "This is to my Father s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples." (John 15:7) Let Christ clear your heart so that you can bear fruit for him!

Pastor Steve Willis

Sunday March 20, 2016

Today is Palm Sunday and we usually celebrate Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem, riding on an unbroken foal of a donkey. As he approached the city, people lined the road. Let me give you the entire story from Matthew 21:1 11:

"As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, 'Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.' This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: 'Say to Daughter Zion, See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.' The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, 'Hosanna to the Son of David!' 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!' 'Hosanna in the highest heaven!' When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, 'Who is this?' The crowds answered, 'This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.'"

Wow - what a reception! But don't get too excited about this just yet. Listen to the voices from just 5 days later - no doubt many of the same people: "'Which of the two do you want me to release to you?' asked the governor. 'Barabbas,' they answered. 'What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?' Pilate asked. They all answered, 'Crucify him!' 'Why? What crime has he committed?' asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, 'Crucify him!'" (Matthew 27:21-22) Oh, the fickleness of humans. Is this any way for us to treat the Savior? I think not - let's make sure we don t.

Pastor Steve Willis

Saturday March 19, 2016

You have probably seen ads for programs that tell say you can pick up a new language in as little as ten days. I have studied a couple of foreign languages and I don't think ten days is enough to learn how to understand and speak in a different tongue. That just is not long enough to learn all the nuances of another language.

Language barriers are not impossible to overcome, but they have caused difficulties in both personal and political relationships for almost as long as humans have been around. Differences in languages have posed a problem ever since the differences arose as a judgment against the sinfulness of mankind. You can read this story in Genesis 11. God "confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth." (vs. 9)

There have been situations when a difficulty in translation has proved to be beneficial. In 1917, the British General Allenby was leading an assault on Turkish-held Jerusalem. Upon reading Isaiah 31:4-5, he came upon a plan to win the battle. These verses say, "As birds flying, so will the LORD of hosts defend Jerusalem; defending also he will deliver it; and passing over he will preserve it. Allenby decided to fly small scout planes over Jerusalem and drop notes in the Turkish language instructing the Turks to surrender Jerusalem. Having never seen an airplane, many of the Turks became fearful. The note was signed Allenby. In Arabic, the phrase Allah Nebi is similar to Allenby and means God s Prophet. When the Turks read this, they gave up Jerusalem without firing a shot and the British took control of the Holy City.

Someday all the language confusion will be over. And we know that now, whatever language we speak, God hears and understands. Psalm 18:6 tells us that he hears and answers, "I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice," Nothing is lost in translation in our communication with God.

Pastor Steve Willis

Friday March 18, 2016

John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed, died on this date (March 18) in 1845. Chapman was a rather eccentric individual, known for walking around barefoot with his long hair tucked up in a mush pan. He was the son of a Revolutionary War Hero and started a practice of collecting apple seeds from cider mills in Pennsylvania then giving them to settlers heading west. He also traveled throughout Ohio and the Alleghenies delivering apple seeds to residents there. During the war of 1812, he ran 30 miles from Mansfield to Mt. Vernon, Ohio, to warn people there of an impending attack by the Indians.

Appleseed had a rather unconventional but deep devotion to nature and the Bible. He never was anywhere without his Bible, and read to people wherever he was from the pages of his well-worn copy of the Scriptures. He called the apple blossom "a living sermon from God" and quoted from the Sermon on the Mount. The Beatitudes were his favorite. "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth" (Matthew 5:5) certainly seemed an appropriate description of his life. Poet William Henry Venable penned these words about Johnny, "Remember Johnny Appleseed, All ye who love the apple, He served his kind by word and deed, In God's grand greenwood chapel."

Pastor Steve Willis

Thursday March 17, 2016

Patrick was a young man living with his family in Britain during the fourth century A.D. At the age of sixteen, Patrick was kidnapped by a band of Irish raiders and sold as a slave to an Irish chieftain. He wrote about his experience in "Confession". He also wrote of his conversion, ""But after I came to Ireland--every day I had to tend sheep, and many times a day I prayed--the love of God and His fear came to me more and more, and my faith was strengthened. And my spirit was moved so that in a single day I would say as many as a hundred prayers, and almost as many in the night, and this even when I was staying in the woods and on the mountains; and I used to get up for prayer before daylight, through snow, through frost, through rain. There the Lord opened the sense of my unbelief that I might at last remember my sins and be converted with all my heart to the Lord my God who...comforted me as would a father his son."

He spent several years there before escaping back to him homeland. After his return, he trained for ministry and eventually returned back to the island of his captors and introduced Christianity to the largely pagan population. By the time of his death, there were 120,000 Christians in Ireland and over 300 churches. In the next century, Irish missionaries went to Europe and evangelized hundreds of unbelievers there. This was the result of one man who took to heart and put into practice the words of Paul found in Ephesians 4:32, "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." We need to do the same. Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Pastor Steve Willis

Wednesday March 16, 2016

It is winter in New York City. Not a good time to surf, one would think, but yet a lone surfer braves the waves at Long Beach near Queens. He has on his wetsuit and his special Hawaiian board. On the board is a picture of his mentor, sort of his spiritual guru. Focusing on the picture helps to keep him centered. This is the main concept of many modern belief systems. There is a desire to achieve a spiritual and emotional equilibrium.

In actuality, this is not a bad idea, but this needs to be pursued from the proper perspective. True emotional and spiritual "equilibrium" can only be attained through a focus on the one true God. As followers of God, we do want to seek to be centered through a correct relationship with. This takes place through faith in his Son who gives us true inner peace.

David spoke on being centered on God in his thinking. He wrote, "You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you. . .On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night." (Psalm 63:1 & 6) As followers of God, we need to be centered on God. Fixing our minds on God helps us maintain peace and perspective in our lives. This will keep us truly centered in this life.

Pastor Steve Willis

Tuesday March 15, 2016

"Trapeze" is a 1956 movie starring Burt Lancaster. He plays Mike Ribble, a permanently injured trapeze artist who is one of only six people to ever perform the dangerous triple somersault. He meets Tino Orsini, a brash young trapeze artist who wants to learn how to do the triple. Lancaster agrees but only on one condition - he will be Orsini's "catcher". Ribble can no longer fly, but he can still be the catcher in the trapeze routines. Orsini agrees and then learns to do the triple. Along the way, he learns that he needs to trust Lancaster as his catcher in order for him to be successful.

Folks usually would consider the "flyer" as the star in trapeze shows, but obviously, without the catcher, there would be no show. And the flyer must be able to trust that the catcher, with outstretched arms, will be there ready and able to grab him.

We must learn that we can trust God as we move through the events of our lives. Sometimes we may feel as if we are flying aimlessly because of what we are facing, but we need to remember that God is always reliable and will be there to catch us. We should not do things to test God, but we know that as we live our lives for him, he will not let us down. Life is a risky business, but if your faith is in God, you know he will not let you fall down completely.

Psalm 37:23-24 tells us, "The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him; though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand." You can, and you must, trust in God. He will catch you!

Pastor Steve Willis

Monday March 14, 2016

March Madness is upon us once again. The NCAA Selection Committee has spoken and the 68 (69?) teams that are in the tournament have been selected. Did your team make it? Was your team even open for consideration? There were several "bubble" teams - teams that had to wait until the last minute to find out if they were in or not. Of course, not every hopeful made it. I just read an article this morning that listed the biggest "snubs". These are teams that had good records, but just weren't quite good enough to get a place in the tournament. That is kind of sad, but there are a limited amount of places in the tournament and some make and some do not.

I'm glad there are no "snubs" with God, and I am even happier about the fact that we do not have to wait until the last second to find out if we have made it or not. With God, there is an assurance of being able to enter heaven based upon our decision to accept his Son. Christ died for the entire world, and all those who place their faith in the provision of Christ are accepted into the family of God. If you miss out on heaven, the only person you will have to blame is you.

Paul tells us, "As Scripture says, 'Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.' For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile--the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, 'Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'" There is no selection committee we have to please, there are no entrance requirements based upon our performance because we simply cannot be good enough, and there are no "will I or won't I?" moments. There are no space limitations in heaven. You can be assured of a place with the Father by placing your faith in his Son; however, the time is limited for us to make our choice. If you haven't as of yet, do so today. The Lord "richly blesses all who call on him." Be richly blessed - call on him today.

Pastor Steve Willis

Sunday March 13, 2016

You may have heard the fascinating story about a retired fisherman and a penguin in Brazil. Joao Pereira de Souza lives in a small village just outside Rio de Janeiro. In 2011 he found a baby penguin that was covered in oil and close to death. He cleaned the penguin and nursed it back to health, feeding it fish from his daily catch. He named the penguin Dindim and then released the bird after it had regained strength. However, the penguin had other ideas. Rather than returning to the wild, it stayed with de Souza for 11 months, and then one day disappeared. Joao thought he had seen the last of the penguin, but he was wrong.

After a few months away, Dindim returned, stayed for a while, then left again. For the past five years, this cycle has been repeated. Dindim returns in June, stays until February, then leaves. Wildlife experts state that when Dindim leaves, he goes to penguin colonies in Argentina or Chile, then makes his way back to Brazil to be with Joao. This annual swim covers over 5,000 miles. The penguin makes this incredible journey to his "adopted" father almost as a means of saying thank you to the person who saved his life. When Dindim sees Joao after his return, he wags his tail and honks with delight.

What are we doing to say thank you to the person to whom we owe our lives? Christ paid a great price so that our lives could be restored. What effort do you make to show him how much you appreciate what he has done for you?

Paul writes to tell us what we should do to show appreciation to our Savior: "Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. . .But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance." (Romans 6:13-14; 17)

We don't need to make an annual 5,000-mile trek to show Christ how thankful we are, but we should live in such a way that our lives demonstrate our gratitude for his sacrifice.

Pastor Steve Willis

Friday March 11, 2016

A rancher from Texas went to England to do some consulting. He engaged an English farmer in a conversation about the size of their property. The farmer said, "My land extends for a square mile." The Texan replied, "Well, if I get in my old truck at dawn and start from one side of my ranch, I will still be on my property when the sun sets." The farmer replied, "Yes, I had a truck like that once."

I think this story relates a circumstance of differing perspective. This happens on occasion. One person views something one way, and another person views the same thing in a different way. This may or may not be a problem. In Revelation 2 - 3, John records a number of scenarios where differing perspectives was a problem. He writes to seven churches, and to each he gives a commendation; however, along with the commendations there are also condemnations. These condemnations are because the churches, although obedient and insightful in many regards, also had faults they were ignoring. For example, the church at Laodicea had that perspective that they were rich because they had accumulated a great deal of things and felt they was nothing they needed. The church said, "I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing." (Revelation 3:17a) In reality, they were poor. God said, "But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked." (Revelation 3:17b)

We need to pray for correct perspective. We need to see our lives through God's eyes, not our own, so that we can have an accurate picture of our lives. Don't make a Laodicean mistake. Pray for the perspective of God and be willing to see what he sees, not what we want to see.

Pastor Steve Willis

Thursday March 10, 2016

Last night at church we had "Professor Steve." Professor Steve is a former teacher who makes presentations to kids in churches demonstrating biblical truths through a variety of science experiments. One activity showed how the invisible air can hold water in an upside down bottle. You don't see the air, but the force is evident. When the top of a bottle full of water is covered with a piece of stiff cardboard, the bottle can be inverted without any spilling occurring because the pressure of the air will keep the cardboard pressed firmly against the mouth of the bottle.

Does this sound familiar? We do not see the Holy Spirit, but we know he is there. His power is unmistakable. Christ said that the Holy Spirit would be the one to lead them to truthful knowledge, "But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth." (John 16:13) We will never see the Spirit, but his presence is unmistakable.

Another aspect of the Holy Spirit's ministry that is reflected in this example is the seal produced by the pressure of the air. The Bible says that the Holy Spirit is a seal guaranteeing our salvation, "When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God s possession to the praise of his glory." (Ephesians 1:13-14) This is an assurance we should not overlook or take for granted. You may not see the Spirit but you should be aware of his presence and appreciative of his provision.

Pastor Steve Willis

Wednesday March 09, 2016

I recently read an article written by a person who was planning a walking trip of the Highlands in Scotland. Oh, that would be a marvelous experience. When we were in Scotland visiting our daughter, we took off on our own rather than taking a planned tour and found the adventure exhilarating. We were able to stop when we wanted and visit some places we would not have seen otherwise. And besides, I got to drive on the wrong side of the road in a car that had the steering wheel on the wrong side as well! I know I terrified the rest of my family, but what a journey! Taking the "paths less traveled," we created many beautiful memories.

When God led the Israelites out of Israel he did not lead them along the most direct path they could have gone. Exodus 13:18 tells us, "God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of Egypt ready for battle." Why did he lead them around the Red Sea rather than on a more direct route? The answer to this is found in earlier verses. If they had gone the most direct route, they would have encountered the Philistines. Not good. The Philistines would not have let them traverse their land peacefully. In addition, they may have missed the experience at the Red Sea of watching God part the waters. Who would want to miss that? So, God led them away from potential conflict and towards the path of great deliverance.

When we follow God, we often find ourselves going along a path that is one we may not have chosen on our own. God leads us along pathways that are of the greatest benefit to us. At times the path may prove more challenging, but at times the path is the least problematic, even though it is not the most direct. All in all, we should remember that there is always a good reason why God leads us in the way that he does. Choosing not to follow his path can lead us into dire straits, and could cause us to miss great experiences. God's path is always one of great purpose.

Pastor Steve Willis

Tuesday March 08, 2016

There is an old stereotype that when one talks to oneself, it is indicative of a mental health problem. In reality, the opposite can be said to be true. There are times when talking to yourself is a means of stabilizing one's mental state. There are times when we need to encourage ourselves with positive, uplifting, scriptural statements through an internal dialogue. Talking to yourself is something that needs to be developed and utilized when we face situations that are bringing about a struggle in our life or at a time when we need to be clear-headed to make a good decision.

The Bible tells us to "set our affections on things above, not on things below." (Colossians 3:2) Paul writes "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things." (Philippians 4:8) David wrote, "Blessed is the one. . .who meditates on his law day and night." (Psalm 1:1-2) Talking to yourself does not detract from mental stability, it helps to preserve our minds.

There are times when it would be dangerous to not engage in a beneficial internal dialogue. I am talking here of more than just a brief encounter with the Scripture or a brief prayer said as we are on the go; I am talking about spending real time debating with ourselves about the issues before us so that we can take the right path. It always helps to talk with other about crucial matters in our lives, but don't forget to include yourself in that conversation!

Pastor Steve Willis

Monday March 07, 2016

I have had the opportunity to preach in both Costa Rica and Peru on a few occasions. My Spanish is not good enough to allow me to speak without a translator if I want to get my message across without people saying "Huh?" The interpreter tells the folks what I have said in language they can understand. For my communication to be effective, I need the help of the translator.

This illustrates one aspect of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Romans 8 directly speaks to the idea of the Holy Spirit being a translator for us when we don't really know what to say to God as we pray. Romans 8:26-27 says, "In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God s people in accordance with the will of God." When we are in situations where we absolutely do not what we should say to God in prayer, the Holy Spirit translates our feelings for us and intercedes on our behalf.

In addition to this, the Holy Spirit works within us to help us understand the mind of God. I Corinthians 2:11 & 14 tells us, "In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit."

The Holy Spirit is always at work within us helping us to communicate our thoughts to our Father, and communicating the thoughts of God to us. We should be grateful for the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives. With his guidance, nothing will get lost in translation.

Pastor Steve Willis

Sunday March 06, 2016

You perhaps have heard of the Battle of Thermopylae. This battle has been made famous through what actually happened and through the many books and films about the battle. For three days a force of 300 Spartans, along with a few hundred others, held off the advancing Persian army led by Xerxes I that numbered in the thousands. They were able to do this because the pass at Thermopylae was very narrow; however, there were just too many Persians for the Greek army to overcome. Still, it was a remarkable display of courage and fighting skill for such an overmatched force.

We read in the Scripture about a group of 300 prevailing against overwhelming odds. Gideon was preparing to lead a force of 32,000 against the Midianites. That seemed to be a logical number, but God told him, "You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, 'My own strength has saved me.'" (Judges 7:2) The force was first whittled down to 10,000, but that was still too many. Through a "drinking water" test (you need to read the whole story in Judges 7), only 300 were left. Led by the power of God, Gideon and his 300 were victorious.

I find that the operative words in this story are "My own strength saved me." God wanted to show Israel what could be done when he is trusted. He wants us to learn the same lesson. One of the issues we face in a world where we have many resources to accomplish tasks is remembering our need to trust God. Physical, financial, and intellectual strength should not be a substitute for faith. Conversely, we should not let what we perceive to be a lack of resources become an excuse for not attempting ministry for God.

William Carey said, "Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God." When you feel overwhelmed, remember the 300. Not the 300 of Thermopylae because even though they were brave and valiant, they were ultimately defeated. Remember the 300 of Gideon who accomplished great victory because of their faith in Jehovah.

Pastor Steve

Saturday March 05, 2016

In 1982, Phil Collins released a song entitled "I Don't Care Anymore." It was on his album "Hello I Must Be Going" and earned him a Grammy nomination for Song of the Year. I have always thought the song was rather bleak and, of course, the bleakness of the song is reflected in the title.

I hope you have never been in the position where you could truthfully say, "I don't care anymore" about anything. I hope you have never had the experience of being in such a desperate place. As followers of Christ, there are so many things about which we need to care. The scripture says, "Do not let the oppressed retreat in disgrace; may the poor and needy praise your name." (Psalm 74:12) James writes "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." (James 1:27) Isaiah 1;17 tells us to "Learn to do right; seek justice."

We are to care about living for God and honoring him with our lives. Above all else, we need to care about presenting the Gospel to a world in need. Our care for the message of the Gospel should be uppermost in our thinking. A follower of God should have a high degree of care for our walk with God and high degree of care for God's people. The words "I don't care anymore" should not be in our vocabulary.

;Pastor Steve Willis

Friday March 04, 2016

Shows such as CSI and NCIS have been popular for years. Many times on these shows, we see computer masters commandeer surveillance cameras to try to get pictures of crime scenes to see if they can get clues to help solve the crimes they are working on. From these shows, you almost get the idea that there are "eyes" on you no matter where you are. Of course, that is not really the case.

It certainly wasn't the case for Hagar, the handmaid of Abram's wife Sarai. Sarai could not get pregnant, so she gave her handmaid Hagar to her husband for the purpose of bearing a child. However, when Hagar became pregnant, friction developed between Sarai and Hagar that eventually led to Hagar fleeing from Sarai because of the mistreatment she endured. Hagar no doubt felt very alone as she fled into the desert, not knowing what the future would hold for her. Her life had suddenly become very uncertain and frightening. There in the desert where it would seem no one could see her, the eyes of God were upon her. God spoke to her, telling her go back to Sarai and promising her and yet-to-be born son a secure future.

In Genesis 16:13 we read, "She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: 'You are the God who sees me,' for she said, 'I have now seen the One who sees me.'" "El Roi", the God who sees, had eyes on Hagar, and he has eyes on us. He knows our past, our present, and our future. We may feel uncertain about what is to come next and we may feel frightened at times because we don't know who cares, but realize El Roi sees us and knows about us. He is the God who sees you and cares for you now and forever.

Pastor Steve

Thursday March 03, 2016

There is a great deal of controversy about the use of paddling as a means of discipline. When I grew up this was not an issue; however, my father never paddled me. My intent in making this statement is not to debate paddling. What I want to write about is restraint. My dad never paddled me not because he didn't believe in the merits of corporal punishment; he was afraid that if he paddled me (or my brothers), he would use too much force and really hurt us. He exercised restraint. Now, before I move on to the point I want to make about this, I must say that Dad never had to paddle me to get my attention. His look was enough.

I have always marveled at the restraint God demonstrates in dealing with his people. He didn't totally wipe out the population and start over from the beginning in the days of Noah (Genesis 6) He listened to Moses and held back his judgment on the people of Israel (Exodus 32).

There are other examples of this not only from God, but from Christ. During Satan's temptation of Christ, Christ could have easily performed the acts Satan asked him to do (Matthew 4:1 - 11). He held back on the signs being demanded by the Pharisees (Matthew 12:38). Herod asked Christ to perform a miracle when he appeared before him as part of the trial process before his crucifixion. That didn't happen. Luke 23:8 tells us, "When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform a sign of some sort." Why didn't he? Would that not have cleared things up? He didn't for the same reason that he and his Father demonstrates "the miracle of restraint."

God demonstrates restraint because no great display of power will produce the response he desires. Only love will do that. Christ said, "'And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.' He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die." (John 12:32) God is totally self-aware of his power but chooses to exercise restraint because of his mercy and because he wants his people to follow him out of love not fear of destruction. That is how love is - it has its own power and this is the power God chooses to enact.

Pastor Steve Willis

Wednesday March 02, 2016

Many of you have perhaps traveled over the Mackinac Bridge that connects the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan. If you were to visit that bridge now, you would observe a rather interesting phenomena. Piles of blue ice have been appearing on the shore near the bridge. Blue ice occurs when the molecules in the ice become so dense that it reflects light in such a way as to make the ice appear blue. This is a rare occurrence, only happening at Mackinac twice in the last four decades. The blue ice is certainly attention-getting, and makes people notice because it is certainly out of the ordinary.

As followers of Christ, we should wish the same for us. We should want to reflect the glory of Christ in an extraordinary way. We should live in such a way so that reflecting the glory of Christ is really attention-getting. We want people to see something special when they look at us. We don't want them to see us, we want them to see the marvels of Christ.

II Corinthians 3:18 speaks to the issue of reflecting Christ's glory. It says, "And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." Are we attracting attention to the glory of Christ because we reflect Christ's glory in a way that draws attention to him? Strive to be blue ice and draw attention to the marvels of the Savior.

Pastor Steve Willis

Tuesday March 01, 2016

Well, it is finally March 1. March 1 had to wait an extra day this year before it made an appearance. Waiting is a fact of life. As much as we may not like to do it, there are times when we have no choice but to wait. The average person will spend about six months waiting in their life. So, the best thing to do is to remember this reality and develop a positive attitude about waiting.

We can't be prophets but we never know when those delays prevent circumstances that would be undesirable. Waiting gives us time to think - that is always a good thing. Waiting gives us time to slow down a bit and that may be just what we need.

We often find ourselves in situations where we are waiting on God. We are faced with a scenario where all we can do is allow God to work in the way in which he sees fit as we are powerless to do anything to alter the circumstances. God does not allow these times of waiting to be capricious. They are not meaningless voids that have no purpose. God has something for us, and the best thing for us to do is to be patient and allow God to do his work. And don't take those times that seem to be just meaningless delays for granted - they can be a learning experience. Those incidents can help us develop the patience we need when we face circumstances of waiting that have more gravity. They can also help us to develop more patience in general, which is probably a good thing for most of us.

Isaiah 40:31 tells us, "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they will mount up with wings as eagles. They will walk and not grow weary, they will run and not faint." Let waiting develop our patience and our faith.

Pastor Steve Willis

Monday February 29, 2016

Today is a day that takes place only every four years - Leap Day. Folks who were born on this day can argue that they are only a quarter of their actual age. I know one dear lady who has children that are in their 60's and yet will just be 22 today.

Did you ever wonder why we have a Leap Day and how it came to be? Well, please forgive me, but don't expect me to explain the process in my column. I don't have the space. Let's just say that Julius Caesar got the ball rolling in 44 B.C. when he installed the Julian calendar. He borrowed a day from February to make "his" month, July, 31 days long Then, in the 16th century, a day was added back to February every four years by Pope Gregory XIII to make things come out right. A highly accurate calendar was created that has (pardon the pun) stood the test of time and today is the most universally recognized method of reckoning the days in the world.

Speaking of reckoning days, it should not take a leap year to remind us that time is fleeting and precious. We should pray as did Moses, "Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom." (Psalm 90:2) I have always wondered why a person who lived to be 120 would say, "Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures", but regardless of length, our days on earth are indeed numbered.

Don't wait every four years to do something you need to do for the Lord or for others. Gregory may have added a day to February to keep things straight, but we do not have the ability to add days to our lives at will. Live wisely!

Pastor Steve Willis

Sunday February 28, 2016

One of the characteristics of our current society is our mounting personal debt. One source said the average debt per family in the United States is $210,000. That is a lot of money. I am not an economist, but you really don't need to be to know that too much debt is going to be a big problem. We really need to use God's wisdom and use our heads when it comes to debt.

Christ said, "Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you." (Matthew 5:42) From this statement, I understand that debt is not inherently bad. There are times when debt is justified. However, reason needs to be applied when it comes to the amount of debt one acquires. A basic fact is that you cannot spend more than you have, You need to keep your wits about you when you are making financial decisions. Seek out good advice in money matters. Keep your "want" list under control. Seek God's guidance in managing your money. Remember that "the borrower is servant to the lender." (Proverbs 22:7)

Paul provides a good statement about our finances that we should keep in mind: "Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, (Romans 13:7-8) If we let our greatest debt be our love for others, then we will find ourselves in pretty good shape fiscally and otherwise.

Pastor Steve Willis

Saturday February 27, 2016

An article on The Detroit Institute of Arts website dated June 30, 2006, reported that the efforts of their Conservation Lab were certainly needed on February 24, 2006, when a 12-year-old visiting with his school placed a wad of chewing gum on the painting The Bay, by Helen Frankenthaler, a work of art valued at $1.5 million dollars. Conservators in the lab have dedicated their efforts to analyzing, repairing and preserving art, and although damage from visitors is extremely rare, the DIA's conservation staff was well prepared to handle this unfortunate incident. School personnel disciplined the youngster, but a school official was quoted as saying, "I don't think he fully understood the ramifications of what he did."

A powerful prayer of Christ on the cross was, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." (Luke 23:34) Even after his mistreatment, his beatings, his flogging, and the crucifixion, he prayed for forgiveness for those responsible who didn't know what they were doing. And just who were those responsible? Well, one might say the Jewish leaders, or the Roman soldiers, or even Pilate. In reality, we are all responsible for the pain he endured. So, when he prayed for forgiveness for those that "know not what they do," this included all of us. We all played a part in the death of Christ, and God's grace extends to all. Accepting his grace allows for forgiveness. We don't need to fully understand, but we need to fully accept his gift.

The lab at the Detroit Institute of Arts is one of the finest in the United States, and they were able to repair damage caused by the gum. Christ is not only the finest but also the only one able to repair the damage caused by sin.

Pastor Steve Willis

Friday February 26, 2016

Have you seen the commercial where a piano virtuoso is playing away on a grand piano and a caption flashes on the screen that says, "This is how it sounds when all the notes are different." Then, the pianist switches to a similar piano, only this one has all the notes tuned to the same pitch. He continues to play just as vigorously, but the music certainly sounds quite different. Which music sounded better? Well, even without hearing the music yourself, you could probably hazard a highly accurate guess.

In our churches, we strive for unity and having similar beliefs in a number of crucial areas. However, we must never forget that the church is made up of people with different strengths in different areas, and these differences need to be preserved and utilized. As was said in the commercial, in a normal piano, "no two notes are the same." Each note is produced in the same way, a key is depressed tripping a hammer that strikes a string. But this similar action has different results as the note produced sounds dissimilar from any other note produced by any other string. When several strings are struck in the right order and in the right combination, music is produced that can thrill, excite, soothe, evoke emotion, and even surprise.

We are one in the Spirit, but the Spirit has gifted each person differently. Remember Paul's words in I Corinthians 12, "There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. . .Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many." (vss. 4 - 6, 11 & 14) We need to remember this dynamic about the fellowship in which we worship. This is a true picture of a thriving church great things happen when "all the notes are different."

Pastor Steve Willis

Thursday February 25, 2016

There is no shortage of "conspiracy theories" floating around. Many of these focus on the idea that there is a person or a group with vital information that would be helpful to others, but the news is being suppressed. Often it is the government that is being accused of keeping something secret that would be of great benefit. Does this really happen? As history has shown us, unfortunately it does.

Why would anyone want to withhold news of a product, or an advancement, or a treatment, or anything that might be an encouragement to someone else? That is a good question; however, before you let your imagination run wild in trying to think of some person or some group that may be employing such a cover-up, what about you? If you are a follower of Christ, then you know how great it is to have the hope that Christ provides. What are you doing with this invaluable information?

In II Kings 7 we read about the siege of Samaria by the Syrian king Ben-Hadad. The people of Samaria were starving and had even resorted to cannibalism to stay alive. Four lepers made a bold decision, "They said to each other, 'Why stay here until we die? If we say, 'We ll go into the city'--the famine is there, and we will die. And if we stay here, we will die. So let's go over to the camp of the Arameans and surrender. If they spare us, we live; if they kill us, then we die.'" (II Kings 7:3-4) When they went to where the Syrian army was, no one was there. The army had deserted because of the intervention of God. Not only was the army gone, but there was an abundance of food left behind. The question they asked themselves was: Do we keep quiet so that we can enjoy this plunder, or do we tell the others so they can be saved? They became evangelists and told others the good news. As a result, the people were saved.

We need to be those evangelists. We need to tell others of the end of the threat and the abundance of God's provision. Don't cover up the news of the gift of God that can take care of the scourge of sin. Spread the news!

Pastor Steve Willis

Wednesday February 24, 2016

Whenever I pass by a school that has been closed, I have a feeling of wistfulness, sort of a feeling of nostalgia. I start wondering what the school looked like when it was full of kids. I begin to think about all the things that took place in the school, about all the people who were associated with the school as students or staff, or even as students who later came back as staff. Now, of course, all that is in the past as the school no longer is a witness to all the activity it once was. I wonder why the school closed. There are many reasons for this - construction of a newer school, consolidation, maybe the school was no longer needed as the district faced the problem of declining numbers.

When I see a church that has been closed, I have many of the same feelings, but with an added personal dimension as I am a pastor of a local church. I think about all that the building has witnessed over the years, and now stands silent and abandoned. Inevitably, the question "why?" comes to me. What caused the church to close? What were the factors that created the decline? As I think on these things, I feel an urgency to know so that the same pattern will not be repeated in the church where I pastor.

There are many issues that should be addressed as we have been learning through a recent series we had at the church. Two things I think are important in keeping the church alive - fix your eyes on the future and don't dwell too long in the past. We need to "(fix) our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith." (Hebrews 12:2) Paul tells us to "press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:13) Our hearts and minds need to be forward-thinking.

As I think about those buildings, I am reminded that I cannot dwell on what has happened. This is a fruitless effort that does no good. That is why Paul said, "But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind. . ." (Philippians 3:14) I should not dwell on the past, I cannot change the past. I can be advised by the mistakes of the past, but even this can be a fruitless exercise if I concentrate solely on what NOT to do rather than looking ahead at what TO do. Let's look ahead. Allowing our thoughts to focus on what once was will not help us move toward what should be.

Pastor Steve Willis

Tuesday February 23, 2016

Believers are God's representatives on earth, and his reputation among the people of earth can be enhanced or sullied by the behavior of his followers. We have a responsibility to maintain God's reputation through the lives we live before others. Why is God's reputation dependent upon us? Because that is the way God has set things up.

Joshua 9:18 records that a treaty had been made with the Gibeonites, "the leaders of the assembly had sworn an oath to them by the Lord, the God of Israel." Many years later, Saul tried to wipe out the Gibeonites. David in his lament about Saul's death refers to this act and the subsequent judgment of God, "Mountains of Gilboa, may you have neither dew nor rain, may no showers fall on your terraced fields. For there the shield of the mighty was despised, the shield of Saul no longer rubbed with oil." (II Samuel 1:21) God brought judgment on Saul and Israel because their actions damaged his reputation among the people who knew of his promise to Gibeon. God's honor was at stake. The solution to the problem was costly - seven of Saul's family were hanged as retribution for Saul's actions. This was to preserve the reputation of God so that he would not be accused of failing to honor his promises. The Gibeonites knew that God was a God of honor.

Even as the faithless Israelites brought reproach upon God's name with their actions, we can bring reproach upon God's reputation. Let's be committed to the cause of Christ, live as committed people, and in this way we bring honor to the name of God.

Pastor Steve Willis

Monday February 22, 2016

Primary season is upon us. Already three states have logged in to register their votes for candidates who will face off in this coming November s election. Have you ever wondered how different our country might have been had George Washington not been for our first president? What if someone else had been president? There are times in the history of our country when it seemed as if only one person could have been in that seat. Lincoln, of course, comes to mind, perhaps FDR. Washington certainly is in that category. It really is hard to imagine anyone else as our first president. Yes, I know, there were other capable individuals, and perhaps I am over-romanticizing his position, but Washington was indeed the right person at the right time.

Among his many great qualities, Washington was a man of prayer. Here are the words of his inaugural prayer: "Almighty God; We make our earnest prayer that Thou wilt keep the United States in Thy holy protection; that Thou wilt incline the hearts of the citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to government; and entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another and for their fellow citizens of the United States at large. And finally that Thou wilt most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility, and pacific temper of mind which were the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion, and without a humble imitation of whose example in these things we can never hope to be a happy nation. Grant our supplication, we beseech Thee, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

Washington also encouraged others to pray. He seemed to be a believer in James 5:16, "The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective." Certainly, others may have stood where he stood, but as we look back at history, we can affirm that they could not have stood any better.

Pastor Steve Willis

Sunday February 21, 2016

Mart DeHaan writes, "Arctic sea birds called guillemots live on rocky coastal cliffs, where thousands of them come together in small areas. Because of the crowded conditions, the females lay their eggs side by side in a long row. It s incredible that a mother bird can identify the eggs that belong to her. Studies show that even when one is moved some distance away, she finds it and carries it back to its original location."

Isn't that amazing? I can't even find my own car keys half the time. How do they do this? Well, one reason is that it seems that the guillemot, in this case we are referring to Black Guillemots, pay attention to detail. They are careful how they do things, and they tend to do things the same way over and over. For example, they carry fish crossways in their bills, and are usually careful to make sure the head always points the same way. So, as a result of paying attention to details, they are able to keep track of their eggs, even when they are mixed in with others. Paying attention to details would probably help me keep track of my keys!

Paying attention to details is a characteristic that can help us in a number of areas. It will help us with our personal lives, and it will help us in our spiritual lives. Paying attention to how we do things can help us grow spiritually and do things we know that are pleasing to our Father. God is good at this - it is how he keeps track of us! Let's follow his example, pay attention to what is going on in our lives, and make sure we please him. David talks about going over details with God, "'All this,' David said, 'I have in writing from the hand of the LORD upon me, and he gave me understanding in all the details of the plan.'" (I Chronicles 28:19) In other words, keeping close to God is how we can keep up with important details. It allows us to distinguish important information so that we can "pick out the right egg." That is what we want to do, because getting the wrong egg is not a good thing!

Pastor Steve Willis

Saturday February 20, 2016

In an address at Rice University in 1962, President John F. Kennedy outlined the determination to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade. He acknowledged the difficulty this posed. This would not be an easy task, but as President Kennedy pointed out, difficult challenges are often the means to great accomplishments. At one point Kennedy said, "William Bradford, speaking in 1630 of the founding of the Plymouth Bay Colony, said that all great and honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties, and both must be enterprised and overcome with answerable courage."

If folks failed to follow through on their desire to pursue important goals because of the difficulty of the task, think of how many accomplishments we would not celebrate. We would probably still be cooking our meat over open fires, walking would still be the dominant form of transportation, and we would be living far different lives than we are now. There may be something to be said about a simpler way of life, but there is much to be said about embracing the challenges of life.

Paul wrote that following Christ can at times be difficult, but that should not dissuade us from our pursuit of living to please him. Paul wrote, "We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair." (II Corinthians 4:8) Progress in life does not come easy. Neither should we expect progress in our lives in Christ.

Pastor Steve Willis

Friday February 19, 2016

Did you ever feel as if you need to be better in order to talk to God? Did you ever think you need to get things in order before you come before him to speak to him? The reality is that you will never be "better." We have all sinned (Romans 3:23) and because of that sin we need to come before God. While it is true that sin hinders our prayers - "If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened." (Psalm 66:18), our sin does not disqualify us from talking with God. If there is a problem, then we come to God and confess (I John 1:9); but we don't do it on our own. We do need to ask for his forgiveness and his help with that which we feel is hindering our relationship with God.

We can't make ourselves "perfect" enough for him to listen, he knows our imperfections and wants us to bring them to him. Jesus Christ has the right to speak to the Father, and all those who are in him have this same right because Christ intercedes for us. Hebrews 7:25 tells us, "Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them."

Using our problems as an excuse to not pray is just as big a problem as coming to God without confessing our problems. We have a mediator in Christ (I Timothy 2:5), so we can approach the Father with what we need. Hebrews 4:18 says, "Let us then approach God s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." Don't feel you need to be better to come before God, come before him to ask him to help you with your need.

Pastor Steve Willis

Thursday February 18, 2016

One of my favorite Christian groups is Jars of Clay. From their beginnings at Greenville College in 1993 to their current success, they have been a force in Christian music as they testify to the grace of God. Their crossover success has led to influence of the gospel on a broad audience.

Their name is derived from II Corinthians 4:7, "But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us." The group chose this as their name to reflect their desire that Christ's greatness and power would be reflected through their efforts while their own persona would be diminished.

When you buy a piece of jewelry, it is usually placed on a rather plain background in its box or case. The reason for this is so that the surroundings of the piece will not attract any attention away from the beauty of the jewelry. We need to remember that we are just the packaging and that Christ's work is the attraction. When we start seeking attention for ourselves, we interfere with the work of Christ.

When we seek credit for contributions or praise for completed efforts or other accolades, we show that we have ourselves in the forefront. Let's make sure that we understand we are simply jars of clay and that Christ's work is the real treasure.

Pastor Steve Willis

Wednesday February 17, 2016

Have you ever seen, either in person or in pictures, 3D street art? The images that are created with chalk by the talented artists are just phenomenal. There are pictures that make it look like a shark is coming straight out of the sidewalk. Some depict great chasms that look as if you could fall hundreds of feet if you make one misstep. Others depict giant waves, or deep wells. They are incredibly impressive. There is one thing that is true about all street art - the images aren't real. They are nothing more than chalk on a two-dimensional sidewalk. The 3D effect is nothing but an illusion.

Satan is also good at making things appear differently than they actually are. He is good at making self-destructive behaviors or harmful activities look appealing. Street scenes are marvelous, but if someone takes them literally, say tries to jump into a swimming pool that isn't actually a swimming pool, then harm could result. So it is with the tricks of Satan. His intent is to cause harm with the illusions he creates.

Paul wrote, "But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. . .And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light." (II Corinthians 11:3 & 14) Enjoy the 3D (delightful, desirable, demonstrative) images of the talented artists and avoid the 3D (devious, deceptive, despicable) images of the tormented Satan.

Pastor Steve Willis

Tuesday February 16, 2016

In his first inaugural address in 1933, Franklin Roosevelt said, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." The reason for this statement is that he faced a nation that was in the throes of the Great Depresssion. Change needed to take place, and people needed to be assured that the future looked a great deal brighter than the past.

Fear takes place when we have a great concern about losing something - our finances, our home, our family, our health, our reputation, our friends, or something else that is precious to us. Our concern about loss creates fear than can cripple us emotionally and sap our strength. Our fear needs to be turned over to the One who can protect our lives and take care of these concerns. We need to entrust our concerns to the hands of the Lord who has the capability of taking control of the issues that make us feel so out of control.

A fearful spirit can lead to compromise and make us vulnerable to attacks from Satan. Indeed, as Roosevelt said, the effects of fear can be more devastating than the consequences caused by those issues that give rise to fear. Give your concerns to God and let him work through you to empower you and strengthen you to face the situations that are causing fear. Psalm 34:4 says, "I sought the Lord and he heard me and delivered me from all of my fear." Seek the Lord - then you will know that the only thing you have to fear is fear itself.

Pastor Steve Willis

Monday February 15, 2016

Not long ago, my youngest daughter was injured in a bicycle accident. She and her husband both enjoy biking for a number of reasons. One is to help them to stay in shape. I recently read an article about how dangerous trying to stay in shape can be. In one recent year, 201,000 adults were injured in biking accidents. In the same year, 106,000 people were hurt playing basketball. Who knew that exercise could be so harmful? Physical activity is a good thing. Another recent study showed that sedentary lifestyles reduce life expectancy. So, moving around and getting exercise is a good thing.

Something else that is a good thing is getting spiritual exercise. Paul writes, "For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come." (I Timothy 4:8) If you are familiar with Paul's writings, you know he is not saying there is no value in physical activity. He uses sporting activities as examples for spiritual development. Here he is saying that we should be as engaged in our spiritual development as we are in our physical position, even more so.

If we neglect our spiritual conditioning, our relationship with the Lord will suffer, and our effectiveness for service will be diminished. Make sure to put time into your spiritual exercises.

Pastor Steve Willis

Sunday February 14, 2016

Ah, yes, Valentine's Day. Did you get the flowers, the candy, the card? Hallmark really made Valentine's Day what it is through promotions to boost sales of cards. Well, you can't actually begrudge their desire to try to make a living.

Valentine's Day started as a special day in the church calendar, a day set aside to honor Valentine, a third-century cleric who was imprisoned by the Roman emperor Aurelian because of his refusal to observe a ban on marriages.

Whatever the real circumstances were that are behind the origin of the day, we know that love needs to be in the forefront of our walk with the Lord. Christ's activities were motivated by love. Christ responded to a question about the greatest commandment with these words, "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" (Matthew 22:37-39) Paul wrote, "And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." (I Corinthians 13:13)

Love is more than flowers, chocolate, and cards. Love should guide all of our activities, especially our ministry for Christ. I hope you enjoy the day, and don't forget to allow love to be your guiding light for your relationship with others and with the Savior.

Pastor Steve Willis

Saturday February 13, 2016

Yesterday there was a story in the New York Post about a young man who lost an arm in an attempted robbery. He held up a driver at gunpoint and when the driver sped off, the would-be thief lost an arm in a subsequent accident. This is what can happen so many times - one bad decision can be compounded by consequences that follow in a sort of domino effect. We need to take this in consideration in our lives as we make decisions and pursue actions, especially if the activities are questionable to begin with.

David found this out the hard way after his sin with Bathsheba. His poor decision to seduce Bathsheba and then attempt to cover up the sin led to bigger problems. The family dynamics that were created led to a tragic circumstance of an incestual rape (I Samuel 13:1-21), a revenge murder (I Samuel 13:22ff), and a great deal of turmoil and intrigue (I Samuel 14 & 15).

Numbers 32:23 tells us, "But if you fail to do this, you will be sinning against the Lord; and you may be sure that your sin will find you out." Yes - our sin will find us out, and will probably lead to more problems. Remember this the next time you are faced with a temptation to do something you shouldn't do or say something you shouldn't say or go somewhere you shouldn't go. Giving in to that temptation can lead to one thing after another with none of those things being good.

Pastor Steve Willis

Friday February 12, 2016

Today is Lincoln's birthday. The day before his 52nd birthday, he addressed a crowd in Springfield, Illinois, as he prepared to travel by train to Washington, D.C., to assume the office of President of the United States. He would return to Springfield on a train a little over four years later, only this time he would not be alive. The train returning to Springfield would contain a casket with his body inside.

Lincoln said, "I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington. Without the assistance of the Divine Being who ever attended him, I cannot succeed. With that assistance I cannot fail. Trusting in Him who can go with me, and remain with you, and be everywhere for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well. To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell."

Lincoln's statements reflect two things: One, his dependence on God for guidance in the tasks that were ahead, and, two, his acknowledgement that the future may not turn out as he desired. He said, "not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return."

His statements remind me of the comments made by three followers of Yahweh who said, "King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up."

Our reliance on God should not be predicated on whether things go our way or not. Lincoln expressed his desire for God's leadership in spite of where that might lead. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were determined to follow God even if it cost them their lives. People of strong character and principle reflect their strong character in their decisions, especially the decisions that are fraught with gravity. Both Lincoln and the three young Jews did just that. May our faith in the Lord help us to do the same.

Pastor Steve Willis

Thursday February 11, 2016

Earlier this week, I wrote about the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl was on the night of our regular meeting with our small group from church. So, as we typically do, we met early for our prayer time and Bible study, then had a great evening of football, fellowship, and food. What kind of food did we have? Well, my wife and I had made pizza for lunch, so we just threw a few pieces of that in the microwave and served this to the folks. NO, of course we did not do that! We had some real treats ready, and other group members brought in some more goodies, NO leftover pizza! That isn't something we would do. </p

So why do we think our left-overs are good enough for God? I'm not talking about left-over pizza here; I'm talking about left-over time, left-over commitment, left-over service, and even left-over money. Too often this is what we do. What we have that is left-over is what we give to God.

God wants our best, and he deserves our best! Abraham was willing to offer him his best when he agreed to sacrifice his son at God's behest. Now, we know the outcome of that story, and that Abraham didn't have to kill Isaac, but Abraham didn't. Still, he trusted God and was willing to do what God had asked him to do even when God called him to give up his son. Abraham trusted in the provision of God, as is revealed in his reply to Isaac's question about the sacrifice, "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." (Genesis 22:8)

God wants and deserves our best. Paul writes, "He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?" (Romans 8:32) This is what God gave to us. And you want to give him left-overs?

Pastor Steve Willis

Wednesday February 10, 2016

On a bookshelf in my office I have one of those 3D deskplates that spell out the name JESUS. The only thing is that you have to focus on it the right way to see his name. You are probably familiar with objects like this. If you don't focus on it correctly, it appears to be nothing more than randomly placed pieces of wood with no meaning. A neighbor made this for me years ago and I treasure it because I appeciate the gift, and because it provides a constant reminder to me of my need to focus on Jesus.

It is easy to let things in our lives cloud our focus on Jesus. He is always right there before us but we often shift our gaze elsewhere, or simply fail to concentrate on him to the point that his place in our life becomes obscure. There is a Gospel song that tells us:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus

Look full in his wonderful face

And the things on earth will grow strangely dim

In the light of his glory and grace.

The writer to the Hebrews tells us: "We must focus our eyes on Jesus, the author and finsher of our faith." (12:2) Make sure to focus on Christ. If you don't, other things crowd in and take over, making our life obscure. Focusing on him makes things perfectly clear.

Pastor Steve Willis

Tuesday February 09, 2016

I was watching a television show last night where two people who were at odds with each other were placed in a rather interesting position. They needed to get to a certain part of a building where there was a cut-off valve for a gas supply. Because of a recent earthquake, and the impending danger of aftershocks, they needed to reach the cut-off to prevent a gas build-up that would cause an explosion.

As they were making their way to the room, an aftershock hit throwing them to the ground. One man sustained an injury to his right knee. The other man twisted his left ankle. With their slackened pace, how could they get to their destination in time? An idea hit them - they would bind their injured limbs together and walk in cadence to the destination. Of course, they made it just in time. (isn't Hollywood scripting wonderful?)

As I watched them in their struggle, I thought, "Isn't that a great picture of the church? People who are far from perfect helping each which allows them to achieve their goals because helping each other minimizes the weaknesses." And, in the church, we have the power of the Spirit participating in the process when there is cooperation. The result: needs are met, people are empowered, the work of the Gospel is magnified, God is glorified, and the Church benefits. This picture also gives us a compelling reason to work through differences as working together is always more beneficial than working against each other.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 tells us, "Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!" So, let's tie our legs together! If we do, we can get to where we are going in spite of our weaknesses.

Pastor Steve Willis

Monday February 08, 2016

Well, last night was the Super Bowl. Did your team win? I really didn't have a great tie to either of the teams, but I was glad to watch Denver win as it gave Peyton Manning his second Super Bowl win, even though he didn't do too much to enable the victory. Last night it was the defense that was the star for both teams. Someone once said, "The best offense is a good defense" and last night's game did a great deal to support this statement.

The same can be said about our Christian walk. We need a good defense as we are faced with a formidable foe that is much stronger and much smarter than we are. Satan has at his disposal a variety of methods and means to cause us problems with our walk with Christ. Paul must have agreed with the statement above because when he wrote Ephesians he included a lengthy segment on how to defend ourselves against Satan's offense. He writes, "Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil s schemes." (Ephesians 6:11)

We are to equip ourselves with the belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, sandals of peace, shield of faith, helmet of salvation, and the "sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God." (read Ephesians 6:10-17) Many have pointed out that the only offensive weapon in this armament is the Sword of the Spirit. Seems as if he is emphasizing defense, doesn't it? Sounds like good advice.

You may say, "Well, I am not that competitive." You have no choice. Satan will bring the conflict to you. That is why Paul writes, "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." (6:12)

Denver's defense helped them to prevail. Our defense that is provided by our Heavenly Father will help us to prevail as well.

Pastor Steve Willis

Sunday February 07, 2016

Every January health club and gym memberships increase dramatically. The clubs and gyms fill up with "resolutioners" trying to fulfill their New Year's promise to lose weight. After a great start, attendance and participation drops off dramatically. This is attributed to the folks finding out that the extra pounds don't just come off because they spent some money on a gym membership. This requires hard work, discipline, and a fair amount of time. When these factors reveal their presence, the effort to fulfill the resolution goes by the wayside.

This is often true in our spiritual lives. Committing one's life to Christ is a decision based on what Christ has done for us. Showing our true commitment in our life in Christ requires hard work, discipline, and time. To be clear, our eternal life is based not on works but on our decision to trust the finished work of Christ; however, true discipleship means a willingness on our part to expend some effort to grow in Christ. We live in a culture that loves speed and efficiency. In our life in Christ, we want efficiency but the desire for speed needs to be eliminated.

There are many things that still require time, and becoming a true disciple means a willingness to spend time with Christ. Paul tells the Philippians to "work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose." (2:12-13) Our Father is completely committed to us; are we completely committed to him?

Pastor Steve Willis

Saturday February 06, 2016

God goes right to the heart. He is interested in and sees right through to the core of our being. We are usually caught up with externals and you really can't be too hard of us because we are - that is all we can see. But, what you see on the outside is not who we really are. God sees right through what we see to what is actually going on with us and what we truly are. The heart is what guides us to be who we are.

A cursory glance at the Bible shows this to be true. God doesn t look at external appearances but at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). He despises religious acts devoid of worship from the heart (Isaiah 29:13). God searches our heart (Psalm 139:23) and wants us to trust Him (Proverbs 3:5). Christ said that where you find our treasure, there you will find our heart (Matthew 6:21). The essence of His law is to love Him and others with all of our heart (Matthew 22:37-39).

Jesus most scathing rebuke of the Pharisees involved their hearts - what they were really like on the inside. He said, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness." (Matthew 23:27-28)

Guard your heart so that you will not be like the Pharisees. Make sure that the beautiful part of you is your inside. This is what is pleasing to God and makes your truly beautiful.

Pastor Steve Willis

Friday February 05, 2016

At the height of their popularity, the Beatles produced an album that was at once both controversial and prophetic. "The White Album" featured songs that were produced and performed by all four of the Beatles, but the works were very individualistic. John Lennon wrote a song entitled "I'm So Tired." This song reflected Lennon's state at the time - it is pessimistic and almost desperate.

One might wonder why in the world a performer of Lennon's stature, wealth, and place in the entertainment world would be struggling in the way he seemed to be. There was no contentment in his work, and it seemed there was a great deal of discontent in his life. How in the world could this be? Well, as John sung in an earlier song, "Can't Buy Me Love". You also can't buy happiness.

Happiness comes from an inner peace that is developed through finding what brings true peace - a relationship with our Heavenly Father. We are in a position to obtain this true peace when we accept what God has for us through his Son. Paul wrote, "And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:7) This takes place when we yield ourselves to the plan of God, starting with placing your life in God's hands through accepting his Son. Failing to do this will leave you saying "I'm So Tired" along with Lennon.

Pastor Steve Willis

Thursday February 04, 2016

What is the most important thing in your life? That is sort of a hard question to answer, isn't it? It is hard to single out one specific thing. I have many important "things" in my life - my relationship with God, my relationship with my wife, my relationship with my daughters and their families, my service as a minister. My standing with God certainly occupies the preeminent place, but I do not want the other facets of my life to suffer because I think sacrificing them is the means to gaining a closer relationship with God.

Too often we use our walk with God as an excuse to neglect other areas in our lives. We need to be careful about doing that. Ministers can especially be ones to sacrifice their family relationships on the altar of supposed service to God. God never calls us to neglect our families to "walk closer to him." We should not let our work become our master, but God does not want us to use him as a reason for shoddy performance on our jobs. Paul writes, "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters." (Colossians 3:23) Be careful about saying, "Well, I don't want to put my job ahead of God" as a reason for not performing your best at your job. The same is true with other important areas of our lives.

Yes, God wants us to put him where he needs to be in our lives. What he doesn't want is feigned spirituality leading to neglect of areas in our lives that are actually his gifts to us. Don't use God - let God use you!

Pastor Steve Willis

Wednesday February 03, 2016

I was driving to a hospital visit yesterday when I encountered a phenomenon that we have all experienced, but this time I took more notice of this sight than I typically do. As I sped along the road, I saw a large flock of birds flying across a field and headed right at my car. As usual, I didn't give much thought about this, as what happened next was pretty much what I knew would happen next. As my car and their flight path neared an intersection point, abruptly the flock changed direction and went another way. As I said, this was pretty much what I thought would happen, but this time I did some more thinking about what I just witnessed.

A flock of birds had been flying right toward me, and then, almost as one, the entire flock did an abrupt about-face in order to avoid a collision. This was not a single organism, but hundreds of separate entities working together to perform an ad hoc movement that couldn't have been more impressive if it had somehow been choreographed. How do those birds do that? How do they synchronize their movements so elegantly? How do they look as if they are doing a motion that has been rehearsed hundreds of times but in reality is an instantaneous response to an unexpected circumstance?

This question has been asked by millions of people over thousands of years and we really don't have a complete answer. Researchers are still working to try to come up with the solution. I don't have that great an understanding of "bird harmonics," but I know it involves an act of communication between the birds. It involves being willing to listen to the messages of others and react without hesitation. It involves being willing to sublimate one's own desire in order to attain a higher goal through cooperation with others. Birds do what they do to create harmony, movement, and progress.

We in the church can learn a great deal from birds. Are we willing to follow this pattern in order to see good things happen in our fellowship? Paul wrote, "I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment." (I Corinthians 1:10) Learn from the birds - work together in the Spirit and you will be able to do incredible things.

Pastor Steve Willis

Tuesday February 02, 2016

An owner of a factory was incensed when he saw a young man in his factory leaning against a stack of boxes near the foreman's office. He watched him for a bit and noticed that he did nothing but stand there. Finally, when he could watch no longer, he stormed over to the man and said, "How much do you make a week?" "About $250" came the reply. "Well, here's $250 - get out of here and don't come back!" The foreman came along a second later. The owner yelled, "How could you let this happen? Do you realize that guy was just standing here doing nothing?" The foreman replied, "Yeah, well, he was the delivery person from the pizza joint around the corner. He was just waiting for the $20 we owed him for lunch." The owner would have benefitted from a little correction.

This incident may have been a little humorous, but there are times when the need for correction is no laughing matter. There are circumstances where we need to be corrected and there are times when we need to correct others. There are times when correction is a good thing. We may be headed down the wrong way, we may be on the cusp of making a very bad decision, or we may be doing something the wrong way. Correction in these instances would be a good thing.

As followers of Christ, there are times when we need correction. God can and will use events, circumstances, and other people to bring about needed changes. Proverbs 12:1 reminds us, "Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid."

There are times when we need to be the ones used to bring about correction. This needs to be done in the right way. "Lead Like Jesus" says, "Correction doesn t always feel like a gift. Given in the wrong attitude, it can shame and dishonor people. But when correction is given with concern for others and in pursuit of mutual goals, it helps us avoid errors, correct mistakes, and improve results and relationships. To put it into perspective, how many of us have benefited personally from God s loving correction? He is direct yet compassionate, motivated by love, and always solution-oriented. How can we transfer those lessons into our experiences?"

Let's accept God's correction in the right way, and when we are in a position of being the one to help in the corrective process, make sure we are doing it with the right motivation.

Pastor Steve Willis

Monday February 01, 2016

John B. Watson (1878-1958) has been called the "Father of Behaviorism." He published a book entitled "Behaviorism" in 1930. This created quite a stir among academics. In this work he wrote, Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I'll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select - doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and, yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors. I am going beyond my facts and I admit it, but so have the advocates of the contrary and they have been doing it for many thousands of years." He felt that all behavior is learned by conditioning. By his way of thinking, there is no room for or no need for God as all human behavior can be programmed and therefore bad behavior can be prevented and eliminated.

This is a classic example of what man can come up with when he decides to ignore what God has said and go on his own. The problem with this is this path is ultimately self-defeating and will result in tragedy. Watson, the "Father of Behaviorism", could not condition out adverse behavior from his own life, let alone condition others. He divorced his wife as a result of entering into an affair with one of his graduate assistants. This led to his dismissal from his position as Chairman of the Department of Psychology at Johns Hopkins University.

Twice in Proverbs we read this important truth, "There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death." (Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25) Man is so good at developing ideas and theories of how we should live and what is the best way to live. Unless they include what God tells us about how we should live we know where these ideas will lead. Follow your true Father, not the "father of behaviorism."

Pastor Steve Willis

Sunday January 31, 2016

Cochlear implant surgery is a medical innovation that has given thousands of deaf people the ability to hear. I cannot imagine not being able to hear and I have witnessed the dramatic effects this surgery has had on a number of folks. Obtaining the ability to hear is certainly a life-changing experience.

Christ had many life-changing teachings he wanted to leave with his disciples. That is why he said on occasion, "Whoever has ears, let them hear." (Matthew 13:9) Christ meant this is a literal way - people needed to listen to what he was saying. They needed to hear his message. However, there was also another meaning to this statement. Hearing the words, people needed to take in what was being said and apply what the teaching to their lives. They needed to utilize their "spiritual ears" as well.

Among those who heard his words were many who did not understand what he was saying. Those who were true followers were those who were not only able to hear the words but were also able to understand his message. There were those that "Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand." (13:13) The understanding came for those who accepted Christ as Savior.

Anyone who makes Christ the Savior in their life receives the ability to hear and understand the truths of the Spirit we need to understand. We who know Christ are able to hear the life-changing truths he wants us to hear.

Saturday January 30, 2016

One of the more fascinating passages of Scripture is found in Philippians 2. Paul writes, "Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose." (verses 12-13)

Doesn't this seem a little confusing to you? First Paul tells his readers to "work out your salvation" and then he says "it is God who works in you." So, who is responsible for our growth as followers of Christ? Are we responsible or is God responsible? The answer is both. We are responsible for our progress in Christ, but we could not make any progress without the work of God in us to help us will and act in the way that we should will and act. We are responsible for how we live our lives as followers of Christ, but we cannot live our lives correctly without help.

Suppose your car slipped off the road into a ditch. Now, you have the ability to drive your car and are perfectly capable of steering it in the right direction, but circumstances dictate that assistance is needed to get you out of the ditch. You still need to steer, but someone else needs to apply some extra force in order to extricate you from the dilemma. We are to live our lives as we know we should, but we need assistance to make sure we have the power needed to succeed. We must cooperate with God to create the desired goal. So, work hard to let God do his work!

Pastor Steve Willis

Friday January 29, 2016

Yesterday was the anniversary of a great tragedy. Thirty years ago, January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after liftoff. All seven crew members were killed including a teacher, Christa McAuliffe, the first civilian on a shuttle mission.

A number of times during the day yesterday I thought about the fact that 30 years have passed since that terrible event. I recall the events of that day as if they just took place. I remember where I was, who I was with, and what I was doing with great detail. This event serves to highlight two realities. First, time is brief. It is hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that that thirty years have passed. It can t be that long, I kept thinking. Secondly, the loss of seven lives in the prime of their existence shows the uncertainty of life. Usually we do not know when our lives will end. We should remember that they could end sooner rather than later.

We should never forget these two truths life is brief and life is uncertain. Moses wrote, "Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away." (Psalm 90:10) With all due respect to the members of the Challenger crew, we are all on a short flight. All too quickly life goes by, almost before we know it, and our life will end. Some live longer than others, but all are destined to die. That is why we need to ask the Lord to "Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom." (Psalm 90:12) We should not forget this, and it should not have to take a great tragedy to wake us up to this reality.

Pastor Steve Willis

Thursday January 28, 2016

I usually have no trouble falling asleep, but on occasion there is that night where sleep eludes me. Tossing and turning, fluffing the pillow, adjusting the covers, are done to no avail. Some folks have nights such as these more frequently than others.

There are many reasons why sleep eludes us - worries, anxious thoughts, stress, or guilt. At times there are real problems that keep us from sleeping the way we should, but in a number of circumstances what we need to do is simply focus on what God wants to do for us and how he wants to keep us.

David took a step towards getting relief for his stress by asking God for help with what was troubling his life. We read in Psalm 4:1, "Answer me when I call to you, my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; have mercy on me and hear my prayer." David asked for help as he looked within himself to root out the cause for his unrest, "Tremble and do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent." (4:4) David asked the Lord to fill his heart with joy (vs. 7) The result of this is "In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety." (vs. 8)

Turning our lives into the hands of God can give us hope and strength we will not have on our own. God brings to us a sense of joy that we will find nowhere else. We trust in God for more reasons than just a good night's sleep, but our trust in him will certainly help us to rest more comfortably.

Pastor Steve Willis

Wednesday January 27, 2016

A man was visiting a college campus on a frigid winter day. He came upon two students chipping ice off a sidewalk at a fraternity house. He remarked to them, "I imagine they didn't tell you this would be in the cards when you signed up, did they?" "Well," replied one of the students, "We sort of know by now. I'm the chapter vice-president and this is the president." The two officers of the fraternity were leading by example. They wanted to show others the meaning of service.

I can think of someone else who did this, can't you? Christ was confronted with a situation where he saw the need to convey the attitude his followers should have. James and John asked Christ to be seated on his right and his left in the Kingdom (Mark 10:35ff) This made the other disciples a little angry. Christ really didn't rebuke James and John. He first spoke of their future suffering for his sake, and then he informed them of a more correct outlook on their ministry.

Christ used himself as the example and said, "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10:45) When the disciples manifested a little immaturity in their request, Christ "chipped ice." The mark of godly leadership is a presentation of service, not a desire for power. Don't be afraid to chip ice!

Pastor Steve

Tue Jan 26 07:10:15 2016

At the highest levels of government, actions and decisions are constantly evaluated for what consequences will be produced. Saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, making decisions regarding military actions, or using language that could be misconstrued could lead to problems. There is a great understanding of the need to monitor what is going on so that actions and reactions are appropriate. They try to answer the question, "Where is this going to lead us?"

We need to ask that question at many times in our lives. Not asking this question can cause us to fail to avoid situations that can have negative consequences or fail to make prudent decisions about life events.

Many of the prophets asked their listeners to ask this question. Jeremiah said to his contemporaries, "'So I will go to the leaders and speak to them; surely they know the way of the Lord, the requirements of their God.' But with one accord they too had broken off the yoke and torn off the bonds." Jeremiah told the people to watch their ways and to make good decisions. They knew God's requirements, but they didn't live accordingly. They didn't ask, "Where is this going to lead us?" This cost them, as a "distant nation" was brought against them.

Don't make the mistake the Jews did when they ignored Jeremiah's words. Make sure to consider where your choices are going to take you. You know God's requirements - live by them!

Pastor Steve

Mon Jan 25 07:10:15 2016

One of the things we learn in life, or should learn in life, is how to handle disappointment. Lindsey Jacobellis can certainly tell you about disappointment. Lindsey was one of the top women's snowboarders in the world. At the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, she was 50 yards ahead of her nearest competitor in the race for the gold medal in a snowboard event. On the last jump, she attempted a maneuver common in snowboarding but crashed, losing out on any hope of a medal.

Then, history repeated itself as Lindsey went off the course in a later snowcross event and was disqualified. In the interview after the race she said, "'I feel OK, though,' Jacobellis said. 'Sometimes you can’t control the things you want to.'” This is a true statement, and something important for us to remember as we face life's disappointments. If you say you haven't faced a time of disappointment, well, just hang around for a little while. It will happen.

What should you do when disappointment comes? First, acknowledge what happened and why it happened. If it was something you couldn't control, make a bit mental note. Don't push it away. Secondly, take a step back and get your breath. You don't want to make a major decision when you are wrestling with a disappointment. Thirdly, consult and talk with close friends and family about what happened. Finally, not chronologically but as the most important step in dealing with disappointment, allow God's grace to bring peace to your heart. God does care for us, and he is there for us when we struggle with any issue. This certainly includes disappointments.

Isaiah 49:23 tells us, "Then you will know that I am the LORD; those who hope in me will not be disappointed." We will face disappointments in life. God will help us when we are struggling with disappointment. We can rest assured we will never be disappointed with God.

Pastor Steve

Sun Jan 24 07:10:15 2016

Usually what are you thinking when the benediction is being given at a worship service? Are you focused on what is being said and the significance of what is taking place, or are you thinking about how hungry you are? Are you thinking about your actions once you leave the time of worship or are you wishing that the person giving the benediction would hurry so you could get to your golf game?

Benedictions are interesting and important. Sometimes we look forward to the benediction because it marks the end of our time in church and now we can get on to something else we deem more interesting and important. The benediction is more than just a prayer to end worship, it is a time of reflection on what we have just experienced. The benediction should be a final challenge to us to take what we have just absorbed and use it to better serve our Lord as we depart to our lives outside the time we have spent in worship. The benediction should be looked on as not a pronouncement of completion of a task but a call to begin a task. Too often we don't think of the benediction as anything more than just a time to get by quickly so we can get on with our lives. It should be a time to start thinking of what we are going to do, what we are going to do differently, and how we are going to live.

There are many benedictions in the scripture and it is interesting to study them to see what they teach and discover their purpose. One of the most extensive in found in Hebrews 13:20-21, "May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen."

This benediction reflects a desire for God to work in us, and a desire to be used by God. When the benediction comes in the service today, do more thinking than you usually do. Well, do different thinking than you usually do. Use it as a time to ask yourself, "What now?" Make it be a time to tell God, "Use me!"

Pastor Steve

Sat Jan 23 07:10:15 2016

When we address the evils of society, it is often easy to fall into a pattern of negativity. As we address the ills of society, it is easy to fall into a pattern of condemnation without really offering any positive steps of how to correct the ills. Sometimes the perception of Christians is that we are always negative and fighting against something. Obviously, we don't condone sinfulness and evil, but what about loving our enemies? What about doing good for those who persecute us? (Matthew 5:44-45) What about feeding the hungry? What about clothing the naked? (Matthew 25:34-36)

Followers of Christ do not condone sin, but we should be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem. We need to channel the love of Christ. We need to be instruments of God's grace. We need to demonstrate compassion not condemnation. Don't leave the impression that we look down upon those who "don't come up to our standards." I have always found it interesting that Christ's condemnation was usually aimed at religious leaders, not unbelievers. Christ came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). He did that through reaching out to those in sin. He didn't just sit back and talk about how awful they were. He was even condemned for associating with the sinful. "When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, 'Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and `sinners'?'" (Matthew 9:11)

I think Christ invited this criticism. It meant that people were paying attention to what he was doing. He was willing to be with them because of their sin. We need to reach folks with this message.

Pastor Steve

Fri Jan 22 08:35:57 2016

We often say that in the sight of God, sin is sin. There is no one sin worse than another according to God's perspective. However, just for the sake of argument, what do you consider the greatest sin? Homicide? Genocide? Well, what about deicide, the murder of God? That is what took place when God's Son was executed hundreds of years ago.

Who is to blame for this unspeakable crime? Was it the religious leaders who captured him and condemned him in a false, illegal trial? Was it the mob who called for his death? Was it the spineless Roman leader who turned him over to the Romans because of the cries of the mob? Was it the Roman soldiers who carried out the orders of execution? One of Rembrandt's paintings is a depiction of the crucifixion scene with an angry mob surrounding the dying form of the crucified Christ. In the mob there is a faceless person hidden at the edge of the scene. The shadowy figure is Rembrandt himself. The famed artist had a realistic grasp on the identity of the person responsible for the murder of Jesus.

You are the one responsible for the murder of God. That sounds rather ominous, doesn't it? Yet, the irony of this is you have the opportunity for a new life because of the death of Christ. Your sin and mine are what is responsible for Christ's execution. But without his death, we could never have the hope of escaping our own death.

We recently celebrated Christ's birth, and we are preparing to celebrate his death and resurrection. Don't forget who is responsible for his death, and give thanks to Christ for his willingness to submit to this plan. Without his submission there would be no celebration.

Pastor Steve

Thu Jan 21 08:51:56 2016

Yesterday I spent some time transferring some files to a new laptop I had purchased. I came across some pictures of my granddaughter when she was just days old. As many of you know, we are expecting another grandchild soon - this time a grandson.

I began to do some thinking about these little lives. If they live as long as many folks I know, they will live into the 22nd century. What will they experience in their lives? What sort of impact will they make on others? What sort of society will they experience? They have the potential to make good decisions that will result in positive results in their world. They have the potential to make bad decisions that will bring negative consequences. Now is the time they need to be shown the importance of making good decisions. Well, the grandson will be there in a few months. Nonetheless, my kids don't want to wait to start showing their children how they should live.

The Bible has a good deal to say to parents about the training of children. Jesus spoke of the place children should have in our lives - they need to be informed about how to live godly lives, not ignored (Mark 10:13 - 16). Deuteronomy 6:6 - 7 says, "These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children." Do you have children or grandchildren? Are you in a position to show children how they should live? Remember the importance of "train(ing) up a child in the way he should go." (Proverbs 22:6)

We should love them unconditionally, instruct them carefully, and discipline them wisely. We can never spend enough time with our children. The future will be shaped by them. What are we doing to help shape the future?

Pastor Steve

Wed Jan 20 10:12:43 2016

An illusion is a distorted perception of reality. In many scenarios, illusion is harmless. Magicians depend upon illusion for their routines to be entertaining. Sometimes, however, illusion can have more harmful effects. A mirage in a desert that makes one think he is heading towards water could be fatal. At night, lights and weather can create illusions that can have devastating results for drivers.

We can be trapped by an illusion in our spiritual lives as well. Sometimes there are things that do not appear harmful but are. For some reason, there are times that we do not see things as God sees them. Either we don't want to see the truth, or we have been duped by our enemy, Satan. We need to be aware of this, take steps to prevent it from happening, and do what we need to do to preserve reality.

Jeremiah 17:9 tells us, "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?" Realize how we can be deceived. Remember we are prone to self-deception, and work to avoid the illusions that cause us to stray from following the path God wants us to follow. Leave illusion in the hands of magicians!

Pastor Steve

Tue Jan 19 08:59:43 2016

I have always been fascinated by the story of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. In 1803, they were commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson to find a route across the North American continent to the Pacific Ocean. I just cannot imagine the spirit and fortitude these men and those who were with them must have had. They had no idea where they were going, they weren't entirely sure what they would find when they got where they were going, and they really weren't quite sure what they would find along the way. Yet, they went. One encounter they had along the way proved to be rather helpful - they were joined by a French fur trader and his Native American wife, Sacajawea. If you know the story of Lewis and Clark, you know the incredible significance of this "chance" meeting. Sacajawea's help was invaluable - she was able to be a guide, a translator, a cook, and a tremendous ally. A further development was her finding her brother, who was now the chief of their tribe. It is really hard to speculate how much different this expedition would have been had Lewis and Clark not met these people who became trusted advisors on their two and a half year journey. The meeting was unexpected, yet was certainly welcome and invaluable.

You may feel like you are embarking on a journey into the "unknown." You may be facing a circumstance in your life where you really don't know much about what is going to happen. Maybe it is a new job, a new locale, new relationships. Maybe you are facing something that is going to be more challenging than these events - you have encountered a loss, you are facing an illness, or something has happened that is causing some other hardship. When these things happen, realize that God can and will provide help. Sometimes this help comes in unexpected ways and at unexpected times. God can provide help from unexpected sources. Continue to look to him and realize he is there. The way ahead may look mysterious, but not to God. He is there, he knows he way, and he will not leave you stranded.

Ancient pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem for feasts sang, "I lift up my eyes to the hills--where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth (Psalm 121:1-2)." They were looking for help because the road in front of them was filled with dangers. God was there to provide help for them, and he is here to provide help for us.

Pastor Steve

Mon Jan 18 09:13:38 2016

I am one of those people who hates red lights, construction delays, speed zone changes, and anything that causes me to slow down. Recently, I began to think about this. I know I dislike these things because they cause me to do something I don't want to do - slow down. I asked myself this question, "Why is it that you don't like to slow down?" That is a valid question for which I have no good answer. We talk about our fast-paced lives in negative terms, but why is it that we don't want to slow down? I thought about this in terms of the red lights and speed zones. Why are they there? They are there to make things safer, to preserve life and limb, to cause you to have more time to react and not harm yourself or others.

The more I thought about this, the more I got to thinking about slowing down in general. Even as slowing down because of red lights and speed zones is designed to enhance safety and prevent harm to life, maybe I should introduce some red lights and speed zones in my life in general for the same reason. In order to have a "triggering system" for this to take place, I have determined to try to look at red lights and speed zones differently. I am going to try to look at them positively. I am going to try to look at them as welcome intrusions into my hectic pace, forcing me to slow down in order to be safer and to enjoy the ride more. When I stop at a red light, I am going to say, "Thanks, God, for this red light. I know it is here for a reason. Help me to agree with this reason and to proceed at an orderly pace."

Most of us need to slow down. I encourage you to introduce habits into your life that will help you do just that. Our fast-paced life may get us where we want to be more quickly, but does the speed really enhance our experience? I have always enjoyed what God says in Psalm 46:10, "Be still, and know that I am God." A literal translation of this is "stand still." That is exactly what we need to do in our lives at times. So, work to change your attitude about red lights. Use the literal ones you encounter as reminders that you need to slow down not only in your car, but in your life as well. When you encounter a figurative "red light," be greatful for the circumstance that made you stop and think about what you are doing and where you are going. Someone once said "you need to stop and smell the roses along the way." I don't know about smelling the roses, but I do know I need to slow down. What about you?

Pastor Steve

Sun Jan 17 07:34:48 2016

We find a really interesting account in Genesis 12, "Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe. As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, 'I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, 'This is his wife.' Then they will kill me but will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.'"

Why did Abram lie? Well, for one thing, he feared the Egyptians. But another thing his lie revealed was a lack of trust in God. Now, this is really fascinating, as we usually consider Abraham "the father of faith." This account shows that we all struggle at times with a lack of faith.

Abram got scared and decided to take matters into his own hands instead of letting God take care of him. We may not resort to lies, but can resort to other displays of weakness when we are faced with circumstances that cause us fear. We may resort to thinking or behavior that displays a lack of trust in God. What can we do? Acknowledge that this could happen to you, be aware of this tendency, and be determined to trust in God regardless of how scary the situation. Remember, God will not fail, nothing or no one is stronger than He.

Pastor Steve

Sat Jan 16 10:04:26 2016

Many years ago when my oldest daughter was a preschooler, I was in my office in a meeting with some folks in the church. Suddenly, the door burst open and my daughter appeared. "Daddy," she began, and then she went on to tell me the news that she felt needed to be told. Now, we raised our kids to respect others. And they certainly do. But one thing both my daughters knew was that Dad was available to them just about any time their little hearts desired. They had free access to where I was, because I loved them and always wanted them to know that I was there for them.

Even as my children had free access to me, we have free access to our heavenly Father. God tells his followers that his love for them is even greater than that of a mother for her children. Isaiah 49:15 says, "Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!" Hebrews 4:16 tells us, "Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." My kids always knew they could approach me with no fear. Now, they knew that sometimes they may not hear the answer they wanted, but they never worried about whether I may not listen to what they wanted to say. They never feared to "burst into my office" because they knew I would not reject their presence.

We have that same confidence with our heavenly Father. He listens to our heart and we never need fear rejection.

Pastor Steve

Fri Jan 15 07:38:44 2016

According to the American Psychological Association website, "Approximately 40 million American adults ages 18 and older, or about 18.1 percent of people in this age group in a given year, have an anxiety disorder." This makes anxiety the number one mental health issue in the United States, far outstripping depression. There are a number of causal factors for anxiety from worrying about a personal problem to developing anxiety because of the state of the current human condition.

Fears about life have been around since man fell in the garden. David's words found in Psalm 55:4-5 tell us, "My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen on me. Fear and trembling have beset me." He is concerned about enemies working against him, about the violence, anger, and abuse that are present in society. He speaks about betrayal by a friend. These are issues that cause him great distress. What is the answer to these dilemmas? "As for me," David declared, "I call to God, and the Lord saves me. Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice."

David knew that a close fellowship with God is an answer to the fear he experiences because of life's circumstances. Anxiety is a burden we are not called upon to bear. We need to "cast all your care upon him; for he cares for you." (I Peter 5:7) Put your burdens on the Lord - he is the one who can handle those heavy loads!

Pastor Steve

Thu Jan 14 08:08:51 2016

Many years ago, I was helping a couple in our church move to a new house. I was carrying a box but was unaware of the contents. I found out soon enough about what the box contained. As I was lifting the box into the truck, the bottom broke and a glass bowl fell out and shattered all over the road. My intentions were good, but the actions went awry. Often our good intentions can lead to undesirable results. We need to be careful that our well-intended actions don't cause damaging results.

Gideon is an example of this. After a successful time as a judge, the people actually wanted to make him king. He refused this offer, but asked that each of the warriors donate a golden earring from the plunder they obtained during their recent victory over the Midianites. From these, Gideon had an ephod made. "Gideon made the gold into an ephod, which he placed in Ophrah, his town. All Israel prostituted themselves by worshiping it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family." (Judges 8:27) Now, exactly what this was is unclear. Was it part of the priestly garments? Was it an image of some sort? This is not made known, but what is revealed is that Israel began to worship the ephod, leading them away from true worship of God.

Gideon's good intentions went the wrong way because it opened up a path away from God. We need to make sure that all of our efforts take us toward God. We need to avoid activities, no matter how well-intentioned, that might cause us to drift from our worship of God. Focus on Him!

Pastor Steve

Wed Jan 13 07:42:17 2016

I read an article the other day that spoke of a man named Douglas. It did not give his last name. Douglas had endured a number of tragedies in his life - the loss of his wife to cancer, a failed ministry, severe injuries to both his young daughter and himself in an automobile accident caused by a drunk driver, and other struggles. When asked about keeping his faith in spite of such circumstances, he replied, "Don't confuse God with life."

Many believers think that following Christ and living obedient lives should shield them from the hazards of life. This is simply not the case. Obedient Christians will still have struggles. Living faithful lives is what we should do simply because it is what we should do, not because we want a shield against harmful events. Life happens and we need to trust God in spite of the negative circumstances we face. We need to look no further than the apostle Paul to see an example of a person who walked closely to God, yet did not consider this walk to be an avenue of entitlement to prevent hard times.

Paul wrote about what he had to endure in II Corinthians 4:7 - 9, "But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed." He writes more about his hardships in II Corinthians 6 and II Corinthians 11. You cannot read these passages and not be moved to tears to think of what he endured. Yet, Paul never complained or cried out, "God, I am following you, why is this happening?" He did not consider his position with God to be a place that prevented him from problems. Rather, he wrote that we should remember God's provision through those storms. Romans 8:38 - 39 tells us, "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Don't confuse God with life but continue to steadfastly trust God in spite of what happens in life.

Pastor Steve

Tue Jan 12 08:09:19 2016

Last night Alabama won the College Football National Championship. Many of you were watching. For some, it was not the right scenario. Before the season started, the Ohio State University Buckeyes were selected unanimously as favorites to win the title. They had won last year, and many players were back this year from that championship team. However, along the way, they lost a game and did not win their conference. So, they were unable to enter the playoffs for the National Championship. They won their bowl game, and finished 13 - 1, but for many this was a disappointment as they were unable to compete for the national title.

Now, this is somewhat sad but in the grand scheme of things there is a greater issue. Many are in danger of missing out on something far more important than a national championship in football. There are millions facing the prospect of missing out on eternal life. The reason for this is sin. Notice I used the singular here. It is sin, not sins, that keep folks from eternal life. Because of a singular act, all people face the prospect of missing out on living with God for all eternity.

God demands perfection. "Be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect." (Matthew 5:48). The Bible tells us that no one is perfect because of one sin. "Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned." (Romans 5:12) We are condemned by the single act of a single person. But we would fare no better because one sin is all it takes to disqualify us from being in God's presence. This is quite a dilemma, but one that is solved through God's plan. The Bible tells us, "But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God's grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!" (Romans 5:15)

A great difference between the Ohio State Football team and us is that we still have an opportunity to gain the prize of eternal life in spite of the blemish of sin. And I believe eternal life is a bit more important than a national championship whether it is in football or anything else. Your blemish can be taken care of through the provision of Christ. The only thing you have to do to accept this provision is to trust Christ alone for your eternal life. Despite your loss, you can gain victory. Claim it today.

Pastor Steve

Mon Jan 11 08:07:38 2016

Do you have a problem admitting you are wrong? Many of us have this tendency. Sometimes we think we are right when we are wrong as wrong can be. Of course, what is really kind of cool is being on the other end of the spectrum - thinking we are wrong but actually being right..

Christ talks about this in Luke 18: "To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: `God, I thank you that I am not like other men--robbers, evildoers, adulterers--or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.' But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, `God, have mercy on me, a sinner.' I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." Here we have a story of a man who thought he was right but actually was wrong, and a man who thought he was wrong but actually was right.

Many are in the boat thinking they are right when they are actually wrong. If you are thinking there is another way to please God with your life other than through Christ, well, you are in the category of the first fellow. You may think you are right, but you are as wrong as you can be. The second man, thinking he was wrong when he was actually right is in a much better position. We do not have to think we are wrong to be in the right, but we need to be trusting in what is right. What is right is placing our trust in Christ. If we follow what we know to be true, we cannot be in the wrong. Following Christ means we will be in the right place at the right time. The beats being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Follow Christ - be right!

Pastor Steve

Sun Jan 10 08:32:38 2016

There are times when important people need to go unnoticed. For example, those working behind the scenes on TV broadcasts, or even at live concerts, need to go unnoticed because if their presence is visible, it would distract from the performance or the production. Yet, they are vital to the presentation. If they weren't there, the show would not go on. Technicians, "roadies", and even directors stay behind the scenes but their contributions are necessary.

Jesus said this is the way it should be when we come to the Father in prayer. He told his disciples that when they gave, prayed, or fasted, they shouldn't do it to draw attention to themselves or to please others. They need to do these things to please one person - God. Christ said, "Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven." (Matthew 6:1)

We don't go about our spiritual disciplines as if they are performances to please or entertain others. We do these things to bring glory to God and to please him. Something within us makes us want to be recognized for our good deeds. There is no wrong in encouraging others and recognizing others, but we should not do things for the recognition. A desire for praise detracts from the spirit of service. We should do things for the Lord.

Pastor Steve

Sat Jan 9 17:50:35 2016

Walls are usually built to divide, to protect, and to keep out what is not wanted. I remember traveling in Peru and seeing walls that had been built with an additional feature - broken glass was encased in concrete to make the walls even more impregnable for intruders. The Great Wall of China, once spanning a length of 4000 miles, was built to keep out the marauding invaders, such as the Huns. The Berlin Wall was built to separate people who were under differing governments. These are examples of why walls are usually built.

We read in scripture about a wall that was built to provide protection, but had the greater purpose of unifying a population and cause people to work together. This wall is described in Nehemiah. The building of this wall was necessary because the wall around Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Babylonians. Nehemiah was saddened to hear the wall had not been restored even though many people had returned to the land. He led the people to build the wall - and the work unified the people. People were called upon to restore portions of the wall (read Nehemiah 3); many restored the portion of the wall that was located just outside their home. The result was the wall was built, in spite of significant opposition. Nehemiah 7:1 tells us, "After the wall had been rebuilt and I had set the doors in place, the gatekeepers and the singers and the Levites were appointed." And they celebrated.

The wall stood as a testimony to what can be done when people work together. It was a positive thing. It stands as a testament to us of what can be done when we work together. Efforts are multiplied, results are greater. Do you have a wall than needs to be built? Work together and see the results!

Pastor Steve

Fri Jan 8 07:49:33 2016

On November 19, 1863, a group of dignitaries gathered in a field near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. President Abraham Lincoln was among those who gathered to dedicate that field as a cemetery for the bodies of all those who were slain in the recently completed Battle of Gettysburg. The noted orator, Edward Everett, delivered an address that lasted for almost two hours. President Lincoln's remarks took a little more than two minutes. However, it is Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address" that has endured and is still well-known today, almost 153 years after first being spoken. Why is this the case?

Lincoln's speech included words that brought comfort, encouragement, and closure. His words brought healing to a nation fractured by the effects of war that was raging between people who had been part of one country just two years before the ceremony. It was not the quantity of the words, but the character of the words that brought these effects.

That is the way with words. Most often is not the number of words spoken that is important, but the nature of the words that are used. Consider the Lord's prayer - although brief it conveys much about the Lord's power, his provision, and his promises to us.

As we minister to others, remember that verbosity is not necessary. A few words that meet the need can be helpful and welcome. Proverbs 16:24 tell us, "Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body." Use words wisely!

Pastor Steve

Thu Jan 7 10:01:20 2016

Bison are made in such a way that it hard for them to look up. A giraffe is made in such a way that looking down is not all that easy. Bison graze on grass while giraffes munch on the leaves on trees. You won't see too many bison eating tree leaves and you usually won't see a giraffe grazing in a pasture. They each have their own special features and abilities. All throughout God's creation, we see "specialization." We see unique abilities and habits of the various creatures that populate our planet.

We also see this principle among people. God has created us with unique abilities and gifts. Even as there is no creature that "does it all," neither is there a person that has all abilities. There are people who are good at managing and there are people who are at creating. There are some folks who see the big picture while others are more detail-oriented. God has given various abilities and gifts for positive reason. He has created diversity to bring about unity. We need to work to enhance this feature of God's creation.

Remember the words of Paul, "For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others." (Romans 12:3-6) Let those who look up enhance those who look down and those who look down enhance those who look up!

Pastor Steve

Wed Jan 6 08:51:27 2016

Today (January 6) marks the end of the "Twelve Days of Christmas." And you probably thought that was just a song we sing to celebrate. Actually, the "Twelve Days of Christmas" arose by a decree from the Council of Tours in 567 A.D. This decree was issued to settle a dispute. The Western Church celebrated Christmas on December 25. The Eastern Church celebrated Christmas on January 6. So, the council declared that there would be 12 "holy days" to celebrate Christmas. This is where we get our word "holidays."

This dispute perhaps means little to us today, but as I think of the idea of "holy days," I think it would be good for us to consider each day we live as holy. Today is a day that we have, and it is set apart for our use. How will we spend today? What will we do with the 86,400 seconds that we have been given?

David wrote, "This is the day that the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it." (Psalm 118:24) Since God made this day, I think it would do us well to consider it holy and consider how we will live during this day. And we don't even need to have a church council settle the dispute as to what we should do!

Pastor Steve

Tue Jan 5 08:52:45 2016

Do you often think about some theological questions? I read once about a 5-year-old who asked her father, "Daddy, do angels sleep?" After a little bit of thought, the father replied, "Well, honey, I think they do." The girl said, "Then how do they get their pajamas over their wings?"

We need to be inquisitive and ask questions about things that are theological in nature. Now, we don't need to go overboard and obsess on items that are of little consequence, but we should be curious about circumstances of a spiritual nature. God wants us to know about his presence in our lives and his ministry in our lives. We should have a natural curiosity about his dealings with us. Just don't get sidetracked by pursuits that lead us away from really understanding him. Paul wrote to Timothy, "Don't have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels." (II Timothy 2:23) Avoid those things that are pointless and only lead to controversy. Focus on the important issues and truly coming to know Christ.

Many years ago, there was a group of "scholars" who debated really important issues such as "How many angels can dance on the head of a needle?" If you read this question and say, "I don't get the point of this," then you get the point (pardon the pun). Pursuits such as this are a waste of time. Focus on issues that are beneficial to our spirituality. Don't try to find a needle in a haystack!

Pastor Steve

Mon Jan 4 14:58:19 2016

During our recent celebration of Christ's Birth, I was given the following poem by Walter Marcelli, a man who attends our church. It is an original composition:

From strolling the star filled heavens,

To walking in sandaled feet with his disciples,

Oh what a wonderful Savior have we.

From commanding angels to healing lepers,

This too is our Savior.

From the right hand of God, to the center cross on Calvary,

Body torn and hands pierced, this is the gift of the Savior.

This is the time to remember why Jesus came.

And this is the time to take to heart who Jesus loves.


I hope we don't forget we shouldn't quit celebrating Christ just because the Christmas season is over. He gave us a reason to celebrate, no matter what time of year it is.

Pastor Steve

Mon Jan 4 14:57:22 2016

During our recent celebration of Christ's Birth, I was given the following poem by Walter Marcelli, a man who attends our church. It is an original composition:

From strolling the star filled heavens,

To walking in sandaled feet with his disciples,

Oh what a wonderful Savior have we.

From commanding angels to healing lepers,

This too is our Savior.

From the right hand of God, to the center cross on Calvary,

Body torn and hands pierced, this is the gift of the Savior.

This is the time to remember why Jesus came.

And this is the time to take to heart who Jesus loves.


I hope we don't forget we shouldn't quit celebrating Christ just because the Christmas season is over. He gave us a reason to celebrate, no matter what time of year it is.

Pastor Steve

Mon Jan 4 13:06:15 2016

During our recent celebration of Christ's Birth, I was given the following poem by Walter Marcelli, a man who attends our church. It is an original composition:

From strolling the star filled heavens,

To walking in sandaled feet with his disciples,

Oh what a wonderful Savior have we.

From commanding angels to healing lepers,

This too is our Savior.

From the right hand of God, to the center cross on Calvary,

Body torn and hands pierced, this is the gift of the Savior.

This is the time to remember why Jesus came.

And this is the time to take to heart who Jesus loves


I hope we don't forget we shouldn't quit celebrating Christ just because the Christmas season is over. He gave us a reason to celebrate, no matter what time of year it is.

Pastor Steve

Sun Jan 3 09:18:32 2016

John Mellencamp once wrote in a song, "Life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone." This seems to be an apt description for many people today. If you have a chance to visit an amusement park, you will see this illustrated. At the park, you will find scores of kids running around having a blast while many of the adults look as if they are at the worst place on earth. What is the situation? The kids are there to have a good time; the adults are simply there, they have the wrong focus.

We often struggle in life because we are looking at the wrong perspective of why we are here. We are here to enjoy Christ and develop a deep relationship with him. Through this are true joy and the abundant life that Christ said he came to bring to those who follow him. When we take our eyes off of this and focus on health issues, money issues, relationship issues, and so many other things, we are missing the point of life. Our life is not summed up by our experiences, our life is summed up by our experience in Christ. This is why Paul said his chief focus was Christ. We find his manifesto in Philippians 3:10, "I want to know Christ - yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death." Having this focus helps to put life in proper perspective and allows us to enjoy the abundance of life spoken of by Christ in John 10.

We can enjoy life and should enjoy life. However, this comes about when we our focus is correct. Develop a desire to know Christ!

Pastor Steve

Sat Jan 2 08:06:59 2016

When I was a boy, the superintendent of the local office of the Ohio Department of Transportation lived next door to us. My folks were good friends with him and his wife. However, I remember a time when my Mom got a little irritated with him Some folks down the road from us had put in a request to have a large tile placed in the ditch than ran in front of their house so they could build up their yard. Our neighbor rejected the request. My folks could not figure out why he did this. There were others who were a bit put out with him because of his decision. Because of the public outcry, the superintendent changed his decision but said, "Folks, you'll be sorry." Sure enough, after the tile was installed and the yard built up, it caused water to drain onto the rode. During the winter, the snow thawing would send water into the road that would freeze when the temperature dropped. Even now, the road in front of that house can be a hazard at certain times of the year.

There are many times when we have to made decisions or take a stand on an issue that proves to be unpopular, but we know it is the right thing to do because of knowledge we have. Taking a stand is often difficult, but when we know we are right, that is what we need to do. This is true for many circumstances. There are times we need to confront others because of bad decisions or bad behavior. This is not easy, but it is better in the long run. You really can't fault the superintendent for changing his mind because of the weight of public opinion, but had he not done so, a problem would have been avoided.

There are just times when tough decisions need to be made. James tells us that there are times when we know what we should do but don't do the right thing is actually a sin. (James 4:17) Proverbs 1:29-31 reminds us of the consequences of making unwise decisions: "Since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the LORD, since they would not accept my advice and spurned my rebuke, they will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes." Don't be afraid to make a good choice, even when it proves to be unpopular!

Pastor Steve

Fri Jan 1 09:56:35 2016

This is the time for New Year's resolutions. The change in the number of the year brings about a desire to change something in our lives, hence we have resolutions. I don't know how you feel about resolutions, and this is not an article defending them nor decrying their ineffectiveness. I am simply acknowledging the practice of making resolutions. Making resolutions is based on an important reality - there are times we all need to make changes in our lives. Those changes vary in significance, but change is necessary. Not change for change sake, but in all of our lives, there are times when we need to make a change, with the operative word here being "need."

What changes do you need to make? Do you need to make lifestyle changes to improve your health? Do you need to make diet changes because of things going on inside of you? Do you need to make changes in how you treat others? What changes do you need to make to improve your walk with the Lord? Do you need to spend more time with the Scripture? Do you need to be more active in your church? Do you need to give more?

No doubt, most of us do need to make some change in some area. Frankly, there are very few people alive who can honestly say they don't need to make a change somewhere. The only person who does not need to change is God. I Samuel 15:29 says, "He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind." However, we are not God, and we do need to make changes. Happy New Year!

Pastor Steve

Thu Dec 31 08:18:19 2015

I remember reading an article one time by David Branon where he wrote that what we do with the old year is more important than what we plan for the New Year. We should make the end of this year be a time of self-evaluation to see what we might have lingering in our lives that needs to be dealt with. I Corinthians 11 points out the importance of self examination.

Paul writes in I Corinthians 11:28: "Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup." His advice of looking at one's self before taking communion is advice that is applicable to any time of our lives. An honest look at one's heart is helpful to correct any issues that we may be harboring.

The problem of unconfessed sin should not be ignored. Moses knew the danger of allowing sin to reside in his life. He knew that "secret sins" could cause real problems and should be confesses. Psalm 90:8 tells us: "You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence." Don't let this happen! Practice self-evaluation at all times, and use this time of year to do some serious soul searching.

Pastor Steve

Wed Dec 30 09:45:20 2015

Can you believe we are coming to the end of another year? "Time flies when you are having fun" we often say. I don't know the origin of this cliche, but I do know it resonates practically. When we are involved in a pleasant, enjoyable experience, time just seems to have a way of shooting right by. On the other hand, when you are going through unpleasant circumstances, time sometimes almost seems to stand still. At times redundant activities seem to make time slow down. So, what about the four living creatures that surround the throne of God? Talking about redundancy! We first read about them in Isaiah 6, then we get a more detailed description of their appearance and their function in Revelation 4:8, "Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings. Day and night they never stop saying: 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.'" Doesn't that sound a little boring?

Apparently, they don't get bored. Why? Well, can you imagine all the things they are able to see? Can you imagine all the sounds they hear? Can you imagine all the activity they witness? Furthermore, boredom is not in their experience because they are doing just what they should be doing - honoring God with their existence. They are fulfilling the purpose for which they were designed. How could they be bored?

We need to keep this in mind as we consider our lives. We need to be fulfilling the purpose for which we were designed: giving glory to God and honoring his person and presence. We should never be bored with what we are doing to honor Him! Our lives will never be boring if we are focusing on God and fulfilling his intent!

Pastor Steve

Tue Dec 29 07:11:21 2015

My mother loved Christmas, but she did not like to fly. Because of her fear of flying my mother, like millions of others, never flew in her life. Despite all the statistics showing that flying is much safer than driving, the fear of going up in the air aboard a jet stops many from flying. The thoughts of putting themselves in a position where they are suspended in the air high above the earth for an extended period of time just is more than many want to handle. Researchers say that the real fear is not that they may crash, but that they lose control of their lives once the jet leaves the ground.

We experience a similar crisis of faith when we put our lives in the hands of God. The issue is one of control - we do not like to relinquish control of our lives. Living by faith means letting God have the right to do with our lives as he pleases, and that is a struggle for many. The apostles struggled with this when Christ spoke to them about levels of service and forgiveness that they had not heard of before. In Luke 17:1-4, he warns them to not cause others to stumble and to forgive others unwaveringly. Their reply to this is "Lord, increase our faith." (Luke 17:5) Christ asked them to step out into the thin air of ultimate trust in him, and at first they reacted in fear as they began to grasp what Christ was asking of them. What we do know from looking at Acts and early church history is that they responded in a positive way and "got on board."

We need to so the same. As we encounter circumstances that bring fear because we are aware what Christ is asking of us, we need to ask him to increase our faith so that we will not shrink back from what needs to be done. We need to take that first step of obedience and he will give us the strength to do what is required.

Pastor Steve

Mon Dec 28 09:21:26 2015

Christmas is a time for unwrapping secrets. Those secrets under the tree that had been growing over the past few days are now revealed. In one sense, this keeps up the tradition of the very first Christmas. Christ was a secret that had been promised through the ages. Then, at the time appointed by God and known only to God, he was revealed to the world. For those who cared to listen, angels announced his birth, a celestial event proclaimed his presence, and when he was taken to the temple for the purification rights when he was 8 days old, he was recognized (Luke 2:22-38).

Paul speaks of the mystery of Christ and this mystery being revealed in Ephesians 1:7-10: "In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment--to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ."

Since Christ is no longer a secret, we need to unwrap His message for others. We need to do all we can to reveal the news of "redemption through his blood." We should be more eager to do this than we are unwrapping the secrets that we find under our trees. His message is no secret!

Pastor Steve

Sun Dec 27 09:22:07 2015

Our season of Christmas is over for the most part. There are still celebrations going on, but most of our observances and special activities have already taken place. Did you attend many Christmas plays this year? These enactments, at whatever level, require preparation and design. Most of them have lead characters and then other roles that need to be cast for the drama to be carried out. All roles are important, and then there are folks who work behind the curtain with scenery, costumes, props, makeup, and other important production necessities. All of the participants are vital for the presentation to be what is intended. The intent of most plays presented at this time of year is to portray the story of Christmas and what it means to us. All of those involved in these exercises are significant, no matter what they do.

The church is like this. There are many roles that need to be filled in order for ministry to take place. The body of Christ needs to have all of the members doing what needs to be done in order for progress to be made. In Ephesians 4:16, Paul speaks of the cooperative effort that needs to take place: "the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work." Are you doing your part? Remember that is takes all of us doing what we should in order for the church to be what it could!

Pastor Steve

Sat Dec 26 07:46:17 2015

Recently I read a rather interesting article that conjectured a different reason for Herod's question about the birthplace of Christ (read Matthew 2). The thesis was that Herod already knew the answer to the question, and really was wanting to see if it was possible to arrange for the birth to take place in his palace in Jerusalem. The reason for this was so that Herod would have an opportunity to essentially interfere in the life of this person who was a possible successor to his throne. This sounds rather convoluted, but considering the madness of Herod, and that he had already done away with some potential successors by killing his sons, who knows what was going on in his mind?

Of course, trying to manipulate the plans of God is never a good idea. The bottom line is that the place of Christ's birth had been declared by the prophet Micah to be Bethlehem. Micah 5:2 says, "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times."

It is never good to try to manipulate God's plans. So why do we do this? We try to manipulate God's plans when we don't follow him the way that we should. When we make decisions without consulting him we are trying to manipulate God's ways. All of these are just as foolish as Herod's attempt, regardless of his motives. Whether he wanted Christ to be born in his palace so he could control him, or simply wanted to kill him, which is what seems to be the case, he was trying to manipulate God's plans. Not a good idea. Remember this the next time you try to do it.

Pastor Steve

Fri Dec 25 09:47:40 2015

We often hear this song sung at Christmas time. It was first recorded by Andy Williams in 1963. I am sure you have heard it:

It's the most wonderful time of the year

With the kids jingle belling

And everyone telling you "Be of good cheer"

It's the most wonderful time of the year

And so it is. What makes it wonderful? The realization that Christ has come into the world and given us the hope of eternal life is what makes it wonderful. Actually, this knowledge makes any time of the year the most wonderful time of the year. The fact is Christ came to the world to bring salvation to all who would believe in him. When we consider what this means, anything else in life pales in significance. Why can we "be of good cheer?" Because we know we have our sins forgiven and that we have a relationship with God that none can take away. A life in Christ makes anytime of the year wonderful. A life in Christ makes life wonderful in spite of what we may be facing. A life in Christ means we will live with him forever.

Paul writes about our hope this way, "If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?" (Romans 8:31-32, 34-35) Yes, it is the most wonderful time of the year. Merry Christmas!

Pastor Steve

Thu Dec 24 09:11:09 2015

David McCasland writes about a December visit to the New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art. At the museum, there was a magnificent Christmas tree that was covered with angels and a manger scene at the very top. At the base of the tree, there was an enormous Nativity display of almost 200 characters. All the characters were looking up at the angels or at the manger scene with the exception of one - a barefoot man with a heavy load on his back looked down at the ground, weighed down by his burden.

There are many who feel this way at Christmas time. Economic struggles, family issues, job issues or other concerns weigh heavily upon them and prevent them from experiencing the joy that should be ours at this time of year, or at any time of the year for that matter. Remember that Christ came into the world to lift up all of those who are "looking down." He came into the world "to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed." (Luke 4:18)

If the things of the world have you looking down, remember to look up to the provision of Christ. He has given the greatest Gift that can be given just for you. He intends to raise your spirit through the salvation of your soul. Do not discount what he has done for you. It is not dependent upon what you may or may not have. An old song says, "Burdens are lifted at Calvary." Let Christ lift yours so that you may enjoy him!

Pastor Steve

Thu Dec 24 08:38:55 2015

David McCasland writes about a December visit to the New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art. At the museum, there was a magnificent Christmas tree that was covered with angels and a manger scene at the very top. At the base of the tree, there was an enormous Nativity display of almost 200 characters. All the characters were looking up at the angels or at the manger scene with the exception of one - a barefoot man with a heavy load on his back looked down at the ground, weighed down by his burden.

There are many who feel this way at Christmas time. Economic struggles, family issues, job issues or other concerns weigh heavily upon them and prevent them from experiencing the joy that should be ours at this time of year, or at any time of the year for that matter. Remember that Christ came into the world to lift up all of those who are "looking down." He came into the world "to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed."

If the things of the world have you looking down, remember to look up to the provision of Christ. He has given the greatest Gift that can be given just for you. He intends to raise your spirit through the salvation of your soul. Do not discount what he has done for you. It is not dependent upon what you may or may not have. An old song says, "Burdens are lifted at Calvary." Let Christ lift yours so that you may enjoy him!

Pastor Steve

Wed Dec 23 08:50:30 2015

When I was growing up, we would spend Christmas Eve at the home of my mother's parents. There we would have dinner, and then open gifts after we ate. I remember enduring those dinners. Who wants to eat with all those packages under the tree just begging to be opened? This all came back to me just this past weekend when we had to stave off our granddaughter from diving into the gifts before we ate. I felt her pain.

When it came time to open the gifts, I plunged into mine with my usual gusto. I always noticed that my grandmother would take great care in opening her gifts. After she removed the paper, she would fold it carefully and set it aside before she would open the box to see what she had received. I could never understand this - how could she demonstrate such restraint, and why save the paper?

My mother explained to me one year that Mamaw opened packages this way because when she was growing up paper was a premium item. The family did not have a great deal of money and so Christmas wrap was one thing that was recycled (of course, they didn't use that term back then). Mom told me they did this even when she was growing up.

What is interesting is that I find myself doing now what my grandmother did. When I unwrap a gift, I usually do so carefully as if I am saving the paper for future use. The funny thing is, I don't repurpose the paper, and I really don't know when I started doing this. I didn't make a conscious decision to begin this practice, I just do it. The practice reminds me of my Mamaw and all the many things I learned from her.

What things are others learning from your life? What patterns of living are being observed and finding their way into the consciousness of your children or your grandchildren? As I said, I learned a great deal more from my grandmother than how to unwrap a Christmas gift so as to save the paper for future use. We need to remember we are influencing the lives of future generations. Many of our lessons may be unintentional, as it was with the unwrapping, so we need to make sure we are modeling good practices. However, we also need to be intentional with other important lessons. Deuteronomy 6:6-7 reminds us of this, "And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise." Christmas is a good time to apply this wisdom, and you can pass on more than just how to properly unwrap gifts!

Pastor Steve

Tue Dec 22 08:10:18 2015

We ended our Christmas Candlelight and Communion service this past Sunday night in our usual way - singing "Silent Night" a cappela. I never get tired of doing this. Actually, we ended our Sunday morning worship in the same way.

"Silent Night" is one of our most beloved Christmas songs. Whenever I sing it, I cannot help but think of the origin of the song. I would imagine you know this, and I certainly have written about it before. Rev. Joseph Mohr, a pastor in Oberndorff, Austria, brought the lyrics of "Stille Nacht" to Franz Gruber just before Christmas in 1818. Gruber was the church organist, but the organ was not working. So, he composed a melody to be played on the guitar for the Christmas Eve service of the church that year. The song was born out of necessity because of something that was broken. Now it is one of our endearing treasures. Bing Crosby's recording of "Silent Night" is the third best-selling single of all time.

Good things can come from bad circumstances. A broken organ led to a beautiful composition. This can take place in our lives as well. We need to remember this as we face those times where things aren't going the way they should and we encounter broken dreams and hopes. Out of those times can arise something that will be beautiful and enduring. Would "Silent Night" be with us had that organ not been broken? We can't answer that question, but we know that it exists because an alternative had to be sought.

As we face those times where plans fall apart and what we expect doesn't happen, look for the positive alternative. Ask for the perspective of Joseph who told his brothers that feared for their lives because of the treachery they had dealt to Joseph, "Don't be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives." (Genesis 50:19-20) From eternity past, God knew he would have to pursue an alternative because his Creation would become broken. In reality, this is the real reason we have "Silent Night."

Pastor Steve

Mon Dec 21 10:05:56 2015

Yesterday in church we did something we typically do on a Sunday morning - take time to acknowledge folks who are having a birthday during the coming week. It is a practice we adopted many years ago, and one that is replicated in other forms in churches everywhere.

As I watched the folks come forward to put their money in our receptacle which is in the form of a small church, I thought about the birthday we are celebrating this Friday. Of course, much was said about this birthday during our services yesterday. As we did so, I thought, "It's good we celebrate Christ's birthday, but we really don't even know when it was." December 25 was a day chosen by the early church as the day we acknowledge Christ's birth, yet December 25 is likely not the actual day of his birth.

We honor the birthdays of many historical figures, and know with reasonable certainty the day we celebrate is the actual day of their birth, but we really don't know the actual day of Christ's birth. I don't think God said, "I am not going to reveal the day of My Son's birth to his followers", but he did not deem this important enough to give us details so that we may know when it actually took place. We can determine the day of his death with a great deal of confidence, but not the birth.

As I think about this, I believe it simply portrays to us a feature of our life with God. There are some things God chooses to reveal to us explicitly, and there are times when we simply need to trust him because we do not know the answer. I don't know if not revealing the date of Christ's birth is an actual example of this feature, but I do know there are many things that God chooses not to reveal to us and simply asks that we trust him. He did this with Abraham when he called him to leave his home and go to a land that he would show him. We read in Genesis 12:1, "The LORD had said to Abram, 'Go from your country, your people and your father's household to the land I will show you.'" God didn't say, "Let me show you a nice piece of real estate I think you would like and will probably want to obtain." He said, "I WILL show you" - future tense.

Doing anything when we really don't know for sure what we are doing or where we are going is difficult; however, we often find ourselves in this situation with God. We need to trust him. We don't know the date of Christ's birth, but we know he was born. We may not know the way which God is leading us, but we know he is and we know it will be good. As Christ told Thomas, "Blessed are those who have not seen yet have believed." (John 20:29) That is the essence of faith.

Pastor Steve

Sun Dec 20 07:05:18 2015

"The Christmas Truce" occurred on Christmas Eve in 1914 during World War I. Firing ceased along the line of battle between the Germans on the one side and the British and French on the other. After darkness fell, the German troops set out lanterns and began to sing Christmas carols. On Christmas Day, the troops met in what had been No Man's land and exchanged greetings, food, and gifts. The truce was short-lived as the battle resumed the next day; however, no one who experienced The Christmas Truce was unaffected and it made the desire for peace even greater.

We have a great desire for peace as well. In Isaiah's prophecy, we read a statement about Christ, "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end." (Isaiah 9:6 & 7) The world has not known peace. Conflict has been part of man's experience since the fall. There are times of truce, but as with the Christmas Truce during World War I, it is brief in duration.

Christ will bring peace to the world, and makes peace possible between man and God as he was willing enter the No Man's Land that existed between God and man so that a truce can be declared. For those who receive the gift that Christ brings, lasting peace is given to them. And the good news is there will be no return to war.

Pastor Steve

Sat Dec 19 10:18:19 2015

One of my all-time favorite Christmas movies is "White Christmas". It was my all-time favorite until "A Christmas Story" came around 32 years ago and started messing with my head. "White Christmas" is still way ahead if I figure in the nostalgia factor, because it was a movie my entire family would watch when I was a kid. Of course, it was in black and white, and sometimes the snow was not really intended to be there; it was created because of the poor reception of our TV set.

I imagine you may know the premise of the movie - During WWII, Captain Bing Crosby is saved from death by Private Danny Kaye who is hurt during the rescue. Bing visits Danny in the field hospital and is "roped" into going into show business with him after the war when Danny plays the "injured when I saved you" card. They are successful, and wind up at a Vermont Inn at Christmas time where their entertainment talents save the day for their formal general who owns the inn but is about to go under. One big problem is that it is December in Vermont but there is no snow, so no customers. A recurring event during the movie is that any idea brought up that Bing doesn't like but Danny does is met with a rub on the arm by Danny reminding Bing what he owes Danny for saving his life. If you can't follow my synopsis, then you need to watch the movie. I am sure you will enjoy it!

I wonder if at times Christ feels like he needs to "rub his arm" in our presence to remind us of how much we owe him. He shouldn't have to do that. We should never forget all that he gave up and all that he gave so that we might be able to live.

As you celebrate Christmas this year, whether it is a white Christmas or not, don't forget to give thanks to the One we are celebrating. Remember the words of Mark, "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10:45) We sing this chorus upon occasion:

He paid a debt he did not owe

I owed a debt I could not pay

I needed someone to wash my sins away.

An know I sing a brand new song - Amazing Grace!

Christ Jesus paid a debt that I could never pay!

Now that is a Christmas song!

Pastor Steve

Fri Dec 18 08:10:23 2015

For those of us old enough, July 20, 1969, is a date that we recall specifically. That was the day that Neil Armstrong first stepped off the Lunar Landing Module onto the surface of the moon. As he did so, he uttered these memorable words, "That's one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind."

It has been almost 50 years since that incredible day - and I often wonder just how far man has actually leaped in those 50 years. There have been many technological and medical advances as well as improvements in many other areas, but we still face many of the same problems. Problems such as poverty, unemployment, armed conflict, racism, and others are still with us. Even the program that brought about the great accomplishment of putting someone on the moon is not what it was. Billions of dollars were spent in the space shuttle program, and I certainly do not want to downplay the accomplishments of that program especially since 14 people were killed during this era, but the moon is as far as we have reached and there is no capability of replicating this in the near future with the current state of NASA. All this goes to show the limitations of man in spite of abilities to do great things. There are still many things we cannot do.

That is why we need to continue to rely upon God. We need to realize that an even greater thing than man walking on the moon was God walking on earth. Man walking on the moon led to some significant advances, but also demonstrated limitations. God walking on earth leads to new life for all who will believe and demonstrates God's limitless power. Remember that your "help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth." (Psalm 121:2)

All of the problems listed above will vanish through God's intervention. Man's greatest problem - the problem of sin - was dealt with through God's visit to earth in the person of Jesus Christ. We have the ability to enjoy the giant leap into eternal life because of the step God made towards us. As you celebrate this Season, thank God for being willing to make that step.

Pastor Steve

Thu Dec 17 08:16:18 2015

Pablo Casals of Spain was the preeminent cellist of the first half of the 20th century, and perhaps the greatest cellist of all time. His father, a church organist and choirmaster, gave him instruction in music at an early age. He taught him the piano, violin, and organ. Pablo and his older brother were required to stand behind the piano and identify what note was being played, what chord was being played, or what scale was being played. At four, he could play the piano; at six he was proficient on the violin. Later, he turned to the cello. At the age of 95, he was asked why he still practiced the cello six hours a day. He said, "Because I think I am making progress."

We need this type of attitude with regard to making progress in our Christian lives. We should never feel as if we have "made it." Our desire should be to continue to learn and to grow, to continue to make progress regardless of how far along the journey we have come. )

Paul wrote, "Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me." (Philippians 3:12 As believers in Christ, we should never think we have reached some self-defined pinnacle of success. Along with Paul and along with Casals, we need to keep practicing because we think we are "making progress."

Pastor Steve

Wed Dec 16 08:04:07 2015

When I was a kid I loved to watch "The Lone Ranger." I would imagine most of you are familiar with this program, even though you may not be old enough to remember it on TV. It was first a serial on the radio (now that was before my time) and later on the television. The Lone Ranger was conceived in a radio station in Detroit. I have always thought that odd, given that the main character is a Texas Ranger. Texas - Detroit, oh, yeah, the connection is obvious (yeah, right). Anyway, a familiar line from the show, and I imagine it would have been on the radio show as well, was "Who was that masked man?" This was a question usually asked at the end of the show by the grateful beneficiaries of the Lone Ranger's particular skills.

Mary seemed to have the same sort of moment on the night that Christ was born. After the visit from the shepherds, the Scripture tells us "But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart." (Luke 2:19) She may not have asked, "Who were those masked men?", because they weren't masked, and their identity as shepherds was evident, but she probably did ask, "Why were the shepherds our first visitors?" Now that is a really good question.

Determining the identity of the Lone Ranger could be answered easily, but determining all the reasons why the Lord chose to have shepherds be the first visitors to the scene of the birth is a different matter. There are some good thoughts as to why - the revelation to the shepherds would have shamed the religious leaders; the visit would be a confirmation to Mary and Joseph; the revelation would bring joy to the shepherds; and it would bring glory to God. There is irony in the story of the Lone Ranger in that good guys don't normally wear masks, so folks had to get beyond this to appreciate him the way they should. The visit of the shepherds was indeed ironic in that it certainly was not what people would expect. That is God's way, though, isn't it? He doesn't do things the expected way, he does things his way.

We need to appreciate this and remember that God is God. Doing so helps us appreciate so much more his ways in our lives. Instead of asking "Who was that masked man?", we should say, "Thank God that we have been visited."

Pastor Steve

Tue Dec 15 08:20:28 2015

Each year we drive to Ohio to celebrate Christmas with our family. Our oldest daughter now lives in Ohio, so there is all more reason for us to go there over the holidays. As we make this trip, we are usually in high spirits, knowing we are going to see family and friends.

There have been a couple of times when this usually-enjoyable drive became anything but. One year we encountered a raging snow and ice storm. I had to stop many times during that trip to clear the windshield. Our six and a half hour drive turned into 7, 8, and eventually 10 and a half hours before we were able to pull into the driveway of my mother's house. I remember thinking that I had never seen a more beautiful sight in my life than that house with its lights and trimmings, beckoning me to come inside and escape the struggle we had just endured and rest from our ordeal. Sound familiar?

We often encounter storms in life that turn our usually joyful experience into a conflict. This can happen literally and we often face circumstances that rob our joy and make life hard in other ways. When we are faced with hard times and difficulties, it helps to remind ourselves that we are not finished yet. We are moving towards a home in heaven, and along the way we are going to encounter situations that make our journey difficult. It helps to fix our eyes on what is ahead, rather than focus on what surrounds us.

Jesus did this. Hebrews 12:1 tells us that "For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." He did this so that we may have a hope before us.

Paul encourages us to "Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things." (Colossians 3:2) As we do so, especially at times of struggle and conflict, we will find strength for our journey and an impetus to move on. In the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, when he sees Heaven for the first time, the unicorn says, "I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I've been looking for all my life." This is how we will feel when we reach our forever home.

Pastor Steve

Mon Dec 14 08:14:22 2015

In 1879, a reporter for a newspaper in Boston witnessed a heart-tugging scene. It was just before Christmas, and he saw three girls standing in front of a window of a local store. There were all sorts of toys in the window, and at first he thought they were all admiring the toys. As he drew closer, he realized that one of the girls was blind and the other two were describing the toys to her so that she could "visualize" them.

Another sad story involving those who are blind is found in Matthew 2. When you read the response of Herod and others to the account of the magi, you realize you have a situation where descriptions of reality are being given to sightless people. I am always the most amazed at the response of "the people's chief priests and the teachers of the law." (2:4) I can understand Herod's response as he proved his godlessness through other acts. However, although the religious leaders can quote the Scripture about the location of Christ, they are utterly oblivious to the significance of the news brought by the magi. You do not see any response from them as to a desire to learn more based upon what they have heard. Their spiritual blindness is evident.

The diligent search being conducted by visitors from a far-off location is a stark contrast to the cluelessness of the nearby scholars who could cite by heart every Scriptural citation about the promised Messiah. Rather than the response of the magi, "When they saw the star, they were overjoyed" (verse 10), they stay nestled in their cocoons and did not search.

Don't be oblivious to the significance of the coming of Christ. Realize he has come to bring peace to your heart and true joy to your life. Overcome your spiritual blindness by allowing the Savior to find residence in your heart. Then you will not have to be dependent on others to explain the significance of the story of Christmas.

Pastor Steve

Sun Dec 13 06:55:46 2015

I really miss Christmas trees at my Papaw and Mamaw's house. Of course, it has been over 40 years since our last tree there. My grandparents have been with the Lord for this amount of time, and the house is now the possession of another family. The trees at their house were really special. They weren't trees from a Christmas tree lot or a farm; they were trees that my Papaw had cut down himself from the woods he owned. Now, these trees had not been "groomed" as they were growing, so they were not perfectly shaped when he first cut them. Often they were mishap hen, gnarled, crooked, and really didn't look anything like a Christmas tree. But after my grandpa would cut them, he would begin to work on them. He would prune, snip, and even pull up branches with twine, to shape the wild pine into a Christmas tree. Then, he would turn it over to Mom who would finish it off with decorations. When my brothers and I grew older, we were even allowed to help with the decorations. Upon completion, the tree always stood in the corner of my grandparents' living room as a beautiful symbol of Christmas! What a marvelous transformation!

God does this with our lives. When we come to him in faith, he takes our misshapen, gnarled, crooked, and sinful lives and transforms them into something beautiful. Philippians 1:6 tells us about the work that he is doing in us: "being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." After his supernatural work on the inside, he puts us in the care of his family, the church, and they continue to adorn us with lights of truth (Ephesians 4:15), ornaments of hope (Romans 5:4), and garland of love (I Peter 4:8). We become something really special when we were something really plain.

I really miss my grandparents' trees. But what God is doing with me right now is marvelous. If you haven't allowed him to change your heart, do it today and experience the transformation.

Pastor Steve

Sat Dec 12 07:04:27 2015

Random acts of kindness - that is something to think about. Doing something kind for someone with no desire to have anything given back. You just do something because it is the right thing to do at the right time. We think and talk of this often, and even understand that it is based in biblical teaching. Christ said, "And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same." (Luke 6:33) How good are we at following through?

A rather interesting illustration of this is described by Dave Branon. He writes about a campaign called "The Drive-Thru Difference" started by a Christian radio station. The station challenged listeners to pay for the purchase of the car behind you in a drive-thru line. The campaign was meant to emphasize the importance of doing kind things for others, even those you do not know.

We should be concerned about selfless giving, whether it is buying someone's lunch at Dairy Queen or Hardee's, putting money in a Salvation Army kettle, helping with Toys for Tots or the Christmas Food Basket Project, or some other effort. Giving to others should be a part of your life. It was certainly part of Christ's.

Pastor Steve

Sat Dec 12 07:04:05 2015
Pastor Steve

Fri Dec 11 07:52:12 2015

Well, we are in the season where "you better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I'm telling you why." Now, (spoiler alert) we know the individual that is actually referenced in this song (that would be Santa Claus) really does not have the magical powers of observation of all people at all times, let alone all children. But that does not mean there isn't someone who does. As a matter of fact, it is the omniscience of God that was the idea behind assigning this ability to Santa. Santa can't do this, but God can.

If God can actually do this, then why do we live as if he can't? Why do we think we are actually able to get away with hidden behaviors, hidden sins? We live as if we are clueless at times. We are like the referees in that commercial for State Farm that features Aaron Rodgers talking to a referee after a game about a particular call. A flashback reveals that on a certain play, none of the referees actually saw what happened, so they huddled. The umpire told one ref to scratch his head as if thinking, another to wave his arms as if indicating a lack of possession, and another to take off his cap. The result was they were going to say the receiver didn't catch the ball. At this point, someone from the crowd yells, "Hey, your mike is on." Seventy thousand people in the stands heard every word the umpire said. Yikes.

Well, folks, your mike is on. Remember that the next time you think you are doing something and getting away with it. Hebrews 4:13 tells us, "Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account." Santa doesn't see everything, but God does. Can't make it easier to see why we should watch how we live.

Pastor Steve

Thu Dec 10 08:06:54 2015

My grandfather on my Mom's side owned a small farm not far from where I grew up. Of course I was at the farm frequently as a child until my grandmother died when I was 18 and Papaw came to live with us. There were a few cattle to take care of, and a barn of course. I remember the sights and smells vividly that you encountered when you first entered the barn. I remember thinking, especially around this time of year, "And Christ was born here?" Obviously, not literally right there, but in similar surroundings, whether his birthplace was a cave serving as a stable, a structure used for animals, or part of a house that was a shelter for animals.

Christ was born where the animals were kept, and then laid in the feeding trough. The scripture tells us the reason for this, "because there was no room for them in the inn." (Luke 2:7) Not only was Christ born in a place where animals stayed, he was born there because there was no room for him where people lived. Doesn't that sound oddly ironic? It describes a reality that still exists today. For many people, there is no room for Christ in their lives. Even those of us who call ourselves followers of Christ at times can live in a way that we are saying, "I have no room for you right now." Don't let this be the case in your life.

Make sure you make room for Jesus. And why was he born in such rude surroundings? One reason is that it shows he is not afraid to go where he will encounter filth. He is not affected himself, but he is not afraid to go where the dirt is found in order to clean up the junk and bring life. He isn't afraid to go into a barn.

Pastor Steve

Wed Dec 9 08:00:43 2015

As it is with many people, one of my favorite Christmas movies is "It's a Wonderful Life" starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. Jimmy portrays George Bailey, a man who had aspirations beyond the confines of the little town in which he was raised, but never made the jump to something better. Circumstances lead him to an act of desperation, but an "angel" intervenes and shows him that his life was indeed significant, in spite of his opinion to the contrary and the situation in which he finds himself. I've commented on this before, but let me be a bit more general.

If a movie was to be made about your life, what would be the central focus? Would your faith in Christ be a predominant theme, or just a secondary plot line in the film? If a Hollywood director would start asking questions of your family, friends, co-workers, and other folks, what would they say about your focus in life? Would your Christianity be a main topic of interest? Someone once said, "All the world's a stage." That is true to some extent, but we need to be doing more than acting when it comes to how we are living our lives. We should not be acting when it comes to our faith in Christ. And we need to let a genuine display of our love for him come through in every facet of our experience. We should not be so much concerned about how others view us, or how important we are considered in the eyes of others, as we are concerned about how Christ is being reflected in our daily walk.

Paul wrote, "But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him." (Philippians 3:7 - 9) What would a movie of your life reveal? What would be the central focus? "Quiet on the set. . .action!" You're on!

Pastor Steve

Tue Dec 8 07:22:26 2015

I know I have written about this before, but I want to address a common issue I continue to observe - the issue of "Thinking about me." On the way to a doctor's appointment early one morning, I found myself traveling through dense fog. The doctor I was visiting was not far from my home, yet in the short distance I traveled I passed three oncoming cars with the headlights off. I couldn't believe this - you could hardly see to the end of the hood of your car, but here were three folks traveling with no headlights through fog as thick as pea soup. I wondered if you were to ask them why the lights were off if their response would be, "I could see just fine." Well, that's marvelous, but the point is others have trouble seeing you!

To me, one of the most important attitudes we should display is that of thinking of others before yourself. We need a good deal more of this in general, and this is certainly a characteristic that needs to be evident in the life of the follower of Christ.

In our small groups this past Sunday, we explored the "others first" mentality of Christ. If we are true disciples, this is something that needs to be front and center in our lives. Christ spoke about this attitude, "But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave," (Matthew 20:27) He also displayed this attitude, "Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus." (Philippians 2:3 - 5) When you travel through fog - think of others and turn your lights on!

Pastor Steve

Mon Dec 7 07:33:10 2015

"DECEMBER 7, 1941- a date which will live in infamy- the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan." These were the words of President Franklin Roosevelt to a stunned nation after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor by 350 Japanese Imperial aircraft. Many alive still remember that incident. I don't, nor was I even alive at the time. However, my life was affected by these events as it changed the lives of the man and the woman who would become my parents.

Events have consequences, and events of this magnitude have consequences that are far-reaching. This is the 74th anniversary of the attack, and we still experience the consequences because of what this action caused.

One of the first things we need to learn in life is that actions do have consequences. Developing an understanding of cause and effect is important. Now, not every action will be a world changer in the way that Pearl Harbor was, but our activity does change things. This is why taking time to think about our actions and about possible consequences is always a good thing.

God advised those who were going to serve as judges in the land of Israel: "He told them, 'Consider carefully what you do, because you are not judging for mere mortals but for the LORD, who is with you whenever you give a verdict.'" (II Chronicles 19:6) God wanted them to use discernment because their decisions would affect lives. Regardless of the reality that we are not a judge, we still make decisions that affect others. Consider carefully your decisions knowing that your actions are a cause that will have an effect.

Pastor Steve

Sun Dec 6 07:35:36 2015

St. Nicholas died on this day (December 6) in 343 A.D. During his life, Nicholas had started the practice of being generous to the poor. He even threw some money through the window of the house of a man who was on the verge of losing his daughters into slavery because of debts. Nicholas became bishop of Myra, was imprisoned by Diocletian, freed by Constantine, was part of the Council of Nicea that formulated the Nicene Creed, and preached against the fertility goddess Diana in Ephesus.

In 1087, because of the fear of invading Muslims desecrating his grave, his bones were taken to Italy. As a result, the traditions that had come to be associated with Nicholas were spread to Europe. In the seventeenth century, the Dutch brought the stories of Saint Nicholas to New Amsterdam, which became New York. The Dutch called him "Sinter Klaas" - Santa Claus. The rest, as they say, is history.

When you think of the stories and traditions associated with Santa Claus, remember their origin. Remember the real Santa Claus was a man of faith who put ideals into action. He lived out the principle of James 2:18: "But someone will say, 'You have faith; I have deeds.' Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds." Let's make sure we make this a part of our celebration of Christmas.

Pastor Steve

Sat Dec 5 08:04:59 2015

Dr. Mark Bailey writes: "There is a cemetery in London called Bunhill Fields. A number of famous people are buried there--John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim's Progress; Isaac Watts, the great hymnwriter; and Daniel Defoe, the author of Robinson Crusoe. Opposite the graveyard is the chapel of John Wesley and a monument erected to him. On the same property is John Wesley's house, where on March 2, 1791, Wesley, lifting a feeble arm in as show of triumph, opened his eyes and exclaimed for the very last time, upon his deathbed, these words: 'The best of all is this: God is with us.' God has promised to be with us in life, death, and for all eternity."

This is a point of emphasis at this time of year. We are celebrating the fact that God came to be with us. This is even reflected in one of his names. Matthew writes, "The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means 'God with us')." (Matthew 1:23) This statement of God's promise found in the opening chapter of Matthew is echoed in the declaration of Jesus in the closing words of the book, "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (28:20) When Christ came into the world, he came for us. Let's make sure we live for him.

Pastor Steve

Fri Dec 4 07:48:21 2015

Most of you know the story behind the beautiful Christmas carol, Silent Night. Because of a broken church organ, Franz Gruber needed to compose some music for guitar to accompany a poem that had been written by Josef Mohr. A traveling band of musicians were in need of some music for their show. After reading the poem, Gruber came up with the music, and a wonderful Christmas song was born.

Something I've never really thought about with regard to this story is the pursuit of an alternative when the original plan was not going to work. Silent Night is a melodic presentation of the coming of the Son of God into the world. When we hear and sing this song, we can be reminded not only of this, but we can also be reminded of what we can do when circumstances arise that cause us to change our original plans. Basically, we have Silent Night because of a broken organ. What is your response when your "organ breaks?"

God is good at helping us when we need an alternative. He is the master of turning bad circumstances into good things. Think about what Joseph said to his brothers in Genesis 50:20, "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives." He said this in response to their fears about their treatment of him, and what happened in his life. Joseph faced his "broken organ" with faith, courage, and creativity. As a result, good things happened. As you sing Silent Night this year, remember this lesson.

Pastor Steve

Thu Dec 3 08:07:47 2015

Recently I was driving along a secondary road at an unusual hour. I was returning from the hospital where I had been with a family. I know this begs a question or two, so I will say all was well in this instance. But that is besides the point of this article. As I was driving along the road, I was mildly surprised by the number of other vehicles I saw. One would think the road would be more isolated at that time. In a position where I thought I would be isolated and alone, there were actually a number of folks around.

Are you struggling with some issues that make you feel as if you are isolated and alone in your problems? Remember this is not the case. You are not alone as there are many around you who would be willing to do what they can to help, or at least be there for you as you go along the road. There are even those who have faced, or are facing, similar conflicts. More importantly, as followers of Christ, we are never alone. God promised, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." (Hebrews 13:5)

Even at times when you think you are alone, you are not. There are people there, and do NOT take for granted the presence of Christ. I remember a scene from Mr. Magoo's Christmas Special, an animated feature I watched every year when I was a kid, where a young Ebenezer Scrooge sings, "I'm all alone in the world." Nothing could be further from the truth.

Pastor Steve

Wed Dec 2 05:43:57 2015

I wrote yesterday that we decorated our church for Christmas this past Sunday. We had a few more people than usual, which was good, but I noticed it was taking a bit longer for some reason. I wasn't sure why this was the case until I found out that a decision had been made to strip the garland that hangs in the front of the church of all of its lights. Several of the lights were not working. Now, this was quite a task as the garland is probably about 50 feet long. In addition, it took some time to take off all the old lights because over the years when some of the lights failed, a new strand would be added without taking off the old ones. One of the folks who had worked on this task told me, "You would not believe how much lighter the garland was after we finished." I would imagine it was.

This can happen in our lives. When we fail to remove what is not working right or when we fail to deal with issues of sin, we can become rather burdened. If we fail to deal with the sinfulness of our lives on a regular basis, problems accumulate and weigh us down.

The writer to the Hebrews gave this advice, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles." (Hebrews 12:1) Dealing with all those old lights that had accumulated made the garland appear more vibrant, and made it much easier to work with. When we take care of sin, our lives are more vibrant and we are more useful to God. Throw off what is weighing you down!

Pastor Steve

Tue Dec 1 07:43:25 2015

This past Sunday night we decorated our church. The abundance of decorations and lights really make the church take on a different appearance for the holiday season. We have lights on our houses, there are ornaments on our lamp poles, and there are decorations all over the place.

The abundance of decorations remind me of the abundance of God. God loves us so much he lavishes his abundance on us in so many ways. He makes our cup overflow (Psalm 23:5). Ephesians 3:20 tells us, "Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us." Because of his graciousness and his abundance, a psalmist declared, "How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Your wings. They are abundantly satisfied with the fullness of Your house."(Psalm 36:7-8)

Do you see all the lights and the abundant decorations? Let them be reminders of God's abundance in your life.

Pastor Steve

My Favorite Bible Verse
Sam & Karen White
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.
Psalm 19:14
Dr. Steve Willis
For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
Jeremiah 29:11