Welcome to the internet home of the First Baptist Church, located at 400 W. Washington Street in Newton IL. This church was established in January of 1886 as the Newton Baptist Church. The first pastor was J.W Reed who served until 1891 and again from 1896 to 1898. The first meetings were held at the Presbyterian Church until 1892 when it was decided to build a new church. The actual construction was started in 1893 and completed in 1895. The first services in the new building were on April 27th. In 1957 a new educational wing and fellowship hall were added.

The name of the church was changed from "Newton Baptist Church" to "First Baptist Church" on July 25th, 1926. The church has had 31 pastors since its inception including our current pastor, Dr. Steve Willis who has served since 1983.

Our mission 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.

Services at First Baptist start at 9:00 am every Sunday morning followed by Sunday school at 10:30. Our Sunday evening service starts at 6:00 and CrossTraining Bible study is held each Wednesday at 6:30. From September to May, we have CrossTraining classes on Wednesdays for ages 3 through the 8th grade. Our High School group is entitled CIA (Christians in Action) and meets on the first and third Sundays at 6 p.m.

We would like to invite you to join us next Sunday. You will find us to be a very friendly family of believers that loves our Lord and truly enjoys our Sunday morning fellowship.

Our Staff

Dr. Steve Willis


John Dryden
John Dryden Jr.
Rein Schmidt
Eric Schmidt
Brad Tarr

My Favorite Bible Verse

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

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


Don't be afraid, for I am with you. Don't be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.
Isaiah 41:10
Friday April 20, 2018

Over the years, I have had about a gazillion different types of exploratory medical tests. I have had x-rays, CT scans, MRI's, nuclear scans, heart monitor tests, biopsies, and many others. All were designed to allow medical professionals to see things they would not be able to see through simple observations.

I had a laryngoscopy one time. The doctor numbed my throat with a spray and then snaked down an instrument that had a tiny camera. He wanted to see if there were any problems with my vocal cords and also see if there was any scarring in my throat. Most of these tests are not painful, but they can be uncomfortable. However uncomfortable they may be, they are necessary in order to find problems that may exist.

There are times when we need to have some incisive examination of our spiritual lives. The Scripture is the means to expose any troubled areas. Hebrews 4:12-13 says, "For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 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."

This process can be uncomfortable at times as weaknesses and problems are exposed, but we should be grateful for this reality. God's Word exposes our areas of need and offers awareness so that we can take steps to make corrections. We should be thankful for the diagnostic ability of the Word of God.

Pastor Steve Willis
Thursday April 19, 2018

Many years ago the Hayden Planetarium made a mock offer for moon trips. Over 18,000 people responded to the fake advertisement for the 240,000-mile trip. One lady wrote, "It would be heaven to get away from this busy earth . . . and just go somewhere that s nice and peaceful, good, safe, and secure." A psychologist who studied many of the letters said they were from people who were looking for an escape from the struggles of the life they were now living. Many critics of Christianity have contended that Christians are emotionally weak people seeking escape from the struggles of their current existence. Karl Marx infamously wrote, "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of the soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people."

When you study the lives of many of the followers of Christ who have endured great persecution on account of their beliefs and their convictions, you find that Marx's quote is brainless. Far from being an "opium," Christianity is the essence of their existence because they knew the reality that life here and now is not a final destination. Christians know we are "strangers in a strange land" and our allegiance is elsewhere.

You can read about many of the struggles of saints in Hebrews 11. Chet Bitterman, Jim Elliot, and John Knox are all men who died because of their Christian testimony. If you were to ask them if they were looking for an escape when they embraced the message of Christ, I am sure you would get a resounding, "No!"

The Christian view that our current existence in only temporary and that we are moving towards a new life is firmly rooted in reality, not escapism. We are following the lead of Abraham as he "made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God." (Hebrews 11:9-10) Frank Sinatra may have been dreaming when he sang, "Fly me to the moon," but we certainly aren't when we say "This world is not our home."

Pastor Steve Willis
Wednesday April 18, 2018

Ah, the good old days of seminary. I remember the start of each semester looking at the syllabi, wondering how in the world I would ever be able to cover all the assignments. Learning Greek, memorizing Hebrew vocabulary, writing papers, reading hundreds of pages, all while working forty to fifty hours a week was daunting and at times overwhelming. I learned early on in my seminary experience that what helps to make the impossible possible is to break down big tasks into small tasks. Someone once said, "It doesn't matter how big the rock is, just keep pounding. Sooner or later it's gonna bust."

How big is the task you have in front of you? Are you overwhelmed by some big problem? Do you feel yourself "under the gun" because of some daunting circumstance? Break it down! The same advice can help us in our spiritual lives as well. We can sometimes feel overwhelmed when we are faced with discouraging troubles, a nagging temptation, or a worrisome burden. What helps is to break things down. Keep pounding and you will see those imposing obstacles become manageable bumps.

Psalm 121:1 says, "I will lift up my eyes unto the hills. Where does my help come from?" The hills were a problem for the traveler to Jerusalem - how could one get over them safely? God can help the traveler break down big mountains into little molehills. This allows for safe passage and helps us break down a big problem into a little inconvenience.

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday April 17, 2018

As Moses was finishing up his "training period" in the desert, he witnessed an incredible sight: a bush that was on fire but was not being consumed by the fire. As he approached, God spoke to him, "'Do not come any closer, 'God said. 'Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground (Exodus 3:5).'" We read of a similar experience in Joshua when God tells Joshua, "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy." And Joshua did so (Joshua 5:15). As they drew near to God, they were to show respect.

As you draw near to God, do you show respect? We do have free access to God as the veil has been torn in two (Matthew 27:51). We can approach the throne of grace with confidence because of the work of Christ (Hebrews 4:6), but we also need to remember that God demands and deserves respect.

Proverbs 9:10 states, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." We who have experienced God's grace should never lose our awe of God. He is worthy of our praise. Don't ever lose your wonder of God.

Pastor Steve Willis
Monday April 16, 2018

During our celebration of the Resurrection and all throughout the year, we gratefully acknowledge Christ's finished work for us. His death, burial, and resurrection were essential for us that we may have the hope of living with him throughout eternity. However, we should not forget his ongoing work for us that continues and is being accomplished even as I am writing this article and as you are reading this article.

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." Even as he prayed for us the night before his crucifixion (read John 17), Christ continues to intercede for us. The vital work of Christ continues as long as we need his help, comfort, and blessing. The Scottish theologian Robert Murray McCheyne wrote, " If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies. Yet the distance makes no difference. He is praying for me!"

As you face difficulties, struggles, and problems, remember that Christ is praying for you. He always lives to intercede for you. As you struggle to live the way he wants you to, and even when you fail and fall into sin, remember he praying for you and interceding for you in your struggle. Through his intercessory work, you can experience the hope that only Christ can give!

Pastor Steve Willis
Sunday April 15, 2018

Spring is getting here in fits and starts this year. Well, at least I think it is. We had a taste of some spring-like weather this past week, but that seems to be changing. Something that has not happened to any great extent is gardening. At some point, this will be possible it really will be.

So, what is on the menu for your garden this year? No doubt a variety of things. That is the nature of most gardens. There are a variety of plants because we want a variety of vegetables and fruits to enjoy later on. The overall purpose of the garden is to provide items of food, but there are different plants that fit this bill.

So it is with the church. The overall purpose of the church is an organism to bring about God's will on earth. However, there is a variety of people who work in different ways at different times to accomplish this. God does different things with different people within the church to accomplish his purpose.

This is why we need to be careful about comparing ourselves to others and comparing our roles and our ministry to others within the church. It is easy to get caught up in comparing ourselves with others and feeling threatened if we see God moving someone else differently that what we are experiencing.

Be careful about comparing your experience with others. God uses different people in different ways to bring about his will. He knows what he is doing and we need to trust him. Isaiah 55:11 tells us, "So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it." This is true for each of us in our lives. Our role is to obey God and let him do with us what he wants; remembering all the time that he knows what he is doing.

Pastor Steve Willis
Saturday April 14, 2018

An elderly nearsighted man was with a group that decided to visit an art museum. He fancied himself to be somewhat of an "expert" in art, and the fact that he had forgotten his glasses didn't deter him from commenting upon the paintings that were being viewed. He made statements about each work and he made sure he spoke loudly enough for each person in the group to hear.

He stopped in front of one particularly large piece and said, "The frame is altogether out of keeping with the picture. The man is too homely and shabbily dressed. In fact, it was a great mistake for the artist to select such a shoddy subject for his portrait." His wife finally shushed him and said, "Dear, you are standing in front of a mirror."

Character faults seem to pop out at us when we observe them in others, but usually we are slow to see our own. We need to be careful about our short-sightedness when it comes to our flaws. We should allow the mirror of God's Word to reflect that which we need to see and to change.

It is much too easy to fall into the trap of criticizing others. Don't do that! Pray for insight and let God smooth out the wrinkles of your life. Proverbs 16:10 says, "How much better to get wisdom than gold, to get insight rather than silver!" Pray for valuable insight!

Pastor Steve Willis
Friday April 13, 2018

Rembrandt painted many memorable pictures of the crucifixion. In one, he can be seen plainly at the foot of the cross looking on. It is really hard to miss him as he is dressed in clothes that would be contemporary for the time in which he lived, even wearing a beret.

I have read a number of theories about why he put himself in this painting. One article stated that he is there because "The scene is a visual metaphor for the struggle in his own mind to create his painting as the artist's archetypal subject is not The Raising of the Cross but The Crucifixion." Now, this sounds interesting, but I wonder if he is there because he wants to point out that he is just as responsible for the Crucifixion as any of the Romans who actually accomplished the deed.

This is something we should always keep in mind: Christ died for our sins which makes each of us equally responsible for his death. It is truly marvelous to think that Christ died for you, but it is also a sobering thought as you realize what this actually means. Keeping this in mind will help us not to take lightly his great sacrifice on our behalf.

Our attitude towards the cross should be that of Paul's, "May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." (Galatians 6:14) We need to put ourselves in the portrait of the Cross.

Pastor Steve Willis
Thursday April 12, 2018

Jesus was at Caesarea Philippi with his disciples. This location was a little out of their territory and was a place of spiritual oppression. It is located in the midst of the Golan Heights in the northern part of Israel. A temple to the Greek god Pan had been built there and it was also a location of one of the "Gates of Hades". Even today, when you visit the ruins you sense desolation, which is appropriate as Pan was the god of desolate places.

It was here that Jesus asked his disciples two incisive questions. First, he asked, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" (Matthew 16:13) Read the passage and you will learn their responses to this. Then he asked a more penetrating question, "But what about you? Who do you say I am?" (16:15)

When it comes to our relationship with Christ, this last question is the most important. We live in the midst of a spiritually oppressive and desolate world. The territory around us is full of opinions and non-opinions regarding Christ. What others say is irrelevant. We need to know his identity and then boldly uphold his identity to others. Along with Peter we should declare, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God." (vs. 16)

Pastor Steve Willis
Wednesday April 11, 2018

It is not what you have been given that is important; it is what you do with what you have been given. A person who demonstrated this principle well was Sir Edmund Hillary. After conquering Mt. Everest with his Sherpa guide Tenzing Norgay in 1953, Hilary refused to "rest on his laurels." The rest of his life was devoted to building schools, hospitals, and bridges for the Sherpa community. For almost 5 decades he labored to help the people of the person who was his friend and guide on one of the most significant endeavors of any person up to that time. A TV newsman once said of Hillary that his status as a hero was "not about what he did when he stood on top of the world, but what he did when he came back down."

Jesus took Peter, James, and John to the top of a mountain in Israel. There, he was "transfigured," and the disciples witnessed him in a state of brilliance and glory. Moses and Elijah appeared, and the three men talked. As they were leaving, Peter said, "Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah." (Luke 9:33) The text then tells us that "he did not know what he was saying." (vs. 33)

I find it interesting that this event is recorded in Luke just after Christ has told them the cost of following him. Each person must "deny (himself) and take up (his) cross daily." (Luke 9:23) Through these events, Christ's followers are reminded of what they have through him, but more importantly are reminded of what they should be doing with what they have. They cannot stay on the mountain. They need to come down to the work.

So it is with us. We cannot stay on the mountain and admire what we have or what we have done. There is work to do, and we need to get to it.

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday April 10, 2018

There were seven men chosen to be part of the fledgling United States space program. Originally, they were involved as pilots in high-speed aeronautical testing. This evolved into journeys into space that culminated with the lunar landing in 1969. The men's experiences were recorded in a 1979 book entitled "The Right Stuff" written by Tom Wolfe. A movie was made from the book in 1983.

John Glenn, Wally Schirra, Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, Gus Grissom, Alan Shepherd, and Deke Slayton were the men who were the original astronauts. Each of them realized that along with the thrill of being chosen was the unknown and what it might bring. Yet, they were willing to totally commit themselves to this effort for the good of the program and for those who would come after them.

Christ chose 12 men who would form the original church and become the ones who would pioneer the spread of the Gospel message so that those who came after would know the good news of Christ. They (minus one, of course) came to realize the total commitment that was needed in spite of not knowing what that might mean for them.

Hebrews 11:8 says, "By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going." We are called upon today to exhibit "The Right Stuff" as we follow the Savior. We do not know what following him might bring, but a true follower exhibits commitment in spite of the unknown. We need to follow Christ faithfully and trust him completely with our future.

Pastor Steve Willis
Monday April 09, 2018

Recently I read a story about security guards at JFK Airport in New York that have been caught sleeping on the job. So, how safe are you at the airport if the guards aren't paying attention? Stephen Jackson, a former manager for FJC Security, which employs about 300 security guards at JFK Airport, said it was actually surprisingly common to see JFK guards dozing.

One incident was particularly embarrassing. Jackson said Suhas Harite fell asleep twice while assigned to a remote post near Jamaica Bay. A jet skier who became stranded breached a 6-foot-tall fence built as part of the New York Port Authority s $100 million Perimeter Intrusion Detection System. The jet skier managed to walk across two runways undetected. Yeesh!

According to Psalm 121:3 & 6, we never have to worry about God falling asleep on the job: "He will not let your foot slip - he who watches over you will not slumber; he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night." No one will cross any runways while God is around! He offers continued protection, so we know our lives are secure! I'm glad God is watching me, not JFK Security!

Pastor Steve Willis
Sunday April 08, 2018

"Praying Hyde" of India, whose real name John Nelson Hyde, was a missionary who worked in the state of Punjab in India in the early years of the 20th century. He formed the Punjab Prayer Union and encouraged the members to pray at least one-half hour a day for the needs of the people there. He asked them to pray for one convert a day. A year later, there were more than 400 people who had converted to Christianity.

We often discuss and talk about prayer, trying to find out what we should be doing in our prayer lives and how we should be praying. In actuality the best thing to do is simply pray. James 5:16 tells us "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." Spending time in prayer helps us to develop the mindset of God and gives him the opportunity to work in our lives.

We don't know what God will do, but we do know what we should do. When we pray, we know he will not remain silent. For what should we pray? Hyde prayed, "I must not lose this vision." That sounds like a good place to start.

Pastor Steve Willis
Saturday April 07, 2018

What kind of effort do you put in when you think that no one is watching or that no one will ever see what you have done? A group of people on a mission trip painted a building that was part of a school. They came to a part of the building that no one would ever see except the person who mowed the grass. The temptation was to not do anything to the wall. One painter spoke up and said, "Well, God will see it, so we should do our best."

For those who follow the Savior, this is always a consideration. We need to remember that God sees all we do, and when we are tempted to "slough off" or not do our best, we are being watched.

Maybe we don't feel appreciated because no one seems to notice what we are doing, or we consider what we do not to be all that important or significant. Remember that God does notice what we do and he is a significant witness.

When this is the situation, remember the words of Paul, "whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." (I Corinthians 10:31) No matter who else is watching, or who else notices our work, our desire should be to glorify God in all we do.

Pastor Steve Willis
Friday April 06, 2018

A first-time visitor to Alaska was staying at Denali Lodge and was anxious to see the tallest mountain in North America for the first time. As she sat on the back deck of the lodge she stared at the mass of rock and murmured "Wow!" A man sitting nearby heard her and said, "That ain't it." She learned, as many others had, that even though "The Great One" stood at over 20,000 feet, it was easy to miss the entire view because the mountain is often enshrouded in fog.

With our limited view of life, we often are not able to see the big picture. Often we think we are seeing all we need to see, but we have to be constantly mindful of our limitations. We really need to acknowledge our dependence on God's greater vision. He is not limited in his sight, and we need to rely upon his wisdom and guidance. He knows more than we do what needs to be done to develop our character and produce spiritual growth.

Our view of life is restricted by our humanness, but God is omniscient, he sees everything. Remember what Solomon wrote, "A person's heart plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps." (Proverbs 16:9) Open your eyes to see this wisdom.

Pastor Steve Willis
Thursday April 05, 2018

In 1911, Bobby Leach was the second person to survive a trip over Niagara Falls. He did so in a specially designed steel barrel. He had a few scrapes and bruises, but no broken bones or serious injuries. He was able to accomplish this because he knew of the dangers ahead of time and was able to prepare to face the dangers and survive.

In 1926, while on a publicity tour in New Zealand, Leach slipped on an orange peel and broke his leg. Infection set in the leg, leading to gangrene, and the leg had to be amputated. Two months later, Leach died from further complications involving the leg. He was unable to see the dangers that were ahead when he slipped on the orange peel. As a result, he lost his life in a trip on a slick sidewalk while surviving a fall over raging falls.

We must remember to look ahead in our lives to avoid situations where we might face temptation to do things we shouldn't. We need to do all we can to prepare for situations that can cause us trouble. Some will be more obvious than others, so diligence is required. We need to avoid being careless and letting our guard down. This is good advice in a literal way, and it is good advice in our spiritual lives. Paul writes in I Corinthians 10:12, "So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don t fall!" It is a shame Leach didn't heed this advice. Make sure you do.

Pastor Steve Willis
Wednesday April 04, 2018

A little third grade girl kept coming home without her winter gloves. This posed a bit of a problem as her mother would have to buy new ones and this was put a little strain on the family's tight budget. After coming home once again gloveless, the exasperated mother said to her daughter, "Holly, you cannot keep losing your gloves! You need to be more responsible!" Holly replied, "Mommy, I thought that as long as you kept buying me gloves, I could give them away to kids who don't have any." Oh, my - what does Mom say now?

As followers of Christ, we need to have a heart of giving. Our actions need to reflect the heart of Christ, not because we want to get credit for doing something, but simply because we want to do something.

James talks about putting our faith into action and doing what the Word of God says. He gets very specific with statements like, "Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, 'Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?" (2:15-16)

We need to develop a heart of charity and have the right attitude towards those who struggle. Having a giving heart is one way that we can display the character of Christ in our lives. We need to put actions to our words and do what God's Word tells us!

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday April 03, 2018

Scherry and I went to a Casting Crowns concert in Effingham a couple of weeks ago. I have always enjoyed the ministry of Casting Crowns, and appreciated their music and ministry that evening. They played a good deal of their older songs that night, including "Thrive" from their 2014 album of the same name. If you are familiar with the album, you know it has a picture of a tree that shows the root system of the tree as well as the above-ground portion that we normally see. I don't mean to overstate the obvious here, but their intention was to say that in order to thrive, you need good roots. And indeed you do.

When you view a magnificent tree, you need to remember that what you don't see is just as important as what you do see. The root system of a tree performs many vital functions. In winter, it is a store-house for essential food reserves needed by the tree to produce spring foliage. Roots absorb and transport water and minerals from the soil to the rest of the tree. Roots also anchor the portion of the tree that is above ground. It is important to keep the portion above ground healthy to ensure an adequate food supply for the roots to continue their important functions. There is an interdependency of form, function, and appearance. The above-ground portion of the tree can only be as strong, resilient, and beautiful as the underground portion.

Too often, we forget about this interdependency in our lives. We forget that our outward appearance can only be as significant and beautiful as what we are on the inside. Psalm 1 points this out, "Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither--whatever they do prospers." (1-3) Make sure to develop your roots. If you don't, the rest of you will suffer.

Pastor Steve Willis
Monday April 02, 2018

Theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg is quoted as saying: The evidence for Jesus resurrection is so strong that nobody would question it except for two things: It is a very unusual event, and second, if you believe it happened, you have to change the way you live. If you truly believe in the resurrection of Jesus, you will live differently. A case in point is a transformation that occurred just after the resurrection of Christ.

Peter refused to acknowledge his relationship with Christ just after Christ was arrested. When questioned about his identity, Peter replied, "I don't know the man!" (Matthew 26:72) When we read about this incident, we wonder how it could happen. Regardless of the how, the fact is that it did occur. Peter denied Christ. However, a little over a month later, we see this same man who vehemently denied even knowing Christ stand up before a group of hostile people, perhaps even some of those who heard his denial, and declare, "This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross." and "God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact." (Acts 2:23 & 32)

The reason for Peter's transformation is found in the last verse quoted above - the reality of the resurrection. The reality of the resurrection transformed his life.

The reality of the resurrection should make a change in your life. If that change is not there, you really don't believe in the resurrection. As Pannenberg said, you cannot truly believe in the resurrection and it not make a difference in how you live.

Have you allowed the power of the resurrection to make a change in your life? Does your life reflect your belief in the resurrection? As in the case of Peter, you are the one who has the say in this decision. God will have a say if you don't.

Pastor Steve Willis
Sunday April 01, 2018

The theme of my post for this past Tuesday was Hope. In a comment on the post, Sandra Nichols reminded me of the proverb "Hope springs eternal." This saying comes from a poem entitled "An Essay on Man" published by Alexander Pope in 1734. This phrase has come to be used quite commonly to provide optimism when circumstances bring about difficulty. The saying has been used in books, in book titles, and other literary forms.

According to an article in "Psychology Today, "'Hope springs eternal' encapsulates the idea that hope is a powerful force that can help us face and overcome challenges." The Cambridge English Dictionary tells us that the phrase "Hope springs eternal" is a saying that is "said when you continue to hope that something will happen, although it seems unlikely." Let me take this up a notch.

For the follower of Christ, the phrase "Hope springs eternal" means something more. For the follower of Christ, hope is not looking forward to something we want to happen but seems unlikely, hope is looking forward to something that is going to take place because of what has already happened. We look forward to resurrection and the experience of eternal life because of the Resurrection of Christ that guarantees eternal life.

Today we celebrate the event that gives us our Hope and provides our assurance. The resurrection of Christ DID take place. And since it did take place, we have Hope. I Corinthians 12:20 says, "But the truth is that Christ has been raised from death, as the guarantee that those who sleep in death will also be raised." Nowhere is the phrase "Hope spring eternal" truer than in the life of the follower of Christ. Have a blessed day as you celebrate the Resurrection of Christ!

Pastor Steve Willis
Saturday March 31, 2018

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 there 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 believe 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 30, 2018

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 that 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 29, 2018

I once watched a show where one of the plot lines involved trying to restore the memories of an adult woman who had experienced a traumatic incident at the age of four. She had repressed the recollection of this event and steps were being taken to allow her to recall what took place. This involved both the use of therapeutic techniques and drugs. The results were only mildly successful - it was better for the show if not everything was revealed all at one time.

As I saw this somewhat interesting fictional portrayal, I thought of something real - there is no amount of therapy or artificial means that will make God remember the sins for which we have been forgiven. I know comparing God's gracious forgetfulness to an unrealistic TV show is a bit unrealistic in and of itself, but it still amazes me when Scripture tells me that God really does put my sins in a place where they are not brought up again.

Isaiah 1:18 tells us, "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool." David writes in Psalm 103:12, "as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us." Micah 7:19 gives us the promise, "You will again. . .hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea."

God does hold us accountable for our lives and what we do, but when we come to him and seek forgiveness, God deals with us and does away with the sin. I John 1:9 says, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness." The sins are gone, and not to be brought back up through any means. This is a "voluntary repression" on God's part, and a reality for which we need to be thankful.

Pastor Steve Willis
Wednesday March 28, 2018

I used to play a relay game with kids where I had several things written on slips of paper that were to be accomplished by team members. One of the activities was to run up to any adult that was present and say, "You're no spring chicken." Years ago, I didn't think too much about this. If this would be said to me now, I would have to agree with the statement, whether it was part of a game or not. I may not be all that old, but I certainly am not all that young. I have some battle scars to prove it. And when I look in a mirror I am reminded that I am no longer the person I remember I was.

Being young has many advantages, but with age comes the joy of reflecting on God's faithfulness. David wrote, "I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken." (Psalm 37:25) I remember my mother saying so many times, "I am so blessed." This almost became her mantra. Even when she was pretty much confined to her chair and struggled to breathe because of COPD, often she would make this proclamation.

I have to agree with her - not only was she blessed, but I am as well. Rehearsing all the ways I have seen God bless me in my lifetime is a glorious exercise. We are growing older all the time, but we can also grow more thankful for God's many mercies. I may not be a spring chicken, but that only means I am a person who is well-experienced in the goodness of God.

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday March 27, 2018

The focus of our Lenten study at church this year has been Hope. This was the theme of the messages I delivered over the past weeks and was the subject of our study on Wednesday nights. Hope is so important in our lives and is something we have as followers of Christ.

On November 5, 1947, just two months after being named Senate Chaplain, Peter Marshall delivered a prayer that has been entitled "Bifocals of Faith." Before the statesmen of the day Marshall prayed, "God of our fathers and our God, give us the faith to believe in the ultimate triumph of righteousness, no matter how dark and uncertain are the skies of today. We pray for the bifocals of faith that see the despair and the need of the hour but also see, further on, the patience of our God working out his plan in the world he has made."

Hope springs from a heart that trusts in God. All around us we see so many dark clouds of despair and hopelessness. We are beset by economic, medical, and emotional battles aside from the political uncertainty of our day. But with hope, we know that there will be a day of triumph. We know that God is in control and will turn the dark and uncertain days into a time of peace and joy. This is what Marshall proclaimed in his prayer.

Psalm 42:5 proclaims, "Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God." We need to pray for "bifocals of faith" so that we can see God working out his plan in the midst of a troubled world.

Pastor Steve Willis
Monday March 26, 2018

The reduced load limit signs are coming out where I live. This is an annual thing - load limits are reduced because of the stress placed upon roads during the "freeze-thaw" cycle of winter. Load limits are necessary on roads and bridges to prevent too much damage to the road or bridge. This isn't just an economic or maintenance issue - it is a safety issue. Load limits are necessary for the good of everyone.

We have our load limits as well. Stress is part of our lives - but we need to know how to manage stress and do what we should to avoid undue stress. We each have our load limits that, if exceeded, can lead to harmful consequences. We need to know our load limit and to learn how to manage stress. Stress can be caused by a number of things - we need to be aware of this and apply some preventative measures as well as some healing measures.

We also need to remember that God is faithful and will walk right beside us during times of stress. He knows our load limits better than we do. Psalm 94:19 tells us, "When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy."

Remember you have load limits - do what you can to not get to these limits. When you are faced with circumstances that cause you to experience an increased load, take steps to manage what is taking place. Remember God's faithfulness and allow him to be a part of the process to keep you from exceeding your load limit. When you feel your strength failing, draw on his!

Pastor Steve Willis
Sunday March 25, 2018

Peter's journey from fisherman to disciple was filled with fits and starts. His walk can be characterized by the saying, "Three steps forward, and two steps back." Of course, this describes most of our journeys along the pathway of faith. We make progress towards Christ-likeness through obedience, and then we mess up.

Something that was never in question about Peter, despite his missteps in following Christ, was his love for Christ. This may be the reason for Christ's questioning found in John 21 when he asks Peter three times, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me?" (vv. 15, 16 & 17) Some say that Christ s method of questioning was to remind him of his three denials, as Christ asks the question about love three times. This may be true, but another consideration regarding the questioning relates to something within Peter. Perhaps Christ asked the questions because he wanted to affirm Peter's love for him. Taking this line of thinking, Christ was saying: "Peter, you indeed goofed, but let me point out something about which there can be no doubt - your love for me."

It is our love for Christ that should be strong and above question regardless of our shortcomings in other areas. We are prone to mistakes and unfaithfulness, but let's not be wishy-washy when it comes to our love. Let our love for Christ be above question. It will be our love that will draw us to a place of obedience when we step outside the lines in our behavior. Love is the primary qualification for servant leaders. What are you doing to show your love for Christ?

In addition to this idea, isn't it marvelous to think of Christ's approach to Peter in this way? It shows Christ's heart for his followers - even when we make mistakes, he wants to do what is necessary to bring us back in line. As we celebrate Palm Sunday today and remember that Christ's road to the Cross began on this day, we are reminded of Christ's love for us. His love for us is beyond question. Our love for him should be beyond question.

Pastor Steve Willis
Saturday March 24, 2018

I have always enjoyed mysteries. When I was young I enjoyed reading "The Three Investigators" and "The Hardy Boys". These mystery series enthralled me with the "whodunnit" or the "what happens next" genre.

Following God can sometimes seem like a mystery as we do not know what is coming next. This can be frightening at times as we struggle through some of the events we encounter and some of the circumstances we face. We can't see the whole picture from our current perspective.

This means we need to make a choice - continue to live in fear or live confidently as we trust God for the outcome. As I would read the mysteries, even though I did not know all the particulars along the way, I always knew the outcome would be positive. That was just the nature of the mysteries I read. We can have the same confidence with the "mystery" of our life with God. Even though we don't know all the particulars, we know what the outcome will be.

Paul writes, "Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed." (I Corinthians 15:51) We know that whatever we face, whatever the struggle, following God means that our mysteries will have a good outcome. The ending of our mystery is a life with God and a resolution of the struggles we face. The last page of the great mystery we face is a glorious ending.

Pastor Steve Willis
Friday March 23, 2018

Have you ever said, "I am going to bake a cake?" Well, if you have, I beg to differ with you. You have never baked a cake in your life. "Wait a minute!" you might say, "I have baked dozens of cakes!" Once again, I beg to differ. I have never baked a cake in my life and neither have you. THE OVEN bakes the cake, you simply mix the ingredients and put them in a proper pan and place them in the oven.

As I reflect on this reality, it brings to mind the division of responsibilities that exists in the church. We each have our different gifts and roles, and as we perform them together, we see the desired results. You can put together the most delicious cake ever made, but unless you put that cake in an oven, no one will ever be able to truly enjoy the tasty outcome. So it is with the church. Unless we work together, each person doing what they do best, we will not experience all that God intends for us to experience.

I think of two passages that reflect this thought. I Corinthians 3:16 tells us, "I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow." I also recall the analogy of the body that Paul uses in I Corinthians 12 to describe how the church should function. He makes this conclusion, "Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it." (12:27)

Each of you who are part of a local church have a part to play, a role to exercise, and work to do in the ministry of the church. We need to do what we should, work with others in the ministry, get out of the way of the work of God, and then we can bake cakes.

Pastor Steve Willis
Thursday March 22, 2018

Peter, Paul, and Mary released a song in 1962 called "Lemon Tree." Folks my age and older remember this song. The words to the chorus are, "Lemon tree, very pretty, and the lemon flower is sweet. But the fruit of the poor lemon is impossible to eat." When she was a little girl, my daughter Megan loved to eat lemons. We did not let her eat a lot, but she would stick the lemon in her mouth and bite down then make the most awful face. You really couldn t tell from her face whether she was enjoying the lemon or not.

Revelation 3:15-16 talks of a time when God "made a face" because he tasted something rather unpleasant. We read there, "I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm neither hot nor cold I am about to spit you out of my mouth."

To whom is God speaking? A church! The church at Laodicea had followed a path of mediocrity and failed to follow God's leadership. As a result, they were doing a great injustice to the cause of God. God referred to their aberrations as an emetic. As he looked at what the church was doing, and also not doing, he "made a face."

Let s not cause God to made a face when he views our lives. Don t let our actions, or our lack of action, cause God to pucker up, or even do something worse. Let s live in a way to bring him pleasure, not pain!

Pastor Steve Willis
Wednesday March 21, 2018

I know exactly where I was a year ago today. I was lying flat on my back in a hospital bed awaiting surgery to repair the shattered femur in my right thigh. As most of you know, the surgery went well, the bone healed, and I am able to walk, albeit with the assistance of a cane.

After my fall, I remember saying to the doctor as we were looking at the x-ray, "I've really done a number on myself, haven't I?" His reply was, "Yes, Mr. Willis, you have." I thank God daily for his enablement, for the skill of the doctor and other medical staff, and for the work of the physical therapists. I also thank my dear wife, my family, and my wonderful church for all the support during that time.

When I was going through PT, my therapist would say, "OK, Steve, it's time for a progress report." Progress reports were necessary to evaluate how I was doing in therapy, and also to satisfy the insurance company. The evaluation showed whether I was improving or not. Usually I thought I was improving, but I must confess hearing my therapist corroborate my thinking was good.

During a session on the MTS4000 Recumbent Trainer, a piece of equipment with which I became quite familiar, the idea came to me that periodic evaluations are helpful in a number of circumstances. One thought I had was, "What if God gave us periodic progress evaluations?" In one sense he does, and he also encourages us to take a look at ourselves to evaluate our progress in our spiritual growth.

Lamentations 3:40 says, "Let us test and examine our ways." II Corinthians 13:5 tells us "Examine yourselves. . .Test yourselves." Doing this helps us determine how we are doing in our spiritual growth, whether changes need to be made, and what we might need to do to keep moving forward. All of us need to do this - and I hope you don't need to break your leg to come to this realization. Trust me, you do not want to do that.

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday March 20, 2018

In the movie "Karate Kid", there is an implied analogy when Mr. Miyagi is seen tending to his bonsai tree as he is conversing with his protégé, Danny Larusso. What is taking place with the tree is that which is going to take place with Danny - shaping and molding his character and his skill.

Bonsai is the ancient Japanese art of "tree sculpting." This dates back over 1,000 years. A small tree, usually an evergreen, is placed in a pot and then shaped and molded over time through careful pruning and other manipulations. This can extend over several years. Care is taken with the plant as too much force can break the tree and therefore ruin the effort. Too little involvement and neglect can return the plant to the wild. Training takes time, patience, and focused effort.

This is a good analogy of how God deals with us. He knows what is needed to mold and shape our character to help us become what we should be in him. Sometimes we can feel the pressure, and sometimes it is uncomfortable, but we should remember that God knows exactly what he is doing. He knows to not "over-prune" to cause breakage, and he also knows what is necessary to keep us from going the wrong way. His discipline and training are always perfect. Hebrews 12:5-6 & 10 tells us, "My child, don't make light of the Lord's discipline, and don't give up when he corrects you. For the Lord disciplines those he loves. . .But God's discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness." Under God's watchful eye, we may never learn to do the "crane kick," but we will develop godly character!

Pastor Steve Willis
Monday March 19, 2018

A man decided it was time to get in shape. So, he started working out. Day one went well with some weight-lifting and a mile run. On day two, he ran a mile and a half. Day three included more weight-lifting and a run of two miles. When he woke up on day four, he had a sore throat and a headache. His conclusion? Exercise had caused his affliction and wasn't good for him, so he stopped working out.

Doesn't this sound a little goofy? Well, sometimes our thinking can be a little goofy, and not just when it comes to exercise. We read the Bible and spend more time in prayer, then decide to stop because our lives don't improve. We still face struggles and rough patches; so why try to get closer to God if we still have troubles?

We don't draw closer to God just to make our lives trouble-free. We draw closer to God because that is what we should be doing in our lives. Drawing closer to God does not prevent rough times in our lives. "In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." (II Timothy 3:12) We live for Christ for the purpose of living for Christ. "Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water." (Hebrews 10:22)

Live for Christ for the sake of living for Christ, not for the sake of a worry-free life!

Pastor Steve Willis
Sunday March 18, 2018

I have always found it difficult to describe my emotions when I visit holocaust museums. They were particularly strong when I visited Yad V'shem in Jerusalem. As you are walking towards the entrance of the museum, you pass through the Avenue of the Righteous Gentiles. This is a tree-lined walkway with each tree representing a Gentile who provided help for the Jews during the Nazi persecution in World War II. Names such as Oscar Schindler and Corrie ten Boom are to be found, along with many other lesser-known, but no less significant, people.

As we survey our lives, we can perhaps think of people who are important to us because of their contributions to us. Such people probably include parents and grandparents, along with others, who were particularly helpful and provided guidance for us. We should thank God for them

We should also thank God for so many others who have made sacrifices for friends, family members, or even complete strangers. Some have risked their lives, or even lost their lives, in their efforts to help others. Paul speaks of two who fit this description, "Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them." (Romans 16:3-4)

We may not be in a place of risking our lives to be of benefit to others in their struggles, but let's do what we can to help. Let's make sure we continue to reflect the same spirit of selflessness as did those who gave much to render aid.

Pastor Steve Willis
Saturday March 17, 2018

I always maintain that I am not much of a beach person; but whenever I travel to a beach I always have a good time. Of course, what makes it a good time is that I am with my family and any time spent with family is a good time.

Anyway, I remember that on one particular trip to Myrtle Beach I decided to get on a float and relax. Relax I did, losing track of time and my position. When I decided I had better check my location, I saw that I had floated about half a mile down the beach. The float trip was great, but I had to hoof it back to our condo. If only there had been some way to anchor my raft in one spot - that would have been great.

I am glad that my spiritual hope is not at the whim of unpredictable waves and untrustworthy winds. My spiritual hope is anchored in the promises of God. My spiritual hope is anchored in the person of Jesus Christ who died for me. This is true for all followers of Christ. Whatever forces there are that may try to cause us to drift away from our home base are countered by the power and strength of our marvelous Savior. Our hope is in the Rock, Christ Jesus, who is steadfast and unmovable. His limitless love holds us safely and securely.

Hebrews 6:17-20 tells us, "Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf."

An old hymn tells us, "We have an anchor that keeps the soul; Steadfast and sure though the billows roll; Fastened to the Rock which cannot move; Grounded firm and deep in the Savior's love." Indeed, the anchor holds.

Pastor Steve Willis
Friday March 16, 2018

Most of us would like to be content. How is it that we can be content? Job gives us the first hint when he says, "If they obey and serve him, they will spend the rest of their days in prosperity and their years in contentment." (Job 36:11) Now, think about who is saying this. This is coming from a man who has lost just about everything; yet he affirms that contentment comes not from life circumstances, but from being settled in God.

Solomon continues this line of thinking in Proverbs 19:23, "The fear of the LORD leads to life: Then one rests content, untouched by trouble." Paul reflects this same thinking when he writes, "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) Where was Paul when he wrote this? In jail! That is where he was when he encouraged Timothy, "But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that." (I Timothy 6:6-8).

With all of these people, contentment came not from what they had, where they were, or what they were experiencing. Contentment came through their relationship with the Lord and the settled-ness that comes from trusting in His way. When this is done, one will be content.

Pastor Steve Willis
Thursday March 15, 2018

"Beware the Ides of March" is a line found in "Julius Caesar," a play written by William Shakespeare. Shakespeare s play is based upon the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 B.C. The date of his murder corresponds to the 15th of March in our current calendar. In early Roman calendars, March was the first month of the year, and the Ides of March was an important religious holiday.

According to the historian Plutarch, Caesar had been warned by a seer to be careful of the Ides of March. As he was on his way to a meeting of the Senate on that date, he passed the seer and said, "The Ides of March have come." The seer replied, "Aye, but they have not gone." At the meeting, he was attacked and killed by more than 60 conspirators, including his friend Brutus.

During the course of our lives, we will receive advice from a number of sources. Some of this advice is solicited and some unsolicited. Obviously, it is impossible to listen to all the voices and apply all of the suggestions and guidance we receive. Therefore, it is important to listen with discernment. We do need advisors - people whom we can trust to give us advice that will be in our best interests. We need people who will not just tell us what we want to hear. This is important personally, it is important in our vocational lives, and it is important in our spiritual lives. In addition, we should remember good advice can come from sources that are unexpected. So, don't immediately dismiss insights given from sources that are other than usual. Take some time to investigate and use some common sense.

Proverbs 19:20 tells us, "Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise." Julius Caesar is a person who gives us a good example of what can happen when you don't listen to advice.

A biblical example of someone who failed to listen to advice is found in the life of Reheboam. Reheboam was the foolish son of King Solomon who caused a divided kingdom when he did not heed direction from sources not in his "circle." II Chronicles 10:8 tells us, "But he abandoned the counsel that the old men gave him, and took counsel with the young men who had grown up with him and stood before him." The results were disastrous. "Beware the Ides of March," may be good advice for us as well! Don't be afraid to listen to others!

Pastor Steve Willis
Wednesday March 14, 2018

When I was young, a Bookmobile would come to our neighborhood. Do you recall bookmobiles? I don't know if there are any places that still have them because of the electronic gadgets that we have today. The bookmobile was a way of transporting a library to areas that didn't have a library.

The bookmobile would always park directly across from our house because there was a parking lot there that could accommodate the large vehicle. This was near the school I attended, so if school was in session, students would go in their classes to pick out books. It was so exciting to pick out books that brought stories to my house of faraway lands, long ago happenings, exciting adventures, and enthralling mysteries.

Paul must have been an avid reader. He wrote Timothy, "When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments." (I Timothy 4:12) I have often wondered what these scrolls and parchments contained. Maybe there were copies of Old Testament scriptures. They may have been some of his writings. I do know that Paul had an insatiable desire to know more about God and God's plan for his life. He wrote to the people at Philippi, "I want to know Christ yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead." (Philippians 3:10-11)

Does knowing more about God excite you? Do you desire to see more on him in your life? God wants to bring you more knowledge about himself and about your relationship with him. Does this motivate you to want to give more of you to him that he may use you to win others? God's "bookmobile" is here - use it!

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday March 13, 2018

A grandmother asked about her 5-year-old grandson's first day at kindergarten. Her daughter, the boy's mother, replied, "Well it was eventful." "What happened?" asked the grandmother. "Well, Billy was in line for lunch and another little boy spat at him because he wanted Billy's place. But Billy took care of the situation. He looked at the other boy and said, 'If you do that again, you can't be my friend.' I was surprised when Billy told me all of this because when I picked him up from school, he was walking arm in arm with the other little boy out of the school. You would never know there had been a problem between those two."

How do you respond when someone else treats you harshly? We usually want to retaliate when someone has done something hurtful to us. Usually it is difficult to respond any other way, but Christ encourages us to control our desire to retaliate and respond much in the same way as did Billy.

We read Christ's words in Matthew 5:38-40, "You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well."

Christ champions a new way of thinking. He wants his followers to be less vengeful and more forgiving. The easy route when someone offends or hurts you is to do something of a similar manner in return. It takes a great deal of spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical discipline to look at someone after you have been wronged and say, "If you do that again, you can't be my friend." Let's do what we can to manifest the spirit of Christ when we really would rather do something else.

Pastor Steve Willis
Monday March 12, 2018

Do you remember show and tell when you were a kid? You would bring an item to the classroom and then tell about it. Sometimes a classmate would forget their items. I have seen teachers make the person go ahead and describe the item even though they didn't have the item to show to the class. At times, this didn't go all that well as the student struggled to try to describe the object. Having it in front of them to show would have been better.

We need to do this with our life in Christ. We shouldn't just try to tell others about the importance of having a relationship with the Lord, we should show them in how we live. My mother would often say, "Your actions speak so loudly I can hardly hear what you are saying." We can be more effective speaking about life with Christ when we have a true life with Christ on display.

Christ did this for us. He not only spoke of love, but he demonstrated what love is by giving his life for us. On the night before he died, he said to his disciples, "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends." (John 15:13) He told about love, and then he showed love by allowing himself to be crucified.

How are we doing at show and tell? Do we have an effective object to go along with our lesson? If we don't, then we are just not doing it right.

Pastor Steve Willis
Sunday March 11, 2018

Thousands of tourists over the centuries have visited the Acropolis in Athens, Greece. This religious citadel located on a hill in Athens was the site of many religious debates, perhaps even visited by the Apostle Paul as it is situated near the location of his debate with Epicurean and Stoic philosophers recorded in Acts 17.

If you visit this sight today, you would find that there are chips of marble lying around what remains of the structure. Many visitors to the sight take these as souvenirs when they leave. This practice has taken place for years, but there never seems to be a shortage of these pieces. How can this be? Vernon Grounds gives the explanation, "Every few months a truckload of marble fragments from a quarry miles away is scattered around the whole Acropolis area. So, tourists go home happy with what they think are authentic pieces of ancient history." The pieces are imitations.

When it comes to imitation, we need to avoid offering God "imitation" worship. We read Christ's comments about worship in John 4:23-24, "a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth."

Make sure you are not just going through the motions when it comes to your worship. God wants more than just idle words, prayers, songs and sermons. He wants us to worship him with all of our heart. God is not a fan of mundane worship. Listen to his words in Isaiah 1:12-14, "When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations--I cannot bear your evil assemblies. Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates. They have become a burden to me."

Don't offer God imitation chips - celebrate him with authentic worship!

Pastor Steve Willis
Saturday March 10, 2018

I am not really fond of automated answering services. I have always hoped they would go the way of the Edsel, but I don t see that happening. Most offices, businesses, organizations, and many churches, have them now. Many of you who have them at your business can perhaps speak long and eloquently about all the benefits of these systems. I find them very impersonal, and often frustrating, especially when you are calling for a simple bit of information (such as an appointment time) and can't seem to get a response.

I know I need to chalk this up to "progress" and go on. I have had to adjust my attitude because my lack of affection for this "technology" has done nothing to change the way things are.

I am glad that when I need to talk with my Heavenly Father I don't get something like "press 1 for prayer request, press 2 for praise, press 3 for request for intervention, press 4 for all other matters." God is always listening, always there, always available. His perpetual availability is hailed in many passages. One of my favorites is Psalm 121:4-5, "indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD watches over you the LORD is your shade at your right hand."

God never sleeps - he is always available. You don't need to "press 1" to reach him - simply call on his name. There are some things that will never change!

Pastor Steve Willis
Friday March 09, 2018

Do you enjoy flying kites? I do, but I haven't done so in a long time. Maybe I should do something about that! One time when I was a kid, the older brother of my friend, Roscoe, let a kite go over a field next to my grandparents. The kite caught some upper wind currents and it kept going and going and going. John had to keep tying more string together to keep control. Eventually, the kite was just a tiny speck in the sky and we had to use binoculars to keep track of it.

This reminds me of a story of a kite who loved to fly high. The kite loved the feel of the wind and the sights he could see when he was really high up in the air. The kite began to long to break free of the string that held it so he could so frar even higher. He longed to be so high that the houses below would become little dots and he could brush against the clouds. So, he tugged and tugged until he eventually snapped the string that was attached to him. However, when he did this he suddenly began spinning wildly and tumbling down and down. His adventure came to a rude ending when he crashed to the ground.

We can be like that kite. We get crazy ideas of how we would like to be free of God's control on our lives so that we could experience new heights and see new things. We fail to realize that breaking free of God's control would mean disaster. There might be a momentary time of exhilaration, but that would come to an end quickly as we found ourselves tumbling to a ruinous crash landing.

The way to experience true freedom is IN Christ, not APART from Christ. We find the words of Christ in John 8:31-32, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." The way to experience true freedom is to let Christ control the string!

Pastor Steve Willis
Thursday March 08, 2018

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 a painting entitled "The Bay," by Helen Frankenthaler. The work of art was valued at $1.5 million.

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. 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
Wednesday March 07, 2018

The linotype machine revolutionized printing in general and newspaper publishing in specific. The machine, using a 90-character keyboard, could set an entire line of type ("line of type" - get it?) at one time. Before this invention by Ottmar Mergenthaler in 1884, all typesetting was done by hand. Prior to the linotype machine, no newspaper in the world was longer than eight pages.

An interesting feature of the machine is that in order for the finished page to come out correctly, the type was set upside down and backwards. So, looking at a "form" that was created by the linotype could be confusing. It didn't make sense and was unreadable. It was only when the process was completed that everything appeared the way it should.

We have this experience in our lives at times. We often encounter situations that do not make any sense. Sometimes our lives feel like they are "upside down and backwards." We are confused by what is taking place and sometimes have some pretty strong emotional reactions to what we experience.

We need to remember that we are not finished yet. The final "product" has not been completed. We need to remember that "it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose." (Philippians 2:13) Paul wrote earlier in Philippians, "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." (1:6) Keep this in mind when you have a "linotype experience."

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday March 6, 2018

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 his 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
<--comment end --> Monday March 5, 2018

In II Corinthians 7, Paul reflects his relationship with the Corinthians by calling them "dear friends" and telling them, "I am glad I can have complete confidence in you." (vs. 16) What is ironic about this is to remember how confrontational he was with them in his first epistle, especially when it came to a rebuke for a sexual sin among them that was being ignored. What made the difference is that the Corinthians confronted the wrongdoing, repentance followed, and the Corinthians forgave the person leading to reinstitution in the church and a reinforcement of God's design.

Sometimes we have a problem with being forgiven and accepting God's forgiveness. Even though we know God forgives, we often struggle with allowing God's forgiveness to infiltrate our being and rid us of the guilt we feel for the sins we commit. We cannot undo the past, but when we repent and receive God's forgiveness, we need to present him with the consequences and give this to him. He truly forgives us, and we can live as forgiven people. Fellowship is restored, and we can know we are his "dear friends."

Pastor Steve Willis
Sunday March 4, 2018

Which comes first - the heart or the head? Does our thinking transform our heart, or does the heart transform our thinking? According to Paul, spiritually speaking, the condition of the heart influences the working of the mind. He writes to the Ephesians, "So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts." (4:17-18)

Allow the love of God to work on your heart. A humble heart, transformed by the Spirit of God, is what is necessary in order for us to think clearly. Letting God transform your heart is what is necessary for you to align with God. Letting God transform your life allows you to put your mind to working with him to bring the message of transformation to others. Follow God with your heart and he will help you get your head straight!

Pastor Steve Willis
Saturday March 3, 2018

In The Imitation of Christ, Thomas a Kempis wrote, "The further the soul is from the noise of the world, the closer it may be to its Creator, for God, with his holy angels, will draw close to a person who seeks solitude, and silence. It is better to remain alone and to care for your soul than to neglect yourself and work miracles."

As I read about getting away from the "noise of the world," I wondered what a Kempis would think about the noise level of our current society (he died in 1471). Yet, the words he wrote are just as true today. We need to make "alone" time with God. There is no good reason to not do this. I have written before on the example of Christ in this regard. We also have the example of Paul. In Galatians 1:15-16 we read, "But when God, who set me apart from my mother's womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia."

We need time with God. We need time with God alone. Through intentional withdrawal into silence and solitude we process and assimilate what God is doing in our lives. Richard Foster writes, "Solitude is both a 'vacation with God' and a 'furnace of transformation.'" Make time for God.

Pastor Steve Willis
Friday March 2, 2018

I have spoken with a few folks who travel quite bit about how they get discount fares. One way to do this is to be willing to fly "standby". This means that when you choose your destination, you have to wait to see if there will be space available on the flight. Your baggage is set aside and marked "status pending." You have to wait until other passengers board to see if you have a ride or not. There is no guarantee.

Many are playing this sort of scenario with regard to their entrance into heaven. I hope you aren't one of them. You can have a guaranteed reservation if you will only follow God's way. I fail to see the issue with making this a done deal simply by accepting God's way - trust in Christ as your Savior. Doing so means there is no standby, there is no wondering. Some may say, "But how can you know?" You can know because Christ has given his life and has given his word.

John wrote, "I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life." (I John 5:13) We do not need to be on standby. As a matter of fact, with God there is no such thing as standby. You either have a reservation or you don't. Which is it with you?

Pastor Steve Willis
Thursday March 1, 2018

Everyone likes to be complimented every now and then, providing the compliment is genuine. Being genuinely complimentary of others is a good thing. Being a "schmoozer" isn't. However, receiving a genuine compliment about one's appearance or one's activity is an uplifting thing. It makes you feel good; it makes your feel appreciated; and it can certainly help if received at a time when you have experienced someone who has been somewhat less than complimentary about something. So, don't be reticent to give deserved compliments - you probably will help to make someone's day!

We should strive to be worthy of receiving compliments from God. God does give compliments when they are due. Christ speaks of receiving compliments in the parable of the talents found in Matthew 25. He talks about the faithful servant receiving a compliment from his master in verse 23, "Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!" The parable is meant as an encouragement for those of us who serve God to live in such a way in order that we may hear these complimentary words from our Father.

Are you good at giving others deserved compliments? Don't be stingy with your compliments when those compliments are deserved. Are you living in such a way so as to be deserving of God's compliments? God is not stingy about giving credit where credit is due. Strive to live to deserve God's compliments!

Pastor Steve Willis
Wednesday February 28, 2018

This may sound like a Christmas message, but it is appropriate at any time of year. I have always been amazed at the response of Mary when she encountered the angel Gabriel and he told her news that would bring about great changes in her life. Mary was an ordinary Jewish girl who was living a normal life and then one day found out she had been chosen for an extraordinary position - to be the one who would bear the Son of God. One thing was for sure - she viewed this as a privilege and an honor. Her response indicated her willingness - "I am the Lord?s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled." (Luke 1:38) She believed what someone has written, "To know God's will is a treasure; to do God's will is a privilege."

Do you look at your work for God as a privilege? Many of us don't give this a thought, and often we simply go a different direction rather than walk in obedience. We fail to see that serving God is not a chore, but an honor. Follow the example of Mary and do God's bidding! Look at opportunities to do God?s work as a privilege. There is no higher honor than to serve the King!

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday February 27, 2018

When the Panama Canal was finished over 100 years ago, it stood as the most massive engineering and construction project ever accomplished up to that time. It stood as an absolute wonder of planning and building. Thousands of people operating hundreds of pieces of equipment moved millions of tons of earth, poured millions of yards of cement, and placed thousands of tons of steel to complete this project. More than 33 years were needed before the first ship could pass through a finished canal. Isn't that incredible? Well, maybe, but take a look at a globe or a world map sometime and locate the canal. How much of the world's surface does this project occupy? Just a smidgen.

How long did it take to create the world, along with all the other planets, stars, and the expanse of global bodies? Read Genesis 1: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And there was evening, and there was morning-the first day." With just a word, God brought the earth and all that we see and observe into being. I hope this puts things into perspective. And another thing - the canal needs to be updated as it isn't adequate. God's work doesn't need to be improved. God's work is truly magnificent and should inform us as to whom is actually in charge.

Pastor Steve Willis
Monday February 26, 2018

I remember building a bookshelf several years ago. When I got it finished, I loaded it with books. After a couple of days, I noticed that the shelves sagged a little bit because of the weight of the books. I hadn't done anything out of the ordinary or unusual with the shelves. This is what bookshelves are for. But the cumbersome load produced extra stress and caused the shelves to sag. So, to take care of the problem, I reinforced the shelves and the issue was solved.

We often find ourselves sagging under the pressures and weight of life. There may not be anything unusual or out of the ordinary going on; but the day-to-day cares and typical problems are combining to weigh us down. When this happens, we need to be reinforced. That reinforcement can be found in the relationships we have with others and through the help that others can give. In addition, we can and should ask God to help. This is something we know he will do.

I want to make two observations here. First, unlike the bookshelves, we are able to ask for help, and we should when we find ourselves beginning to sag. Just don't wait too long to do this as waiting can make the resolution more difficult. Secondly, look for evidences of "sagging" in others. When you see this, do what you can to help.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 says, "Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up." This verse demonstrates the principle of reinforcement. Often, we need help from others, and there are times we can help others. God provides help when needed and asking for help from God is a good move. Reinforcement is something we all need at times.

Pastor Steve Willis
Sunday February 25, 2018

Many years ago, I had a summer job with the Ohio Department of Transportation as a construction inspector intern. I was working on a bridge project and a few days before the job ended, a fellow employee came to our construction trailer with a box containing some interesting contents - four puppies. The puppies had been abandoned by the road. How sad.

The pups were German Shepherd and something else. We divided the little balls of fluff up between us. The one I took looked like a little ball of snow. I named him Wombat and gave him to my parents, as my wife and I were preparing to move to Dallas.

As the dog grew older, they renamed him "Champ" because the name fit better than "Wombat." They had that dog for years. He was a great watch dog and a really faithful companion to them for as long as he lived. What was once unwanted and abandoned became a valuable and meaningful addition to a family.

It is amazing to me how people can leave puppies like that. Of course, in our fallen world, even children and babies are abandoned. This is absolutely incredible. We need to support agencies and ministries that work to provide refuge for abandoned little ones. We need to pray for those who are left unwanted.

One thing is for sure, we know that God will never abandon us. When we allow the Lord in our lives, we know that he will never leave us. He promises, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." (Hebrews 13:5) God tells us, "For the sake of his great name the LORD will not reject his people, because the LORD was pleased to make you his own." (I Samuel 12:22) When God takes us in, we have a home for good.

Pastor Steve Willis
Saturday February 24, 2018

We need more than "bumper sticker" Christianity. It may be popular to have bumper stickers on our cars that reflect Christian messages, or to have a "fish" symbol emblazoned on our license plate that shows our belief in Christ, but let's make sure that our actions and our conduct match our symbols. An article I read recently was written by person who related how he had been flashed a vulgar gesture by a person driving a car with a "Smile! Jesus loves you!" sticker. He had inadvertently cut off the driver in traffic and was given the sign of the driver's displeasure. Which spoke louder about the person's character - the sticker or the sign?

I am not against the use of symbols to portray our faith; let's just make sure that our actions back up our logos and our words. Our character should govern our actions and responses. If you truly wish to make your convictions known, live your convictions. In answering critics to his behavior, Paul wrote, "Was I fickle when I intended to do this? Or do I make my plans in a worldly manner so that in the same breath I say both 'Yes, yes' and 'No, no'?" (II Corinthians 1:17) Paul wrote this to show how important it is for our actions to match our words.

Our actions should match any visible indications of our stand with Christ. If they don't, then our attempts to demonstrate the importance of Christ are in vain.

Pastor Steve Willis
Friday February 23, 2018

I am sure that most of you know that Billy Graham died this past Wednesday. He was 99 years old. And I am also fairly certain that I don t need to introduce you to Rev. Graham. Among a number of descriptions that would be fitting for him, one is that he was the most well-known preacher of the 20th century.

My favorite story about Graham is one that he told himself on a number of occasions. "I was in a small town and I asked a boy how to get to the post office. After getting directions, I invited him to come to my Crusade that evening. 'You can hear me telling everyone how to get to heaven,' I told the boy. The boy's response? 'I don't think I'll be there. You don't even know your way to the post office.'"

Graham may not have known the way to the post office, but he knew it was the message of the Gospel that showed the way to heaven. Many reasons may be offered as to why he rose to such a level of recognition. I feel strongly that two factors were his singularity of focus and his fidelity to his message the message of the good news of Jesus Christ. Some criticized him for not speaking up on a variety of topics, but he always maintained that his primary concern was to introduce people to the love of Jesus. And this he did.

I remember another story about him that I heard many years ago. Dennis Agajanian, a singer associated with many of Graham's crusades, told about the time a newspaper reporter showed up at the "field office" of the Graham Crusade that was being held in San Diego at the time. The reporter said to Agajanian, "Nothing! I can find nothing! I have been trying for weeks to dig up some dirt on Billy Graham and all I get is nothing!" Perhaps this was another reason for his widespread influence.

As I mentioned earlier, Billy Graham may not have known the way to the post office, but he knew that the way to heaven was through the provision of Jesus Christ. He believed the words of Christ found in John 14:4 & 6, "You know the way to the place where I am going. . .I am the way and the truth and the life." Billy Graham wanted to let as many people know as he could about this provision. We should have the same desire.

Pastor Steve Willis
Thursday February 22, 2018

J. T. Seamands was a professor at Asbury Seminary at Wilmore, Kentucky. He once told a group of people at a Bible conference: "Too many fill in their assignment sheets and hand them to God. What we need to do is to hand him a blank sheet of paper and sign our names at the bottom. Let him write in our marching orders." This can be quite intimidating for many folks. It means relinquishing control totally to God. That is exactly what we need to do.

We too often have a "shopping list" for God. We come to him with our list of things we want him to do for us. This is really the opposite of what we should be doing. We need to simply present him a blank slate, and let him create our agenda. We should ask, "What do you want me to do?", rather than say "This is what I want you to do for me." Adoniram Judson prayed, "More than all else, I long to please thee, O Lord. What wilt thou have me to do?"

David told God, "Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground." (Psalm 143:10) This should be our prayer as well. Let God fill in the blanks.

Pastor Steve Willis
Wednesday February 21, 2018

As you well know, the Winter Olympics are in full swing in PyeongChang, South Korea. As usual, medals are being won, some records are being set, and, in some instances, history is being made.

I remember reading an interesting article about world records. Some of the world records presented in the article were the most scuba divers participating in an underwater dance (74); the largest onion (18 lbs.); longest cigar (268 feet); the most bees covering one s body (331,000), and the most body piercings (453 ouch!). Some of the records were a little more poignant, like the picture of lady twins celebrating their 101st birthday and the 100-year-old man who set the record for longest bicycle ride by a centenarian (1 hour non-stop).

What is it that drives us to try to set records even if they border on the absurd? That would be our competitive nature. Paul knew this, and that is why he sometimes describes the Christian life as a competition in which we should strive to be victorious. He speaks of the victory Christ gives us over death in I Corinthians 15: "But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." He speaks of competing in a race: "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever." (I Corinthians 9:24-25)

The author of Hebrews writes, "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. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us." (Hebrews 12:1)

Being competitive can be a good thing, and channeling that competitive spirit into our spiritual lives can be a good thing as well. We aren t trying to "one up" someone else, or compete against others, we are simply wanting to be all that we can be for God. We should strive to do all we can for the sake of the Savior.

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday February 20, 2018

Many times we ignore the voices of young people because, well, "they're only kids, what could they know?" We often go the route of W.C. Fields who uttered the line, "Get out of here, kid, you're bothering me." Of course, this is not the right response to our children. They need to be heard and often their voices are the voices of reason and right.

Thirteen-year-old Benjamin Coady was visiting New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. In an exhibit in the Byzantine Gallery, he noticed an error on a map in one of the displays. He really enjoyed history, and had just studied the Byzantine Empire in school.

While checking the dates on the map, Coady saw that sections of Spain and Africa were missing. When he informed the museum authorities, he was politely rebuffed. Coady said in a later interview about the incident, "The front desk didn't believe me. I'm only a kid." However, Coady eventually received an email that the museum was investigating his findings. The museum found that he was correct. Helen Evans, the museum's curator for Byzantine art, sent him a thank you and invited him to visit the museum again as a special guest.

In the book of Mark, we read about a time when Christ's disciples were going the route of W.C. Fields and the Met. We read in Mark 10: 13 - 16, "People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, 'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.' And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them."

We should never underestimate the importance of our children. We need to do all we can to "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it." (Proverbs 22:6) If you don't see this picture clearly, turn to the teachings of Christ and the example of Benjamin Coady.

Pastor Steve Willis
Monday February 19, 2018

Dr. Chris Stocklin is the founder of Turning the Tide Financial Ministries and has written extensively on personal financial management. Dr. Stocklin offers a great deal of good advice on how to take control of your personal finances so that you might be better stewards of what God has given you.

Of the many comments he makes about finances, one that has stuck with me is "we need to distinguish our needs from our 'greeds.'" This is such a basic principle we are prone to overlook it. We can so easily convince ourselves of what we think we need that we push right ahead with ill-advised purchases and unwise acquisitions. "Of course I need that new electronic automatic can opener!" "I really need that great new eyeball-controlled volume adjuster."

Paul tells us, "God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:19) We can trust God to help us take care of our needs. And that is really the core of the issue. When we turn our "greeds" into our "needs", we are saying to God that we really don't trust him and his ability to take care of us. Doing this may get us into all sorts of trouble. Don't get into trouble - don't confuse your greeds with your needs!

Pastor Steve Willis
Sunday February 18, 2018

I imagine you have heard the expression "he (or she) got the short end of the stick." We usually use this saying to describe a situation where one individual receives the less desirable of two options. I read a story that puts an interesting spin on this phrase.

There was a farmer who had a large basket of grain he wanted to take to market. However, the basket was too heavy for him to carry. He enlisted the help of his young son, but the boy was not big enough to help him carry the basket. So, the farmer cut a long stick and placed it through the handles of the basket. He positioned the stick so that the basket would be closer to one end of the stick. This allowed more of the burden to be shifted to that end. The farmer then picked up the shorter, heavier end of the stick and his son picked up the longer, lighter end. They positioned the stick on their shoulders and easily carried the basket to market. The father got the "short end of the stick," but he did so intentionally so that the task could be accomplished.

So it is with our Lord. He intentionally takes the "short end of the stick" to help us with our burdens. We do not walk alone when we have to shoulder heavy circumstances and events in our lives. Our Lord walks with us, and he will take the heavy part of the load in order to help us cope with the struggle. He is always there to help us accomplish jobs beyond our means and to lighten our wearisome assignments.

In Matthew 11:28-30, we read the invitation of Christ: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." Jesus will always take the short end of the stick.

Pastor Steve Willis
Saturday February 17, 2018

I have always found the migratory habits of birds, fish, insects, and other creatures one of the most fascinating aspects of God's creation. I think we live in an area that must be in the flight path of geese migration. Right now, there are a bunch of Canadian Geese around, and MORE than a bunch of snow geese. I would imagine I could walk outside right now and hear them honking as they fly overheard. I have seen fields that are absolutely white with snow geese. They will be here for a bit, and then continue on their merry way.

How in the world do the geese know when it is time to move along? This is evidence of God taking care of his world - of programming behaviors into his creatures to insure their survival. How do the geese know when to move along? They listen to God's voice, so to speak. Listening to the "voice" that God puts within them allows them to perform activities that help them live more successfully.

We need to take a lesson from the geese. God speaks to us and lets us know when it is time for us to move to do things, to make plans, to perform activities that will enhance our lives and help others. If the geese don't listen to the voice telling them to move, their survival would be jeopardized. When we ignore God's voice, we jeopardize our survival. We jeopardize our ability to be more effective for God.

Moses told the people, "Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life. . ." (Deuteronomy 30:19-20) Listening to God's voice will enhance our lives. Listening to God's voice will preserve our lives. The geese have it right!

Pastor Steve Willis
Friday February 16, 2018

A man who flew his small plane into busy Toronto International Airport on a regular basis was asked if he ever encountered problems taking off and landing his plane at an airport dominated by big jets. The pilot said, "When I am taking off and landing I have the same rights and privileges as any other aircraft, even the big jumbo jets." He did not experience any negative situations because preferential treatment was given to another aircraft.

The same can be said about us when we come to the Father in prayer. We will never experience any negative situation in our encounters with God and God does not afford preferential treatment to one person over another. He listens and responds to all of his children on an equal basis.

In a world where we see preferential treatment being given to many in a variety of circumstances, it is good to know we don't have to fear when it comes to our position with God. With God, we are all flying "first class" when it comes to his willingness to hear us and respond to our prayer.

Psalm 145:18 tells us, "The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth." James 4:8 gives us this promise, "Come near to God and he will come near to you." We take a back seat to no one when it comes to God's willingness to hear us when we call upon him.

Pastor Steve Willis
Thursday February 15, 2018

St Paul's Cathedral in London has a "whispering gallery", an interesting architectural feature that allows for marvelous acoustics. In the walkway that circles the inside of Christopher Wren s great dome whispered words can be heard clearly directly across 137 feet. You can be that far away from a companion and hold a conversation without ever raising your voice above a whisper. This is a circumstance where you certainly don't want to whisper any critical words or negative statements.

Actually, there really isn't any circumstance where you should feel good about whispering critical words or negative statements. What we say in secret can travel just as quickly as those words uttered in a whispering gallery. We should avoid at all times the desire to gossip and participate in conversations where we are whispering unkind, and often untrue, statements about someone else.

Proverbs 20:19 tells us, "A gossip betrays a confidence; so, avoid anyone who talks too much." Avoid gossip and let yourself be known as someone who does not participate in whispered conversations. Be known as a person who speaks kindly and hurts no one with what you say.

Pastor Steve Willis
Wednesday February 14, 2018

Some of you may be old enough to remember the commercial where someone would proclaim, "It's two, two, two mints in one!" The product was Certs mints, and the idea being conveyed was that Certs was both a breath mint and a candy mint. Well, today we have the circumstance of having "two, two, two days in one." Today is both Valentine's Day and Ash Wednesday. This does not happen very often. The last time it took place was in 1945. The confluence of the two days only occurred four or five times over the last century.

As you well know, Valentine's Day is a time of celebrating love. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a season of reflection on the suffering and sacrifice of Christ culminating in the observance of the Day of Resurrection on Easter Sunday.

I have read a few articles that speak of the conundrum this has brought about for many. I have also read a number of writings that look at this combination of the two observances as fitting. I wholeheartedly stand on the side of the latter. I think it is altogether appropriate that we focus on love on the day set aside to mark the observance of the Greatest Sacrifice ever made.

What was it that motivated Christ to lay aside temporarily his position and become one of us so that he could be among us? His love. What was it that motivated his willingness to be abused, tortured, and put to death for us? His love. What was it that motivated his willingness to be buried in a tomb, albeit not for long, and then rise to life for us? His love. If I were to start writing down all the references to Christ s love that was behind his suffering, you would be spending the rest of the day reading them (well, assuming that you would be willing to spend that much time reading something that I have compiled). Let me just mention a few,

"Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love" (John 15:9); "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one s life for one s friends" (John 15:13); "and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God" (Ephesians 5:2); "We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren" (I John 3:16).

As you can see, the two go hand in hand. It is perfectly fitting to have both observances on the same day. I think it gives Valentine's Day a deeper meaning, and should make us more grateful as we think about what Christ gave up for us. Celebrate well!

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday February 13, 2018

For our Easter Celebration this year, our choir is working on a musical entitled "Redeemed." Redemption is in the very heart of God. I think one of the most elaborate displays of redemption occurs in John 21. Christ seeks out the recalcitrant Peter who has returned to his former life and, in effect, says "Peter, you are not going back to what you were. You have come too far to go back, and I have invested too much to allow you to go back." That is why he asks him, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" (John 21:15) He wanted Peter to remember that he had been bought with a price, he had been called to a new walk of life, and he had a destiny to fulfill.

We need to remember that we are in the same shoes, or should I say sandals, as Peter. Chris has invested in us heavily. His life was given to bring redemption - and we need to live as redeemed people. We need to sing and soar, much like the birds in a story told by a preacher of the last century, A.J. Gordon.

Gordon encountered a young boy walking along the road in front of the church where he was pastor. The boy was carrying an old cage that contained a few birds. He asked the boy, "Young man, what are you going to do with those birds?" "I am going to play with them and then feed them to my cat." "How harsh!" said Gordon. "I will give you two dollars for the birds, cage and all." (Remember this took place many years ago). The boy replied, "Why so much? The birds are not worth anything - they don't make a sound!"

The young man agreed to the deal. Gordon told what happened when he took the birds, opened the cage, and set them free. "They sang!" Gordon exclaimed, "As only those who have experienced the grace of being set free can!"

We have been set free, and since that is the case, we need to sing like a bird. Now, you can take this literally and figuratively. We can sing about our redemption, but what we need to do even more is to live like redeemed people. We need to live as only those who have experienced God's redemptive grace can. "Redeemed, how I love to proclaim it; redeemed by the blood of the Lamb! Redeemed and so happy in Jesus; his child and forever I am!" If you haven t already, another song about redemption you need to hear is "Redeemed" by Big Daddy Weave.

Christ asks us, as he did Peter, "Do you love me?" If we do, we will fly and sing, joyfully proclaiming the news of the redemption Christ offers and enjoying the life of redemption that we have in Him!

Pastor Steve Willis
Monday February 12, 2018

Most of us have had a number of "If only. . ." scenarios in life. These events are precipitated when we have a certain undesirable experience that could have been avoided if we had done something differently or if some circumstances had proceeded differently. These experiences usually range from the mildly frustrating to the truly devastating.

Jameson Painter had just such an experience. The high school senior hit a home run in the bottom of the eighth inning that led to a victory for his baseball team. His celebration was muted when he arrived at his car and discovered that the ball he hit had smashed his own windshield. What made this an "if only" moment was that before the game he had moved his car from where he had originally parked at the suggestion of his coach who thought it was in harm's way.

In moving the car, he unwittingly placed it in a position that would cause damage. Now, there are good responses to the many "If only" statements this occurrence invoked, but it was still difficult for him to not think "If only I hadn't moved my car."

The apostle Paul has a good thought to combat our tendency to dwell on the "If only's." In Philippians 3:14 we find his philosophy for dealing with "If only": "Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead."

Paul had a few "If only" events in his life. One was his penchant for persecuting the followers of Christ before he was changed by the message of Christ. Yet, he concluded it was unprofitable to dwell on what had happened that could not be altered. Rather, he decided to "press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." (vs. 15)

This is good advice for us. We will have a number of experiences that, in our way of thinking, could have been changed had something been done differently. We will have circumstances where we wish things had gone differently. The reality is the experience can't be changed. When this happens, remember Paul's statements and make a conscious decision to move forward.

Pastor Steve Willis
Sunday February 11, 2018

Talent shows have been part of TV programming almost since the first broadcasts hit the airwaves. In the early days of TV there were Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour and Arthur Godfrey's Talent Hour. Other shows that came along include The Gong Show in the 70's and Star Search in the 80's. Now we have The Voice, America s Got Talent, Dancing with the Stars, and others. American Idol is even making a comeback.

All of these shows are designed to find talented people and then through a period of competition narrow the group down to a single winner. Those who participate are seeking fame, fortune, and a secure future. Victory relies upon them being singled out and, through the use of their talents, distinguishing themselves above all others.

God wants us to use our talents as well, but not for the purpose of distinguishing ourselves above others. We are to use our gifts and talents to encourage others. God is not seeking the most talented or the most gifted, but wants us to use our talents and gifts to help build his Church. We don't need to audition for God; we need to applaud him through the use of the gifts he has given us. When we exercise our talents and our gifts, we bring glory to God and build up his people. This is why gifts have been given to us.

I Corinthians 12:4 & 7 tells us, "There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good." Talent shows have their place, but aren't for the church. Our talents and gifts are not just for us, but for others as well.

Pastor Steve Willis
Saturday February 10, 2018

I think there are many sad stories in scripture, but I am not sure that any are sadder than the story of the disciples at Gethsemane. Jesus took the "inner three", Peter, James, and John, with him when he withdrew into a grove of olive trees to pray. This took place on the night before he was crucified.

"Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, 'My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.' Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. 'Couldn't you men keep watch with me for one hour?' he asked Peter. 'Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.'" (Matthew 26:39-41) This scenario was repeated two more times.

I have often wondered how Christ felt after this incident, and it brings to mind a couple of things: First, we need to make sure we do not fall asleep in our relationship with Christ. Secondly, it reminds me that we need to take care to not wound others with our actions. We need to take care that others are not hurt by our indifferent activities, even if they are unintentional.

I remember a story about a father who really didn't like to fish, but took his son fishing. The son had pleaded and asked until the father relented. After about ten minutes of unsuccessful fishing, the father arranged some life vests in the boat and went to sleep. His young son was really hurt. The father had to do some damage control after the incident.

Our selfishness and lack of consideration can lead us to hurt friends and loved ones when we respond indifferently to them. Let your love for Christ and your love for others guide you and prevent you from acting thoughtlessly and inconsiderately. I Corinthians 13:9 tells us, "(Love) does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs." Let love reign to avoid sad stories.

Pastor Steve Willis
Friday February 09, 2018

The results are in and the members of the 2018 National Football League Hall of Fame Class have been named. Bobby Beathard was selected as a contributor whose efforts were responsible for building several championship teams. The rest of the inductees were players who distinguished themselves from their peers through their efforts in competition, leading to their selection as members of the Hall of Fame. Jerry Kramer, Robert Brazile, Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Ray Lewis, and Brian Urlacher were players whose exploits on the football field led to special recognition by the professional football community. In a ceremony to be held later this year in Canton, Ohio, all of these selectees will be honored and their names added to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

I was particularly interested in the selection of Randy Moss as he spent his college career at my alma mater, Marshall University. Moss joins Frank Gatski as the only former members of the Thundering Herd to be enshrined in the NFL Hall of Fame.

The Hall of Fame exists to acknowledge the accomplishments of individuals who have set themselves apart through their efforts and serve as models worthy of emulation by others. In Hebrews 11 scripture provides us with another "Hall of Fame," of sorts. Some have actually called this chapter the "Hall of Faith." Listed here are a number of godly people who demonstrated great commitment to God in their lives.

The purpose of the writer in compiling this list is to give examples of faith that can be, and should be, emulated by those who follow God. Abel, Abraham, Sarah, Moses, David, and others are listed as models of faithful living. Following their lead may not bring us into a "Hall of Fame," but it will help us live lives that please our Heavenly Father. And following their lead will help us live in such a way so that we can be an example for others.

Hebrews 11:1 says, "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." We have people in the "Hall of Faith" who show us how to live by faith. Let s follow their lead!

Pastor Steve Willis
Thursday February 08, 2018

FedEx used to run a commercial that I thought was rather interesting. The commercial started with a man sitting at a large wooden desk in what appears to be an office in a high-rise building. There is a magnificent view of many other buildings in the background of his "corner office." He is speaking authoritatively to a subordinate who is standing in front of his desk, holding a FedEx box. The man who is seated waxes eloquently on what it takes to rise to the position he has attained.

Then, a humming sound is heard, and the background scene of the skyscrapers begins to rise and disappear. What is revealed is his "office" is only a facade that has been placed on the inside of a garage door. When the door fully opens, his wife is standing in the driveway with a bag of groceries. The man says something like, "Honey, you need to use the intercom for access." She replies, "Well, yeah, but these groceries are heavy."

Often we try to turn a garage into an opulent office in our lives. We try to make things appear in ways they are not. We dabble in making reality look differently in order to impress others. We do this with our personal lives, we do this with our possessions, and we do this in our spiritual lives. If this is indeed the case, we need to realize that at some point someone is going to come along and hit the garage door opener, thus exposing our charade. Of course, God doesn't need to hit the opener. He knows the truth all along.

We need to be people of integrity and not put on airs with others. We should not try to be someone we are not, and we should not try to make it look as if we have something when we don't. There is a wonderful line from "The Wizard of Oz" spoken by the "wizard" when his ruse has been revealed, "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!" Deception didn't work for the "wizard" and it won't work for us.

Proverbs 10:9 tells us, "Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out." Don't try to make the inside of your garage look like an opulent corner office. At some point someone will open the door on you!

Pastor Steve Willis
Wednesday February 07, 2018

On my visit to Israel a few years ago, I was able to see the Dead Sea for the first time. The Dead Sea is one of the most fascinating places on earth. For one thing, it is the lowest place on earth. To get to the Dead Sea you travel Highway 90, the lowest road on earth. The Dead Sea is 8.6 times saltier than the ocean, is the deepest hypersaline body in the world, and nothing except for a few bacteria can survive in its water. I didn't swim in the water, but those who did floated very easily. To me, the water felt like WD40.

The Dead Sea is a terminal body of water with no outlet, meaning water can only leave through evaporation. Water from the Jordan and its tributaries flow into the Dead Sea bringing with them all sorts of minerals, including salt. Since there is no outlet, the water in the Dead Sea evaporates depositing the dissolved minerals. With no place to go, the dissolved salt minerals continue to accumulate and be concentrated in the sea. This is a basic explanation of why the Dead Sea has such a high concentration of salt and why the Dead Sea is a dead sea.

Unfortunately, a similar phenomenon can be observed in the lives of many followers of Christ. Many attend Bible conferences, Bible studies, listen to music about faith, and read many books on the Christian life, but are not productive because they have no outlet. Gaining knowledge is good, but we aren't doing what we should unless we are putting the knowledge we gain to use.

We need to be a source of living water. God wants to use us in service so that others may be refreshed and revived by the water of the Word. Jesus said, "Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them." (John 7:38) Make like the Jordan River, not the Dead Sea, when it comes to your life and service to Christ. Make sure there is an outlet for all that comes in.

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday February 06, 2018

A number of years ago we took our teens to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, for the Smoky Mountain Youth Bible Conference. We actually made this trip three or four times. One year, we were looking for something to do to kill some time between the morning and evening sessions. We heard there was a hiking trail back to some waterfalls that was a "must-see" experience. We loaded up the van and headed up the mountain. By the time we got there, it was raining cats and dogs, and it was a fairly significant hike from the parking area back to the falls. We had purchased some of those cheap, plastic ponchos, so we decided to go ahead and make the jaunt.

On the walk to the falls, I was wondering if this effort was really worth all of the trouble. The rain kept coming down, the path was not incredibly difficult but it was strenuous. One of our adult leaders started having some leg problems. We almost turned back; however, we decided to continue. Finally, after one last bend in the trail, there were the falls. About all we could say at first was "Wow!" The view was definitely worth the hike.

Paul sort of reached this point when he wrote Romans. He comes to a place when it seems as if all he can say is "Wow." He is rehearsing some of God's attributes and has a significant "wow" moment. We read this in Romans 11:33 - "Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them? For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen." Here he proclaims God's infinite wisdom (vs. 33); his boundless knowledge (vs. 34); and his unequaled grace (vss. 35-36).

We should never lose our "wow" factor when it comes to God. Moses wrote, "Who is like You, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?" (Exodus 15:11) We do indeed serve a marvelous God!

Pastor Steve Willis
Monday February 05, 2018

Did you watch Super Bowl LII last night? I must confess, I did. Our small group had a Super Bowl party, of sorts. Did you watch Justin Timberlake at half time? I must confess, I didn t. We had DVR d the game so that we could start the evening with our study time. This also allowed us to fast-forward through the half time show. Sorry, Justin, nothing personal, we are just not big fans.

I did read an article about Timberlake quite some time ago. You perhaps know this story, but Timberlake is a former member of the boy band "'N Sync." In spite of my opinion about his style of music, he has been quite successful. He has also done some acting. What is generally known about him is that he started his career as a Mouseketeer on the Disney Channel. What is perhaps not as well-known are the circumstances that led to his audition and selection as a Mouseketeer.

When he was 11 years old, Timberlake competed on the 80's TV talent show "Star Search." He was defeated by 10-year-old Anna Nardona. Driving home with his mother from the defeat, they heard an announcement about open auditions for the Disney Channel. Justin Randall (Timberlake's real name) went to the audition with his mother, made the cut, performed on Disney, changed his name, joined 'N Sync, and the rest his history.

What about Nardona? She was knocked out of the Star Search competition by a cute 5-year-old and says this about her loss, "I was really embarrassed by it. And I lost it. I didn't lose my talent. I lost my interest. But I know deep down in my heart, I'm meant to sing." However, singing she is not.

In Timberlake and Nardona, we have two opposing examples of how to handle failure. One person used failure as an opportunity to pursue a different direction in performance while another person used failure as a reason not to pursue what she wanted.

We are going to face failure in life. We fail in our day-to-day lives and we face failure in our spiritual lives. What we do in the wake of failure is up to us. We can overcome our failures by continuing to pursue new challenges or we can use failure as a reason to quit. Failure can be the backdoor to success or it can stymie our progress. We should remember that "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength." (Philippians 4:13) Use failure as a stepping stone to new opportunity, not a reason to opt out.

Pastor Steve Willis
Sunday February 04, 2018

I have always enjoyed Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Chocolate is just fine by itself, and peanut butter is just fine by itself; however, when you put those two together, oh, my, you really have a treat. Peanut Butter cups were developed by H.B. Reese, an employee of Hershey's Chocolate Company, in the 20's. Reese left Hershey s to go on his own, and did well in the candy industry all because of his idea to put chocolate and peanut butter together. The two products can "stand alone," but being together provides some unique characteristics that wouldn't be there if they weren't combined.

This is the way it is in life in general, and certainly the way it should be in the church. We can "stand by ourselves," but when we blend our gifts, talents, and abilities, we see combinations that are different, stronger, and in many cases, more appealing and productive that when we work as individuals. Paul noted this in several places in his writings.

In Ephesians 4:3 - 6, he comments on the importance of unity and the advantage of "blending" our lives: "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit-- just as you were called to one hope when you were called-- one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all."

You have gifts and abilities you can use for God on your own, but remember how much more might be done when you work with others. An old ad campaign for Reese's was "You got peanut butter on my chocolate! You got chocolate in my peanut butter! (taste, taste) Hmmmm!" Remember this as you work for the Lord - peanut butter in chocolate is a good thing!

Pastor Steve Willis
Saturday February 03, 2018

In the final scene of "The Lord of The Rings: The Return of the King," Frodo and his friends are gathered to watch Bilbo and Gandalf prepare to sail to a place that has been accorded to them by the elves, their "eternal home," so to speak. Then, just before the boat sails, Gandalf turns to Frodo and says, "It's time, Frodo." Frodo's hobbit friends learn that he, too, will be leaving for his final home. They are distressed by this, but realize it is what has to be.

Just before the ship departs, Frodo hands a leather-bound book to his closest friend, Samwise Gamgee. It is a book that was started by Frodo's Uncle Bilbo, and then continued by Frodo. Frodo says, "The last pages are for you, Sam." This brought up the question: "What will you write and how well will you write, Sam?"

The same question may be asked of us. We have been given pages to write - what will we write and how well will we write? There is always the need for times of evaluation in our lives, times when we take stock as to what we are doing and how well we are doing.

We need to constantly remind ourselves that God has given us the task of continuing the work of Christ in the world. We need to take time to reflect and ask ourselves "How well am I doing?" Lamentations 3:40 encourages us to "Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord!" I Corinthians 11:28 & 32 says, "Let a person examine himself, then. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged." The last pages are for you - how well will you write?

Pastor Steve Willis
Friday February 02, 2018

Today is Groundhog Day - will the dear old furry critter see his shadow or not? If he does, then we've got six more weeks of winter. If he doesn't, well winter is supposed to be ending sooner. What will it be?

The origins of the day go back into Europe insofar as the belief that the weather on February 2 is a predictor of the ending of winter. An old Scottish poem says, "If Candlemas Day is bright and clear, There'll be two winters in the year. If Candlemas be fair and bright, Winter has another flight. If Candlemas brings clouds and rain, Winter will not come again."

The first reference to "Groundhog Day" in America is found in a diary entry from 1841: "Last Tuesday, the 2nd, was Candlemas day, the day on which, according to the Germans, the Groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and if he sees his shadow he pops back for another six weeks nap, but if the day be cloudy he remains out, as the weather is to be moderate." Regardless of what happens today with the groundhog, we do know that winter will end and spring will come.

This is something we can be sure of when it comes to God's care for us. We know his care will come, regardless of what the circumstances. Regardless of what other distractions are there; regardless of what other "celebrations" may be going on; we can be sure that the provision of God will come. Just as there really is no causality between the groundhog and winter, there is no causality in situations we experience and God's presence. God does not say, "Oh, my, I can't step in here, the logistics are simply not right. The predictors are against me. I can't do it." This will simply not happen.

The writer to the Hebrews reminds us, "'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.' So we say with confidence, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?'" Shadow or not, God will not fail us.

Pastor Steve Willis
Thursday February 01, 2018

I recently read an interesting story of how a pod of hippos saved a hapless gnu. The gnu had jumped into a river to swim across and was instantly attacked by a waiting crocodile. Usually this would be lights out for the gnu, but some hippos came to his rescue. It isn't usual for animals to intervene in this way, although gnus aren't really enemies of hippos. Hippos can actually be rather fierce - more people are killed annually by hippos than lions. Anyway, these hippos sort of went against the grain of their natural inclinations and attacked the crocodile. The hungry croc released the gnu and swam away. The hippos even helped the gnu out of the water.

We are constantly needing to go against the grain in our lives. Even as followers of Christ, we still have our old nature that calls us to do things we shouldn't. We need to be aware of this and make an effort to go against our natural inclination to follow the wrong path.

Paul describes the struggle in Romans 7, "So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me." (vss. 21-23)

We do not have to face this conflict on our own; God is within us to help us overcome the temptations we face. We need to be diligent and "go against the grain" to gain victory over the desire to go our own way rather than going God's way.

Pastor Steve Willis
Wednesday January 31, 2018

The other day I got a little surprise when I walked out of the house to head to my office at church - ice! There was ice on my windshield! Now, given where I live, usually ice would not be a surprise this time of year; but we had a couple of days of unseasonably warm temps. Then, the temps dropped significantly and brought about the aforementioned ice. So, I started my car, allowing it to warm up and melt the ice. As a result, my departure was delayed. If I had thought ahead a little bit and checked the temperatures, I would have suspected the ice and been better prepared, I just did not give it a thought.

My experience was not a big issue in this situation, but there are other times in life when expecting the unexpected can be of great help. Life has a way of taking funny turns and twists. Keeping this in mind can be beneficial. We are often surprised by circumstances and taken aback by incidents that crop up unexpectedly. Having an awareness of this possibility can assist us in gaining a foothold in the wake of surprises. A sudden death, an unforeseen financial setback, or an unexpected illness are all scenarios that can sweep into our lives and bring drastic change. I realize there is no way we can be totally prepared for everything that may come our way, and I certainly am not advocating a "Sword of Damocles" mentality, but acknowledging the reality of sudden, life-altering events can put us on the road to recovery a little faster.

When I think of people who experienced a sudden, life-changing event, I cannot help but think of Job. He gave us an example to follow in developing a strategy to cope with unexpected change. He declared, "I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth." (Job 19:25) In the wake of the flood of events he faced so unexpectedly, he placed his trust in the provision of God.

Expecting the unexpected and a constant reliance upon the provision of God will help us face ice on the windshield events. We know they will happen; look to God when they do.

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday January 30, 2018

A few years ago when we were in Scotland visiting our daughter, we took off on our own rather than taking a planned tour. We 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 also had the steering wheel on the wrong side. Well, for Scotland, I was actually on the correct side of the road and there was nothing wrong with the vehicle. 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 challenging, but 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 could lead us into dire straits, and may cause us to miss great experiences. God's path is always one of great purpose.

Pastor Steve Willis
Monday January 29, 2018

In 1869, John Roebling had a dream for a bridge across the East River between Manhattan and Brooklyn. Roebling didn't live to see his dream become a reality. Early in the construction phase, his foot was crushed in an accident. He took charge of his own medical care, developed tetanus, and died after some weeks of painful suffering. Had he been willing to listen to medical people who could have treated him properly, he perhaps would have lived to see the magnificent structure that stands yet today.

In the scripture, we read of a person who had the same problem, that is, he wanted to take charge of his own healing. At first Naaman refused to listen to Elisha's prescription for his leprosy. He said, "I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn t I wash in them and be cleansed?" (II Kings 5:11-12) Naaman finally listened to reason and followed God s prescription. The result was total healing.

We need to be smart when it comes to doctoring ourselves. That is why people go to school to become doctors, nurses, and other health professionals. We certainly need to be smart when it comes to our spiritual needs. We need to follow the prescription of God for our spiritual lives. Trying to heal yourself could lead to bad consequences.

Pastor Steve Willis
Sunday January 28, 2018

You are probably familiar with the old expression "That's the pot calling the kettle black." This refers to a situation where one is accusing someone else of a questionable behavior while actually being involved in a questionable behavior as well. Mart DeHaan tells about a husband who accused his estranged wife of bigamy. He was correct in his accusation, but he was accused by the wife of being guilty of the same crime. This was indeed the case - both the wife and the husband were married to other people.

We need to be careful how we judge other people, especially when we do not take our own faults into account. In Matthew 7:1-5 we find Christ's warning about this: "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."

We need to avoid the temptation to find fault with others while all the time struggling with similar sinful activities. Christ shows mercy to us when we confess our sins, but he also will judge us when we focus on the sins of others without taking care of our bad behavior. Let's make sure we take care of our own lives and not be involved in the arrogant hypocrisy of finding fault in other's.

Pastor Steve Willis
Saturday January 27, 2018

Hudson Taylor, the pioneer missionary to China, scrawled this note as he neared the end of his life: "I am so weak that I cannot work; I cannot read my Bible; I cannot even pray. I can only lie still in God's arms like a child, and trust."

When it comes to our relationship with the Lord, we need to remember that childlike faith is what we need. As a child, I don't remember worrying about too many things, except for maybe the amount of chocolate milk that was in the refrigerator. I trusted that my folks would take care of me. Actually, I really don't remember having a conscious thought about trusting my folks, I just did. That is the essence of childlike faith, which is what we should have.

We read in Matthew 18:2 - 4: "He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: 'I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.'" We need to learn to trust. Actually, we know how to trust, we just need to get back to that level of trust we had as kids when it comes to our relationship with Christ. Faith like a child is what we need to have. It takes the worries away!

Pastor Steve Willis
Friday January 26, 2018

I learned something interesting in a communications class I took years ago. I learned that it is possible to communicate with someone across a crowded, noisy room by focusing on the individual closely and exclusively. When you do this, it is possible for the person to understand what you are saying, and you will understand them. The key is the focus between the two people. There needs to be eye contact, there needs to be putting aside the distractions as best as you can, and there needs to be a concentrated effort to listen to what is being said. When this is done, it really is rather amazing how effective the communication can be.

You know, it probably would not hurt to apply some of these techniques in our communication with God. Sometimes we struggle with thinking God doesn't hear us because so many others are trying to talk with Him. Well, if imperfect humans can learn to communicate in noisy environments, I don't think a perfect God will have an issue of hearing us. Actually, the problem is more with our hearing Him than Him hearing us. We let issues and circumstances distract us from hearing Him. We let our penchant to be attracted to unhealthy things keep us from listening intently to His instructions.

Learn to avoid the distractions and focus on God. Work on your "I contact" with God, deal with the distractions, and concentrate on what God is saying to you. Psalm 34:6 says, "This poor man cried out, and the Lord heard him." God directs single-minded attention to our praise, requests, and concerns. We need to direct single-minded attention to Him as He responds to us.

Pastor Steve Willis
Thursday January 25, 2018

I once read a story about a Sunday School teacher who asked her class, "Who helped these beautiful flowers to grow?" A little boy spoke up and said, "God did!" The teacher started to reply, but was interrupted by another little boy who said, "And fertilizer sure helps!"

This little story illustrates a marvelous biblical truth - God is in control, and is at work continuously in our lives, yet we are responsible for spiritual formation in our lives and in the lives of others as well. The interaction of God's divine will and man's free will is one of the great mysteries of the faith, but it is a reality. In keeping with the garden analogy, we read the words of Paul in I Corinthians 3:6, "I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow."

God is the one who brings about results in nature, in the church, and in the world, but he chooses to work through people to bring about his desired conclusion. We know we can obey or disobey, cooperate or be uncooperative, help or hinder. God is sovereign and he could do things any way he wants, but he chose to use us to help bring about his plan. This is an awesome responsibility on our part. We need to be aware of the privilege we have in God's plan, and we need to be up to the task of helping the Almighty God. God will always be faithful in his part - will you be faithful in yours?

Pastor Steve Willis
Wednesday January 24, 2018

Appearances can be deceiving, can't they? Take the house in Las Vegas that looks like a typical single-family dwelling located on a typical street in the city. However, when you enter the house, you take an elevator down to the real home that is found several feet underground. Actually, what is underground is more of a "little city" complete with a pool, a mountainside vista, grass, trees, and other amenities. The structure was built in the late 1960's during the Cold War to provide a safe haven in the event of a nuclear attack. From the outside, no one would ever suspect what the true structure on the inside is really like.

We need to keep this in mind as we develop relationships and meet new people. We read warnings in the scripture about putting too much emphasis on outward appearances. James 2:1-4 says, "My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, 'Here s a good seat for you,' but say to the poor man, 'You stand there' or 'Sit on the floor by my feet,' have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?"

We need to develop the attitude of God regarding appearances. We are God's creation, and he has put the important part of us on the inside. He told Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." (I Samuel 16:7) Remember, appearances can be deceiving.

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday January 23, 2018

A family in Irvine, California, found a bonus in a box of crackers they bought at their local supermarket - $10,000 in cash. They did the right thing called the police. After a short investigation, the police found that a lady had called the supermarket and told them she had lost her life savings in a box of crackers she had mistakenly returned to the store. The store informed her there was nothing they could do, and then they received the call from the police about the family s discovery. The money was returned.

The lady was so fortunate in many ways the family did the right thing after finding the money; the store actually made a mistake in restocking the crackers as an open box of food would usually be destroyed; and the police were careful in their investigation. A big question is - why was there $10,000 in a cracker box to begin with? When asked this question, the lady said she had lost faith in banks.

Most of us would find the reasoning of this lady a little hard to understand. How can someone be so careless with something of such worth? How could you take such a chance? Yet many are just as careless with their lives living with no concern about their spiritual condition, their relationship with the Lord. Living without acknowledging God s place in one s life is akin to stuffing a box of crackers with $10,000.

More than likely, you wouldn t take the risk stuffing your life savings in a cracker box. So, don't take the risk of living your life without the Lord. Many times Christ warns against this. In Luke 12:20, we read God's reply to a man who was pretty excited about what he had stored away for himself, "But God said to him, `You fooling person! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?'" Don't trust your life to a cracker box!

Pastor Steve Willis
Monday January 22, 2018

According to legend, the apostle John raised pigeons when he was bishop at Ephesus. A man returning from a hunt passed by John's house and saw him tending to the pigeons. "Do you think you should spend time so frivolously?" the man asked John. John replied, "Why do you not keep your bow strung?" The man replied, "I loosen the strings of my bow so that it will not lose its resiliency." "So it is when I rest," John said, "I do so that my mind will not lose its resiliency."

John had learned from his time with the Master that there is a need to go to a "quiet place and get some rest." (Mark 6:31) Too much continual activity robs one of energy, creativity, productivity, and in many instances, safety. We cannot do our best work with nerves that are taut or frayed from too much work.

Many employers just don't seem to grasp this concept, and too many employees don't see the problems with a "no breaks" attitude. Laziness is certainly not to be condoned (read Proverbs), but there needs to be a balance in our energetic efforts and our downtime that keeps us from losing our resiliency. Have a healthy attitude towards taking a break and you will find that you will remain healthy!

Pastor Steve Willis
Sunday January 21, 2018

A mother asks her two sons to clean their rooms. The first says, "Mom, don't be such a nag!", then locks himself in his room and cleans it thoroughly. The second says, "Anything for you for Mom!" and continues to play his video games. A boss asks for a report to be on his desk by the next morning. One employee says, "That's impossible," but stays late to finish the work. The second responds, "Sure, no problem," but conveniently forgets to prepare the report.

These are two examples of the parable that Christ told just before his crucifixion. We read in Matthew 21:28-31, " What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, Son, go and work today in the vineyard. 'I will not, he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. 'Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, 'I will, sir,' but he did not go. 'Which of the two did what his father wanted?' 'The first,' they answered."

It is easy to "talk a good game" but quite a different story to do what we know we should. We can make promises, talk about work all we want, tell others our plans, and even tell God about our intentions to do things for him, but doing the work is what counts.

Christ told the Pharisees that tax collectors and prostitutes would enter the Kingdom of God ahead of them because they talked much about serving God but failed to act on what they knew. Submission to God's authority demands more than mere words. God sees our hearts and wants our love for him demonstrated in meaningful actions, not empty words.

Pastor Steve Willis
Saturday January 20, 2018

When I was a kid, I learned the word "antidisestablishmentarianism." I don't recall how I first came across the word, but I thought it sounded cool and also labored under the assumption that it was the longest word in the English language (which it isn't). I would walk around and throw it into a conversation with other kids. They would look at me as if I had two heads, and sometimes they would ask me what it meant. They had me on that one. I had no idea what it meant.

Antidisestablishmentarianism is a word that was coined in the 19th century in England and referred to the political position of those who opposed the disestablishment of the Church of England as the state church. Now, isn't that just information you can't do without? Make sure you share this bit of wisdom with folks you know.

When Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians, he told them, "When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. . .My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit s power." (I Corinthians 2:1-4)

Our focus in our lives needs to be on the cross of Christ. Our focus in our communication with others should be the cross of Christ. We don't need to impress others with our philosophical understanding; we just need to share the good mews of Christ. Keep it simple, and your meaning will be clear - the message of Christ is something people need to hear.

Pastor Steve Willis
Friday January 19, 2018

Some of you have perhaps been in a leadership position or some other position of responsibility and have felt resistance to your ideas and your direction. At those times, we need to make sure our motives and thoughts are in the right place. We should speak the truth in love, but we need to make sure we are doing so from a position of grounded thinking that is not rooted in our own ego. Pastors, of course, fall under this description so I realize I am "preaching to myself" with this advice, but there are others besides pastors to which these directives apply.

When you are in a position of leadership, you need to lead by example, and follow the example you have before you. When we are in a position of leadership in the church, we need to follow the example and teaching of Christ. Even though we are imperfect people, God can still use us and wants to use us. but we need to be committed to his principles. As we work with others, we must never forget our accountability before God and those we whom we work.

Jesus said, "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked." (Luke 12:48) This has application to leadership roles and other situations when we are responsible for others. Lead the way Christ intends for you to lead.

Pastor Steve Willis
Thursday January 18, 2018

In a book about business strategies, the author makes this statement, "Solving tough organizational problems may require counter-intuitive strategies." Well, yeah, that sounds just like what we need. Except, uh, what in the world is "counter-intuitive?" The word refers to things which go against the usual thinking; ideas which may even defy common sense. This is sometimes what is required.

This has a spiritual application. Paul states this fact in I Corinthians 1:18 - 25, "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.' God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength."

The Gospel does not make sense to a lot of people. It defies logic and goes against "conventional wisdom," but is what is necessary for our deliverance. The counter-intuitive thinking that is helpful in the business world is a necessity in the realm of faith. It was necessary when it came to offering a solution to man's wrong-doing. This required a "counter-intuitive strategy."

We need to be thankful we have a God who knows that logic needed to be defied. This led to the strategy of the cross, which leads to our deliverance through acceptance of God's counter-intuitive plan. The wise thing to do is follow God's thinking.

Pastor Steve Willis
Wednesday January 17, 2018

So many times our prayers are based upon what we want, with little thought as to what God might want for us. There is an ancient prayer that is attributed to Plato that goes like this: "Give us those things which are best, whether we pray for them or not; but command evil things to remain at a distance from us, even though we implore them." Now, Plato probably offered this to a pagan deity, but the principle he reflects is something we should consider in our prayers: leave the outcome in God's hands and believe that is what is best. Our prayers should be based on personal integrity and a desire to glorify God.

Agur stated this very eloquently many years before Plato. "Who is Agur?" you may ask. Well, we don't know too much about him except that he wrote the words in Proverbs 30. We read in Proverbs 30:8, "Remove falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches." Agur wanted two things - to have personal integrity and contentment. As we offer our prayers to God, we should make these our desire as well. It reflects a willingness to allow God to operate in our lives in a way that he knows best. The result of praying in this way is contentment - knowing we can trust him to always act in our best interests.

Christ tells us in Matthew 7:9-11, "'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!'" Agur wanted what would reflect God's glory in his life - that should be our desire as well.

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday January 16, 2018

"Lonely, I'm Mr. Lonely" crooned Bobby Vinton in one of his hit songs from the '60's. The song became No. 1 in December of 1964. Vinton was credited as co-writer and, of course, performer.

One might ask, "How could anyone be lonely with more than 7 billion people on planet Earth?" Yet, there are many people who are lonely. Some of them might be not far from where you are right now.

We need to be aware of this, and do what we can to help those who feel like they are all alone in the world. We need to develop "others" awareness and do what we can to encourage those who may feel like they have no one to whom they can turn.

The writer of Hebrews knew the value of being together and helping each other. We read in Hebrews 10:25, "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching."

Help prevent loneliness by looking around for people you see need encouragement. A well-chosen word, a timely visit, time spent with others, can help combat loneliness. "Mr. Lonely" may have been a big hit for Bobby Vinton, but we need to do all we can to make sure loneliness doesn't make the charts.

Pastor Steve Willis
Monday January 15, 2018

Holly the Cat was determined to make it home. She had been in her owner's motor home in Daytona Beach, Florida, during the running of the Daytona 500. She was startled by some fireworks and bolted from the vehicle. Her owners searched frantically, but Holly was not to be found. Despondent, they traveled the 190 miles south to their home in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, without their beloved cat.

Then something remarkable took place. They received a call from a pet shelter in their town telling them their cat had been found. They didn't believe this at first but when they arrived at the shelter, sure enough, Holly was waiting on them. She had been identified via a microchip imbedded in her skin. Holly was a little skinny, but otherwise just fine after having walked the 190 miles from Daytona Beach to Palm Beach Gardens to rejoin her family. A real-life "Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey" had taken place!

How in the world can you explain the determination of this cat to get home? This is absolutely incredible! I think little Holly gives us a little to think about in the determination department. This is a great picture of how we should be as followers of our Lord - completely focused and absolutely committed to following Him no matter what. Our love for the Savior should help us locate Him no matter where we are. Our desire to follow Him should help us overcome anything that would keep us from serving Him and giving Him our best.

We need the attitude of Peter. Upon hearing the teaching of Christ in the synagogue in Capernaum, many "followers" of Christ left him saying "This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?" (John 6:60) Christ asked the Twelve, "You do not want to leave too, do you?" Peter responded, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God." (Vss. 68-69) Develop this level of determination and you will never have a problem finding your way.

Pastor Steve Willis
Sunday January 14, 2018

Ancient scribes who worked to copy scripture labored painstakingly over their manuscripts. One method that was employed to insure accuracy was counting letters. As each page was completed, the scribe would count the letters on the copied page to see if the number matched the one of the page being copied. If it didn't, the page was destroyed and the scribe would start again. The scribe was following the command of Moses in Deuteronomy 4:2, "Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you."

We can be guilty of "adding and subtracting" from God's Word. We can be guilty of trying to make the Bible say something it doesn't, and we often ignore what it says. This is not what we should do. The Bible is the God s Word to us. If God wanted it to say something different than what it says, he would have taken care of that himself. And we certainly need to be careful that do what it says.

Don't be guilty of trying to add to or subtract from God's Word. Read it and do what it says. God gave it to us for a reason!

Pastor Steve Willis
Saturday January 13, 2018

I am amazed at all the spray-on products that have been developed for the purpose of altering outward appearances. You can get spray-on tans, spray-on hair color, even spray-on hair. This idea of spray-on products has extended to other areas as well. A spray-on mud has been developed to put on 4 X 4 vehicles to give the appearance that the vehicle has been "off-roading" without the danger of actually off-roading.

We are really into outward appearances, aren't we? Well, we shouldn't be. We sometimes get so caught up in this outward appearance thing that we do things more drastic than using sprays. We embellish stories, pad resumes, or alter descriptions, all for the sake of appearance.

God warns against being too caught up in outward appearances. He addressed a nation that was caught up in outward appearances by telling Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. Humans look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." (I Samuel 16:7)

God does not want us to be so concerned with appearances that we result to "spray jobs." They only cover things up, and they don't last. Work on something more authentic and lasting - changing what is inside. This is a much better course of action.

Pastor Steve Willis
Friday January 12, 2018

I am a semi-fan of Simon and Garfunkel. You can interpret that pretty much any way you want. Some of their songs I like, and some I don t. My favorite Simon and Garfunkel song is either "Sound of Silence" or "Bridge Over Troubled Waters." I think it is probably "Sound of Silence." The oxymoronic title grabs my attention. How in the world do you have a sound of silence?

In our world today, most of us have trouble with the sound of silence. We are so used to having sounds all around us that we don't deal well with silence.

I read a story about residents who lived near Stapleton Field in Denver. Stapleton closed after the opening of Denver International Airport in 1995. The residents were ecstatic that they would no longer be plagued by the noise of the airport. What did they do to celebrate? They threw a loud party, of course!

Our days are generally filled with a good deal of sound. What we need to do is to make sure we spend some of the day in silence. To help our spiritual character, we need to spend some time in silence before God. We need to make sure we are devoting part of our day to him to make sure God has time to speak to us.

Psalm 46:10 says, "Be still, and know that I am God." The literal translation of the phrase "be still" is "cease striving." We need to make some time where we stop our usual activity, settle down, and give God our undivided attention. This is something that often seems so hard for us, but there is so much benefit in silence before God.

I think I ve written about this before, but when my girls were little, to make sure they were listening to me, often I would gently take their little face in my hands, look straight in their eyes and say, "Listen to me!" I wonder if God ever feels like he needs to do this with us. Don't put God in this position; enjoy the "sound of silence" with Him on a regular basis!

Pastor Steve Willis
Thursday January 11, 2018

Many who experience a life-threatening experience often say they "saw their life pass before their eyes." Folks who have these experiences often speak of how their brush with death caused them to develop new priorities and new outlooks on how they are living their lives. John Connally was the governor of Texas and was riding in the limousine when President John Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. Connally was critically wounded in the shooting. Afterwards he said, "As far as Nellie and I are concerned, it inevitably brought into sharper focus what s really important in life. We try not to participate in things that are shallow or in the long run meaningless."

I don't know what the Connally s considered important in life, but I know what we who are followers of Christ should consider important in life. And it should not take a life-threatening situation to bring this into a position of significance in our outlook. Psalm 39:4-7 says, "'Show me, O LORD, my life's end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man's life is but a breath. Man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro: He bustles about, but only in vain; he heaps up wealth, not knowing who will get it. But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you.'"

The writer here comments on the brevity of life and his focus during his brief life: the Lord. "My hope is in you," he declares. Make sure your focus in on the Lord! Don't wait for a life-threatening experience to formulate this priority. Life is too short the way it is without needing an alarming reminder!

Pastor Steve Willis
Wednesday January 10, 2018

Paul encourages us to "Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor." (Romans 13:7) Many of us owe debts and we are involved in a plan to resolve them. I read a story once that speaks to this issue, but with a different slant. A lady was $4 dollars short when she checked out at her local market. A man in line behind her took care of the debt. Later that week, a local charity received a check for $4 from the lady along with a note explaining how she had been helped with a debt and wished to "pay back the debt." Not knowing who the man was, she had this idea as a way to repay the favor.

We should feel an obligation to pass along good deeds that are done for us. As we pass along little kindnesses, expression of help, financial assistance, or some other act, we demonstrate the character of Christ. We can never truly repay all we owe in this way, and we can surely never totally repay what we owe to our Savior, but we can demonstrate his love and our desire to share that love in a tangible way. As Glen Campbell sang many years ago, we need to "try a little kindness."

The magazine "American Profile" once published a number of letters from readers detailing acts of kindness they had experienced. One lady developed a method of distracting her friend while the friend received needed injections or had blood tests. The friend needed these procedures but had a paralyzing fear of needles. Another lady wrote about how a passing motorist helped when her car had broken down while with her disabled daughter as a passenger during a trip to the doctor. Many other examples were given. When I read the story, I thought, "If folks were asked about some kindness they had experienced at my hand, would there be any?"

What about you? What can others say about you when it comes to an act of kindness? As we said earlier, we need to feel an obligation to pass along good deeds. It is the least we can do when we consider what has been done for us.

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday January 09, 2018

There was a popular song released in 1972 by the group "America" entitled "Horse With No Name." The song was rather mysterious, but it spoke of traveling in a desert and some of the strangeness of a desert journey. I don't think many others would have thought of this when they heard the song, but every time I heard it, I would think of the desert wanderings of the Israelites during their pilgrimage to the Promised Land. The song spoke of the need for water in the desert.

The Israelites confronted Moses about their lack of water on more than one occasion. God miraculously provided water in one instance by turning poisoned water into good water (Exodus 15:22). Another time he led them to abundant springs (Exodus 15:27). On one occasion he had Moses strike a rock and water gushed out (Exodus 17:1). On another occasion he asked Moses to speak to a rock (Numbers 20:8). On this final event, Moses actually struck the rock twice instead of just speaking to it, as God had said, and was prevented from entering the Land because of his disobedience. God told Moses, "Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them."

Moses was not the only one among them who would not see the Promised Land. Sadly, because of their lack of faith and continued grumbling, all but the children would perish in the wilderness. We read in Numbers 32:11-13, "'Because they have not followed me wholeheartedly, not one of the men twenty years old or more who came up out of Egypt will see the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob--not one except Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite and Joshua son of Nun, for they followed the LORD wholeheartedly.' The LORD's anger burned against Israel and he made them wander in the desert forty years, until the whole generation of those who had done evil in his sight was gone."

When we feel we are wandering in the desert, we need to continue to trust God. At times, life can seem like a dry, arid wasteland. However, God is there, he has not left us, and he will provide for us at all times. Sometimes we miss what he has for us because we focus on what confronts us rather than looking at God. God provides for us in unexpected and sometimes miraculous ways. When we trust God, we will experience rivers of continual provision and grace for every need.

Pastor Steve Willis
Monday January 08, 2018

A few years ago, it seemed as if every other show on TV was a show about forensic police work. Forensic science is certainly a fascinating field, and one that shows there is no such thing as "the perfect crime." Recently I read a quote of a forensic scientist, "There's no perfect crime. Many evidences are left behind at the crime scene, which the naked eye can't see. Blood, even minute quantities that remain after cleanup, can be made to glow by spraying chemicals on affected surfaces. There is more to reality than meets the eye."

This is true in more than one way. There is a real, spiritual world that is invisible to us yet is just as real as the world we experience. Elisha prayed that the eyes of his servant would be opened so that he could see the vast numbers of those of the spiritual realm coming to aid Israel in their battle with Syria. In II Kings 6:16 - 17, we read, "Elisha said, 'Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.' Then Elisha prayed and said, 'O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.' So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha." Elisha knew there was an invisible realm of protection provided for them.

We have a realm of protection and provision that we cannot see. We cannot see God but we know he is there to help us with what we face. God promises us, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." (Hebrews 13:5) The angels of God are there to minister to us when we need their presence. Psalm 91:11 tells us, "He will order his angels to protect you wherever you go." The Holy Spirit resides within us to give us encouragement and direction. (Read I Corinthians 6:19)

When you face a challenge, when the odds seemed to be stacked against you, think about the hope of God's provision promised to you in Scripture. If you are facing a situation that makes you feel alone and helpless, remember that you are not. Pray for eyes that help you see what is unseen and ask for the courage to face what you experience. There is more to reality than meets the eye.

Pastor Steve Willis
Sunday January 07, 2018

What type of electronics did you get for a Christmas gift? Well, congratulations on your antique! I read an article a couple of days before Christmas that said you needed to wait until next year to buy some new phone as they will be cheaper and have more features. We truly are living in an age of "expendability." Our electronic gadgets go out of date almost the same day we buy them. So, what you got for Christmas is already obsolete, and whoever bought it for you paid way too much money!

This is a slight exaggeration, of course, but it does represent a truth in our society. Items do out of date or out of style so quickly. Today's Christmas gift is tomorrow's landfill occupant. That may sound a little bleak, but it illustrates a truth upon which we need to focus. We need to focus on the lasting aspects of what we have been celebrating.

The lasting aspect is the Gift of God given to us that will never go out of style or become obsolete. Paul speaks of this Gift in Romans 6:23, "the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." This new life we have will never go out of date or out of style. Rejoice in your new life, a gift that keeps on giving!

Pastor Steve Willis
Saturday January 06, 2018

Aldous Huxley was a humanist and an intellectual known for his progressive thinking and his writing on the "mechanization" of mankind. He is best known for his 1932 novel "Brave New World." According to the accounting of some, Huxley made great contributions to the thinking of people in the 20th century. However, he has been quoted as saying, "It's rather embarrassing to have spent one's entire lifetime pondering the human condition and find that I really don't have anything more profound to pass on by way of advice than, 'Try to be a little kinder.'"

Isn't that a bit sad? Huxley was one of the greatest minds of the last century, yet he felt as if he couldn't offer more to anyone else that some advice to "be a little kinder." So it is when we think we can exist without the presence of God in our lives.

Many are lauded for their intellect, as was Huxley, but if God is left out all of their brilliance and progressive thinking is empty. Psalm 14:1 has blunt words for this world view: "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.'" Don't be foolish - don't pursue a path that leaves God out of your life. Regardless of your brilliance, that really isn't very smart.

Pastor Steve Willis
Friday January 05, 2018

Hudson Taylor was a pioneer missionary to China in the 19th century. He scrawled this note as he neared the end of his life: "I am so weak that I cannot work; I cannot read my Bible; I cannot even pray. I can only lie still in God s arms like a child, and trust."

When it comes to our relationship with the Lord, we need to remember that childlike faith is what we need. As a child, I don't remember worrying about too many things, except for maybe the amount of chocolate milk that was in the frig. I trusted that my folks would take care of me. When I think about it, I really don't remember having a conscious thought about trusting my folks, I just did. This is the essence of childlike faith, which is the kind of faith we should have in God.

We read in Matthew 18:2 - 4, "He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: 'I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.'" (Matthew 18:2-4)

We need to learn to trust. Actually, we know how to trust, we just need to get back to that level of trust we had as kids when it comes to our relationship with God. Faith like a child is what we need to have. It takes the worries away!

Pastor Steve Willis
Thursday January 04, 2018

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, also called the Pacific Trash Vortex, is a gyre of marine debris in the central North Pacific Ocean that, according to Wikipedia, is located roughly between 135 degrees W to 155 degrees W and 35 degrees N and 42 degrees N. This means that the patch is larger than the state of Texas.

The patch was created by trash dumped into the ocean that was trapped in the currents. This mass is comprised predominantly of plastic bottles that will be around for a long time to come. Recently this mass was even featured in an episode of the weekly TV series "Scorpion." This is a sad testimony to the indifference many have towards the care of our home planet.

I know we look forward to a "New Heaven" and a "New Earth" - on more than one occasion I have written about these ' but that doesn't mean we should not take seriously the charge given to our ancestors to take care of the current earth. Genesis 2:15 tells us that God "took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it." With the fall of man also came the propensity to not be very good caretakers of what God has given us. Continually we hear of shortages of resources because conservation measures were not exercised.

God delights in what he has created. Six times in Genesis 1 we read that he looked at what he had done and said it was "good." We need to look at what he has done, realize it is good, and treat it well. We know we have a new earth ahead, but that doesn't mean we should mistreat the earth that we have now.

Pastor Steve Willis
Wednesday January 03, 2018

As I was going through college, one of the summer jobs I had was clearing right of ways for the local county highway department. There were several college students on the crew, along with a permanent county highway employee who was our supervisor and took us to jobsites. One of his favorite lines was "It all pays the same." This was his response when someone would complain about a job assignment, or even when he was questioned about his particular job.

Often, we feel ourselves involved in meaningless activities in our jobs. I suppose that one way to respond to this would be to invoke the philosophy of my former supervisor. This is the case with some of our activities - we feel they are meaningless and have no point. We feel that we are in a situation where our activity actually is getting us nowhere.

This is also a description of a life without God. Indeed, a life without God is meaningless and not going anywhere. There is no earthly solution to this - even the wisdom of my supervisor has little meaning in this case. This was the question of Solomon when he wrote, "'Meaningless! Meaningless!' says the Teacher. 'Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless. What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun?'" (Ecclesiastes 1:2-3)

After pondering over all the possibilities, Solomon concludes, "Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man." (Ecclesiastes 12:13) Solomon realized that life had little meaning apart from God and a relationship with him. With God, you will find meaning in life, and that it does not "all pay the same."

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday January 02, 2018

God had wireless communication long before pagers, wi-fi, and cell phones did you know that? Modern wireless technology still has its limitations because of "dead zones." This is one reason why there are occasions when you don t find my articles - I am where there is no wireless Yep those places still exist!

At times, God has this same problem. Well, to be accurate, God doesn't have the problem. There is nowhere he can't reach with his communications. We have the problem because we create dead zones with our disobedience and indifference to his messages. I find it a bit ironic that there are many who would never think of ignoring a page, text, or call, but have created a "dead zone" when it comes to hearing from God.

An example of someone in Scripture who had created a dead zone was Eli. His sons were committing despicable acts in the performance of their priestly duties. Eli wasn't doing much to try to stop them, and even when he did, "His sons, however, did not listen to their father's rebuke." They created a dead zone and as a result God was going to bring about judgement. (I Samuel 2:25) Because Eli had failed to follow God, and because of the disobedience of the sons, God told Eli, "I promised that your house and your father's house would minister before me forever. But now the LORD declares: 'Far be it from me! Those who honor me I will honor, but those who despise me will be disdained.'" (I Samuel 2:30-31)

We often wonder why we don't hear from God and why we don't see his blessing. Have you created a dead zone through your disobedience and indifference? God will not communicate with those who don't want to listen. And, as I said before, the dead zone is your creation, not God's. Do what you need to do to improve the reception!

Pastor Steve Willis
Monday January 01, 2018

Each day in our lives is an important day. Today is an important day not because it is the first day of a new year. Today is important because we don t know if we will have tomorrow. God has allowed yesterday's tomorrow to become today, so today I am going to write on the significance of making today count. Since we are starting a New Year, this is actually a rather "timely" story, if you will pardon the pun.

Some time ago, I came across some calculations in an article and want to use them in today's writing, as we have changed the calendar into another year. I don't know who did the math on this, but If we live 65 years, we have about 600,000 hours at our disposal. Assuming we are 18 when we complete high school, we have 47 years, or nearly 412,000 hours to live after graduation. If we spend 8 hours a day sleeping, 8 hours for personal, social, and recreational activities, and 8 hours for working, that amounts to 137,333 hours in each category. When we think of the time we have to work and play in terms of hours, it doesn t seem like much.

As we view our lives in these terms, it demonstrates why we need to make today count. Paul encourages us in Ephesians 5:15-16, "Be very careful, then, how you live--not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil." Make today count - take advantage of the opportunities in your path. Live to please God, and don't put off activities or practices that would help bring your closer to him. Also, don't put off those opportunities to do things with your family and your friends. Don't put off those opportunities to make a difference in someone else's life.

We only have so much time, and we need to use it wisely. Make the most of your opportunities! Happy New Year!

Pastor Steve Willis
Sunday December 31, 2017

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. 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 Willis
Saturday December 30, 2017

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 Willis
Thurday December 28, 2017

I came across this quote the other day: "No one can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending." The scripture is full of stories of the lives of people who made new endings - some of them positive, some of them not so good. It would definitely have been better for Saul, Ahab, and Judas to have started at some point to make a new ending. However, they did not and they experienced the consequences. David made a bad decision but repented and the Lord was able to continue to use him (read Psalm 51). Saul was definitely headed in the wrong direction, but repented and became a powerful force in the hands of God (see Acts 9).

Are you heading down a road that isn't going to end well? Now is the time to make the decision to repent and make a new ending. Not just because it is the end of an old year and the beginning of a New Year, but because now is the time you have to make a decision to do something different. And we need to include God in our plans - we need to put him in the preeminent position in our decision making process. Proverbs 16:9 says, "The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps." Start today on that new ending - don't wait until tomorrow - that may be a little late!

Pastor Steve Willis
Wednesday December 27, 2017

Much has been written about post-Christmas depression and how to beat it. You can find a bunch of articles on the internet about this. Of course, it was a topic long before there was internet. Many experience an emotional let-down after Christmas is over, and for some it can be quite a problem. Experiencing a time of emotional let-down is not just associated with Christmas, it can happen at other times and for other reasons.

Let-downs can follow other times of celebration or events, or we can experience this when someone does something to "let us down." This is, unfortunately, part of our experience as people because people can bring about bad times for us, either intentionally or unintentionally. We can bring about bad times for others - we can be mean at times, or we can simply let someone else down through an unintentional flub on our part. The only one we can trust to never let us down is the one whose birth we celebrate - our Savior. He came to lift us up - to provide a way for us to be able to escape the morass of sin in which we were mired. When we place our faith in him, he gives us hope - hope of eternal life and of so much more.

Christ said, "I am come that they might have life and that they might have it more abundantly." (John 10:10) If we focus on the Savior and his provision, we will not only be able to conquer those post-Christmas blues, we will be able to experience a richer life that is full of joy and contentment because of what he provides. Trust him and experience the life he has for you! One thing we can know for sure - Christ will never let us down!

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday December 26, 2017

Duplicity is one trait that needs to be avoided. We hear stories that reveal this part of man's character on a daily basis. Recently I read of an individual who was a manager of a Christian foundation in Washington, D.C., and was found to be a leader in an organized crime ring. Proverbs 6:12-14 says: "What are worthless and wicked people like? They are constant liars, signaling their deceit with a wink of the eye, a nudge of the foot, or the wiggle of fingers. Their perverted hearts plot evil, and they constantly stir up trouble."

We see a person who fits this description in the narratives of the events surrounding Christ's birth and infancy. Herod had an ulterior motive when he questioned the Magi about the birth of Christ. Matthew 2:7-8 tells us: "Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, 'Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.'" You and I both know that Herod had no more intention to worship Christ than there is a man in the moon. His intent was to see Christ dead. Duplicity is demonstrated indeed.

The problem of duplicity is all around us, and if we aren't careful, can be manifested by us as well. Avoid dishonesty and duplicity. Be determined to live a life of sincere faith in Jesus.

Pastor Steve Willis
Monday December 25, 2017

One of my favorite songs at Christmas is "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." I really like the Casting Crowns' arrangement that they recorded a few years ago. Our webmaster includes this in the video offerings on our church webpage during the Christmas Season.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote this carol. Yes, he is the same Longfellow who wrote "The Song of Hiawatha" and "Paul Revere's Ride." His composition of "I Heard the Bells" flowed from his own personal experiences. He wrote the song on December 25, 1864, when our nation was still very much involved in the darkest experience in our history - the War Between the States. The poem came from that reality, and also the losses he had suffered during the war.

He lost his wife, Fanny, in a tragic accident not long after the war started. She was killed in a fire at the family home. Then, in 1863, Longfellow's oldest son Charles, a lieutenant in the Army of the Potomac, was killed in battle. These experiences are perhaps most reflected in the next to the last stanza of the poem when he writes: "And in despair I bowed my head; 'There is no peace on earth,' I said; 'For hate is strong, And mocks the song of peace on earth, good-will to men!'"

Longfellow concludes the poem with these words: "Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: 'God is not dead; nor doth he sleep! The Wrong shall fail, The Right prevail, with peace on earth, good-will to men!'" This verse reflects both the personal faith of Longfellow that prevailed in spite of tragedy and the Scriptural reality that the coming of the Prince of Peace will make everything right.

Isaiah 9:5-7 reminds us, "Every warrior s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire. 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. He will reign on David s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.' Praise God for his Promise! Merry Christmas!

Pastor Steve Willis
Sunday December 24, 2017

What is your favorite Christmas memory? I have several. One of them has to be preparing for Christmas plays or Christmas presentations of some sort. I remember once we used candles that really weren't candles. All the boys had to wear white shirts and black slacks. All the girls had to wear white blouses and black skirts. And we had our candles.

They were battery powered "sticks" with a bulb in the shape of a flame. I thought they were so cool. When you got a bunch of them together, they did put out some serious light. I suppose we did look pretty neat standing in the choir all dressed alike and holding our fake candles while singing some marvelous Christmas songs. This is one of my many Christmas memories.

Christmas memories are marvelous, and usually help us frame our concept of our celebration. However, what is important is not to try to make our current Christmas match up with our memories of Christmases past. We need to focus on what Christmas is, and not get caught up with what it was. Christmas is to be a celebration of what has been done for us, not what we did at Christmas.

Christmas is a good time to reflect upon God's provision for us. Galatians 4:4-5 tells us that "when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship." Our memory of Christmas must include this provision. If not, thinking about fake candles is really not all that great.

Pastor Steve Willis
Saturday December 23, 2017

I really miss trees at my grandparents' house. Of course, it has been quite a while since our last tree there. My grandparents have been in heaven for almost 45 years, 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, and they were not artificial trees. They were trees that my grandpa 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 cut them. Often, they were misshapen, 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.

After Papaw did all he could do, he would turn it over to my 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 really marvelous. If you haven't allowed him to change your heart, give God your life and experience the transformation!

Pastor Steve Willis
Friday December 22, 2017

We sing the song "Silent Night, Holy Night" at this time of year. I wrote about this song just a few days ago. It is really a beautiful tribute to Christ's birth and a wonderful reminder of what Christ did in coming into the world. The song talks about some of the activity that was going on at the time of Christ's birth. A marvelous song, but is it accurate?

I would imagine the night of Christ's birth was not all that silent. Think of all the sound that must have been going on within earshot of the place of Christ's birth. There were the sounds of the animals. Bethlehem would have been crowded with people, and I imagine they were noisy. They were no doubt oblivious to the special birth that had taken place.

Aside from the usual sounds, God made some noise. Think of the angel chorus. They were not silent about the birth of Christ. The shepherds were not silent after their visit with the Christ child. Rather, "When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child." (Luke 2:17)

Now, this does diminish the power and beauty of the song, but it really wasn't a "silent night" when Christ was born. Neither should we remain silent about him. "Silent Night" may be a beautiful song to sing at Christmas, but we should not remain silent about what took place on that special night!

Pastor Steve Willis
Wednesday December 20, 2017

An aspect of Christ's ministry that we usually focus more upon during the Lenten season rather than the Advent season is his suffering. We don't normally like to associate suffering with the story of the baby in the manger and the shepherds and the wise men. Yet, there are both implied and direct reminders of suffering in many aspects of the Nativity story.

When you think of what his parents must have gone through just before he was born, you get the idea of suffering. I can't speak to this directly, but I know there are many ladies reading this who can identify with the discomfort Mary must have endured making an 80-mile journey during the latter part of her pregnancy, more than likely on foot, not on a donkey as most enactments portray. The rude surroundings at Christ's birth speak to suffering.

Many of the elements of the magi's visit speak to suffering. The long journey of the Magi helps focus on suffering as there would have been expense, discomfort, and hazards to face along the way. The gift of myrrh, a substance often associated with death as it was used in burial preparation, brings in the element of suffering. Of course, the cruel order of Herod leading to the deaths of many children created suffering. This suffering was much more than just implied (Matthew 2:13-19).

We sometimes use the term Suffering Servant when referring to Christ. This name comes primarily from the prophecies of Isaiah about his suffering and death. Isaiah 53:3 says: "He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain." While we usually associate this with our Easter observance, it is something we should also include in our Christmas celebration. We should never forget that this is why Christ came. Mark 10:45 reminds us that "the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday December 19, 2017

A little boy was bothered a bit on Christmas morning. "Mommy," he said, "I like all my gifts, but this is Jesus' birthday. When are we going to give Jesus his present?" What a marvelous question; a question that we should be asking during our celebration.

What are we going to give Jesus? The little drummer boy said he would play for him on his drum. Perhaps he had a good idea - playing the drum was what he did best, so he was going to present Jesus with a gift of his best. This should be our desire as we consider our gift to him. Whatever it is, it should be our best.

Proverbs 3:9 reflects this ideal, "Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops." I would imagine you have taken some time choosing just the right gifts for those on your list. Make sure that Christ is at the head of your list, and make sure you give him your best gift!

Pastor Steve Willis
Monday December 18, 2017

It was the night before Christmas during the height of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. The French and German soldiers were entrenched against each other on the field of battle. No shots were being fired. Suddenly, a French soldier laid down his rifle and started walking towards the enemy line. His comrades, afraid to try to stop him lest they endanger their own lives, watched breathlessly as he approached the enemy troops, fully expecting to hear the crack of a rifle at any moment ending their fellow combatant's life. After advancing several steps, the soldier stopped and started singing, "Noel, noel, noel, noel - born is the King of Israel" then walked back towards his original position.

After he returned, a soldier from the German army began walking towards the French line. He did as the French soldier had done, singing "The First Noel" in German. For that night, peace reigned on that battlefield.

Christ is indeed the preeminent Peacemaker. He came to make peace between God and man, an ultimately in all of creation. "For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross." (Colossians 1:19-20) God took the first step towards peace and has made a way through his Son for us to be at peace with him. Peace initiatives may be rejected, even those of the Father, but we know that at some point in time, peace will reign supreme because of the gift of Christ. "Peace on earth and mercy mild; God and sinners reconciled." This is made possible because God took the first step.

Pastor Steve Willis
Sunday December 17, 2017

I was thinking the other day of the Christmas song, "Sweet Little Jesus Boy." When I was young, sometimes our choir director would pick out a young boy from the church and have them sing this song during the Christmas musical. I was never selected, but my brother was. I always enjoyed the song, even back then (and even though I never got to sing it!):

Sweet little Jesus boy

They made you be born in a manger.

Sweet little holy Child

Didn t know who you was.

Didn't know you come to save us Lord

To take our sins away.

The song is in the style of a spiritual, and I had always assumed it was a spiritual until I read the story behind the song. In 1932 Robert MacGimsey, a resident of New York City, was on his way to a Christmas Eve service. On his way to the church, he walked by a number of bars where he heard raucous music and the loud voices of those inside "celebrating" Christmas. He thought, "What a strange way to celebrate the birth of Christ."

His thoughts led to the writing of "Sweet Little Jesus Boy", a song that became a popular part of Christmas celebrations in many churches. His song is an apology to Christ for those who did not recognize him. Many don't. Even the Scripture tells us, "The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him." (John 1:9-10)

Let's make sure we show that we recognize Christ. Let your celebrations be true reflections of your knowledge that Jesus is the Savior of the world who came to die for the world. The "Sweet Little Jesus Boy" became our Savior make sure that you honor him!

Pastor Steve Willis
Saturday December 16, 2017

The experience of Mary and Joseph is, among many other things, a study in why we should not put God in a box. We are prone to think we know how God will react or how he will work in given circumstances but we should never presume to know what God will do. Reading the stories of how Mary and Joseph were informed of the impending birth of Christ shows us that God can work differently with different people even in the same circumstance.

Mary was informed ahead of time of the plan of God that would profoundly affect her life. Gabriel came to her and outlined God's plan for her future (Luke 1:26-38). Joseph, however, did not learn of God's involvement until after his discovery that his fiancé was pregnant which led to plans of terminating his relationship with her without exposing her apparent misconduct (Matthew 1:18-25). Only then did an agent of God come to Joseph to reveal to him the plan of God. Why the difference?

This is where our faith plays such an important role in our relationship with God. We must allow God to be God and realize any effort to try to work out his plans in our mind will not bring about results. We cannot predict how God will lead in our lives, but we should be confident that he will lead us the right way and whatever he does is in our best interests.

Another lesson we learn from the experience of Mary and Joseph is how to respond in circumstances that create questions. Mary and Joseph both responded in faith and showed their confidence in God in what they did. Mary said, "I am the Lord s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled." (Luke 1:38) We read about Joseph, "When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife." (Matthew 1:24) We need to remember the examples of Mary and Joseph when it comes to following God.

Pastor Steve Willis
Friday December 15, 2017

You perhaps have read articles or heard a message about the similarities between the cradle of Christ and the tomb of Christ. Let's think about this for a moment or two. We associate the cradle with the beginning of Christ's earthly existence and the tomb with the end of his earthly existence (plus a few days after his resurrection).

The cradle and the tomb were both man-made. To me, this symbolizes Christ's willingness to condescend and become human. The Creator of all that is was willing to be laid in structures that were made by the hands of those whom he had created. This act gives us a word picture of Philippians 2:7-8, "he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death--even death on a cross!"

The cradle and the tomb were both borrowed. Mary and Joseph had to borrow space to have their baby, and Jesus was laid in a tomb that was borrowed from Joseph, the member of the Sanhedrin who buried him. As far as we know, Christ never owned anything in this world except his own clothes. What does this say about our attitude toward earthly possessions?

Finally, the cradle and the tomb are both empty. The cradle emptied in the natural way; Christ would outgrow his "baby bed," as all children do. The grave, however, was a different thing. Christ "outgrew" the tomb in a supernatural way. In so doing, he provided the means for us to outgrow our graves as well through the promise of the resurrection.

As you celebrate Christmas this year, remember that the life Christ experienced, from the cradle to the tomb, he experienced for you.

Pastor Steve Willis
Thursday December 14, 2017

I would imagine you are familiar with the story behind the composition of "Silent Night". Forgive me for being repetitious, but I would like to share the tale with you again. I appreciate the carol for many reasons, and one is the situation which brought about the song.

As you may know, it was written rather hastily because of a circumstance involving a faulty church organ. In 1818 in Oberndorff, Austria, Pastor Josef Mohr needed a song for services at his church on Christmas Day. The problem was the organ at the church was not working, so on Christmas Day in 1818, he brought a poem he had just written on Christmas Eve to the church organist, Franz Gruber, to see if he could write some music for guitar. Mohr had been inspired to write the lyrics out of necessity, but also because of the impressions he took away from his attendance at a Christmas presentation by a traveling group of actors held in a nearby home on Christmas Eve. Gruber came up with a tune that day, taught the song to the congregation that gathered for Christmas worship, and the rest is history. "Silent Night" is one of our most beloved songs sung at Christmas.

This story of a last minute effort to put something together because of extenuating circumstances reminds me of the many times I have found myself scrambling at the last minute to put something together because a change was necessary. That is part of life experience. I do prefer to be able to plan things ahead of time and watch things unfold according to plan but sometimes this isn't possible. The only One who can guarantee that things will indeed take place according to plans that have been made is God.

Many mistakenly think that the Christmas Story is about God's last-minute changes that were necessitated because his original plans didn't work out. This is not the case. What took place in Bethlehem, and all that took place with regard to the life of Christ, was part of God's plan all along. Ephesians 1:9-10 says, "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." The event we are celebrating did not come about because God had to make a last-minute switch from the organ to the guitar. He intended to play the guitar all along.

Pastor Steve Willis
Wednesday December 13, 2017

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 Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) is saved from injury, maybe even death, by Private Phil Davis (Danny Kaye) who injures his arm during the rescue. Wallace visits Davis in the field hospital and is "roped" into going into show business with him after the war when Davis 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 by Davis that Wallace doesn't like but Davis does is met with a rub on the arm by Davis that serves to remind Wallace what he owes Davis 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.

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

Christ Jesus paid a debt that I could never pay!

Now that is a Christmas Carol if I ever heard one!

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday December 12, 2017

I used to sing this song when I was a kid, I taught it to my kids, and we are teaching it to our grandkids: "Zacchaeus was a wee little man, a wee little man was he. He climbed up in a sycamore tree for the Lord he wanted to see. And as the Savior passed that way he looked up in the tree. And he said, 'Zacchaeus, you come down from there. For I'm going to your house today. I'm going to your house today.'" What a neat song - and, oh, what a deep and revealing story it tells.

With Jesus, there was intent. "Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today." (Luke 19:5) This reveals that not only was Zacchaeus looking for Jesus; Jesus was looking for Zacchaeus. There was also identification - Jesus knew who Zacchaeus was even before he met him. And there was involvement. Jesus knew what Zacchaeus did, he intended to meet Zacchaeus, and he became involved in his life for the purpose of bringing redemption to Zacchaeus.

This is what Jesus wants with us - to become involved in our lives in order to bring us into a life of fellowship with him. That is why he entered our world. Luke 19:10 tells us, "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost." This is the intent of Christ. He showed this in the example of Zacchaeus. He knew his name, he knows our name. He wants to come to our house as he did with Zacchaeus. Christ is keenly interested in your life and wants you to be involved in his. Climb that tree!

Pastor Steve Willis
Monday December 11, 2017

What is the most important characteristic for a follower of Christ? It may not be number one, but from a number of passages we learn that humility is highly regarded by God.

Moses was selected by God to be the leader of his people. God chose him to confront Pharaoh, unify the people of Israel, and then lead them back to their homeland. There were a number of traits that made Moses uniquely suited for this daunting assignment.

God said about Moses, "But this is not true of my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house. With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?" (Exodus 12:7-8) For what was Moses most noted? We read in verse 4, "Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth." This was emphasized as God was preparing to confront the brother and sister of Moses, Aaron and Miriam, because of their jealous treatment of Moses.

God honors those who are humble. James 4:6 states God's attitude towards pride and humility - "God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble." Do you want God's opposition, or his favor? Now that's a rhetorical question if there ever was one.

Pastor Steve Willis
Sunday December 10, 2017

To me, one of the most compelling chapters in the narrative that we call the "Christmas Story" is the revelation to Mary of her part in God's plan of redemption. I have always been amazed at the response of Mary when she encountered the angel Gabriel and he told her news that would bring about great changes in her life. You can read the entire account in the first chapter of Luke s Gospel.

Mary was an ordinary Jewish girl who was living a normal life and then one day found out she had been chosen for an extraordinary position - to be the one who would bear the Son of God. One thing was for sure - she viewed this as a privilege and an honor. Her response indicated her willingness - "I am the Lord s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled." (Luke 1:38) She believed what someone has written, "To know God's will is a treasure; to do God's will is a privilege."

Do you look at your work for God as a privilege? Many of us don't give this a thought, and often we simply go a different direction rather than walk in obedience. We fail to see that serving God is not a chore, but an honor.

Follow the example of Mary and do God's bidding! Look at opportunities to do God's work as a privilege. There is no higher honor than to serve the King!

Pastor Steve Willis
Saturday December 09, 2017

Sometimes when I am driving, things get really blurry. I have trouble reading road signs, and I just can't see what is in front of me very well. Now, before you get too excited and start PM'ing me all over the place or whatever with advice about how I need to get this problem examined, let me tell you that I wear bifocals. So, things get a little blurry because I have my head in the wrong position and I am trying to look out of the "reading" part of my glasses. When this happens, I just make a little adjustment and look out of the correct part of the lenses.

In actuality, I don t have to wear glasses to drive anymore. This may be a surprise for some of you who have known me for awhile as you may remember my coke-bottle spectacles. I wore contacts for years, but when I had cataract surgery some time ago, my vision was corrected to the point that I no longer require glasses to see distances. This is the case even after my eye problems last year. On the other hand, I cannot see "my nose in front of my face," so I need reading glasses. I had bifocals made after my cataracts were removed because I got tired of keeping track of my "cheaters."

I usually wear my bifocals when I drive as I like to be able to read the dash. So, at times I have to remind myself to change my focus in order to see things clearly as I forget about the bifocals. And, of course, when I do change how I look at things, my vision improves.

This is something that also can be helpful in life, isn't it? That is, change how we look at something in order for our vision of that something to improve. We may have an issue, a problem, a dispute with someone else, a glitch in our own behavior, or something else that comes into clearer focus when we change how we are looking at that circumstance.

For example, if we are having a conflict with someone else, trying to view the issue from the other person's point of view can be the solution, or at least get us down the road to some sort of resolution. Sometimes we struggle with some sort of problem that has us buffaloed. Maybe looking at the problem from another perspective can give us some insight as to how we can go about resolving the issue.

Paul speaks about looking at things from another perspective to help us view things more clearly. "So, we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." (II Corinthians 4:18) There are times that we need to pray for the vision of God so that we can have a more realistic view of what is taking place in our lives and so that we can see what is really important to see.

Life can become a little blurry at times. Looking at what is there from a different perspective can be helpful, and it is wise to ask God for help to view things clearly. Make sure you are looking through the correct part of your glasses!

Pastor Steve Willis
Friday December 08, 2017

Scherry and I were driving through Cincinnati, Ohio, the other day when I saw a billboard advertising Skyline Chili. Many of you are familiar with Skyline Chili, but for those of you who are not, Skyline Chili is a restaurant chain that started in Cincinnati in 1949. Their specialty is chili served over spaghetti in "Ways." Now, many restaurants do this, but I think Skyline does it best.

The aforementioned billboard featured a picture of Skyline's signature dish, "Chili 3-Way," which is spaghetti, chili, and a mound of cheddar. The accompanying caption on the billboard proclaimed "Pure Joy." For those of us who like Skyline, this ad would prove rather appealing. For those who really don't get the concept of chili served over spaghetti, such as my wife, this slogan really doesn't apply.

Scherry's sauce of choice for spaghetti is marinara, which is fine. She has been known to ask, Why would you put chili on spaghetti? So, for Scherry, "Skyline Chili" does not equal "Pure Joy."

This scenario could be played out in a number of ways. There are any number of things that for some would bring "pure joy," but for others, not so much. You know, there is actually a biblical concept that fits this description.

In Hebrews 12:2, we read a statement about Christ that begins, "Who for the joy set before him. . ." How would you complete this statement? What did consider to be joy? What did he do because of the "joy set before him?" What path did he follow because he knew it would bring joy? The author of Hebrews tells us that for the joy set before him, Jesus "endured the cross, scorning its shame." Whoa. That isn't something I would associate with joy.

If you will, let me expand this a bit. "Who for the joy set before him. . .", Jesus left his place in Heaven (Philippians 2:6-7); was placed in a feeding trough for animals when he was born (Luke 2:7); had to be taken to Egypt by his parents because a deranged ruler wanted him dead (Matthew 2:13); escaped a murder attempt by his own neighbors in Nazareth (Luke 4:29-30); was continually hounded and berated by religious leaders (see the Gospels); and then "endured the cross, scorning its shame." These experiences do not sound like joy to me, but Jesus followed this path because joy would be the result.

Being able to bring joy to us led Christ to sacrifice himself. Thankfully, Hebrews tells us that he was able to "sit down at the right hand of God" (12:2), but even this is for our benefit (see Hebrews 7:25). The "pure joy" we have as followers of Christ is possible because of the gift of Christ. There should be no disagreement as to the greatness of this Gift.

Pastor Steve Willis
Thursday December 07, 2017

A lady found a wrinkled old baseball card and posted it on EBay, asking $10.00 for the card. She gave the card a second thought and then decided to pull the post while she had the card examined. After consulting with a sports memorabilia appraiser, she found out the card was an authentic 1869 Cincinnati Redlegs baseball card. As many of you know, the "Redlegs" were the first team in professional baseball. The card sold for $75,000 at auction, even though it was wrinkled and worn. The value was in its authenticity.

We need to be real in our Christianity. Being authentic is what determines value. Paul remained true to his faith in spite of getting "worn around the edges" from mistreatment. He wrote, "We put no stumbling block in anyone's path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger." (II Corinthians 6:3-5) Paul was determined to allow the authenticity of the Christian message continue to shine through him despite being treated roughly.

We need to allow the truth of Christianity to shine through our lives even though we might get battered around by the struggles we face. Sometimes those struggles may even be caused by the message on which we stand. Continue to remain faithful and true! We need to remain real!

Pastor Steve Willis
Wednesday December 06, 2017

Jealousy can be an ugly thing. Two shopkeepers were engaged in a bitter rivalry. They were constantly trying to one-up each other and to steal each other's customers. Seeing a new customer walk into the business across the street made each of the owners seethe with envy. One night, an angel appeared to one of the shopkeepers and said, "I will grant you any wish you desire, but whatever I give to you, your rival will receive twice as much." The man thought for a moment and said, "Strike me blind in one eye."

Can you imagine anyone being that jealous? We may not go to such extremes in our envy, but we often are led to wrong behavior because we are jealous of someone else. Jealousy in the church is not a good thing, and can lead to division.

The church at Corinth was having a problem with jealousy. In I Corinthians 3:4-4, we find Paul's address to the problem, "You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? For when one says, 'I follow Paul,' and another, 'I follow Apollos,' are you not mere human beings?"

We need to be content with what we have, and not be so concerned with others' possessions or status. Looking at the position of others with an inordinate wish to have what they have is not a good thing. Rid yourself of jealousy of others, and be grateful for who you are and what God has given you.

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday December 05, 2017

One of the important aspects about developing good relationships is learning about other's idiosyncrasies and differences and working to accept the differences. We need to learn the beauty of not wanting to control how things get done. This is really important in marriage, in other family relationships, and in any relationship. Sometimes we have a tendency to try to do things for others, to "correct" other's attempts, or to exact our methods and tendencies upon others.

We are all alike in many ways, but we are also different in many ways. We may go about performing the same task by following a different path. We need to learn to not impose our will and our way on others in a non-constructive manner. Remember that others do tasks in different ways. Remember that others have different likes and different preferences. Remember that others have different outlooks and expectations. Taking into consideration these differences is vitally important in developing good relationships.

God is the one who had created and sustains our diversity. Romans 12:6 tells us, "We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us." Remember this as you work to foster your relationships.

Pastor Steve Willis
Monday December 04, 2017

The story of Jonah has always intrigued me. I would imagine it has you as well. It's not every day that someone survives being swallowed by a fish. Many get caught in the debate as to whether the story is "a tale of a whale or a whale of a tale." I don't have a problem at all with believing the details of the story; however, the incredible aspects of this tale are not what command my attention.

I am surprised by Jonah's thinking - he really believed he could run from God and get away with it. Of course, his attempt to run from God was what led to the events that are more well known. Jonah had a problem with what he knew he should be doing, so he simply ran from his obligation. Jonah 1:3 says, "But Jonah ran away from the LORD and headed for Tarshish." Not the thing to do. God dealt with him in a very creative and unique way.

God will deal with us in very creative and unique ways if we choose to run from him. Are you resisting God's call on your life? Is there something you should be doing that you are not doing? Is there something he wants you to do that you just aren't sure about? Is there something that needs to change in your life? Is there something you are doing that you shouldn't be doing?

God doesn't make mistakes - he wanted Jonah to preach in Ninevah, and he wants you to do what he asks. Don't run from him - God knows how to use big fish!

Pastor Steve Willis
Sunday December 03, 2017

"Human History...is the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy" wrote C.S. Lewis in "Mere Christianity." This started out with Adam and Eve thinking they would be happier with supposed "greater knowledge" and continues through today. Most conflict among humans is caused by our desire to attain something we don't have that we think we need to have so that we will more content.

I have often wondered why God still puts up with us when it seems that we do nothing but try to replace him with some idea or some world view or some material thing that we think is the berries and will bring us "total consciousness" or whatever (with apologies to Bill Murray).

The thing is - we will not and cannot have true happiness apart from God. And the wonderful thing about God is that he is aware of this. Since he is aware of this, he pursues us to help us realize we need him desperately. We are celebrating His Great Outreach to humankind through sending His Son to the world to provide a means for us to attain true happiness through following His plan. To me, this is really incredible. How many of you would spend any time at all trying to convince someone who doesn't want anything to do with you that they need to have something to do with you? No matter what humans do to say "No thanks" to God, God still remains available and offers the invitation to all to come to Him.

God says "Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; And you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And delight yourself in abundance. Incline your ear and come to Me Listen, that you may live." (Isaiah 55:1-2) Christ told his followers "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." (Matthew 11:28 30) Nothing other than God will bring us true happiness, so don't expand your search parameters.

Pastor Steve Willis
Saturday December 02, 2017

I am in the first generation that grew up with TV. My parents did not have TV growing up and we didn't have a TV until just before I started school. TV had been around a few years when I came along, so I and folks just a little older than me are the first "TV babies." In the US, television began full-scale commercial broadcasting in 1947.

Almost right from the beginnings of TV came the negative statements about TV. Comments from "Don't sit so close to the TV - you will go blind" to "TV is corrupting the morals of our kids" became part of our culture with the delivery of the first TV set.

Now, the former statement above is dubious at best while the latter statement is true only if we let it be true. I do not disagree with the reality that there are programs on TV that reflect loose moral conviction and negative values. The common response to this is to rant against the programming and those who create the programs. There is much said about how there needs to be reform among the production of shows because of the terrible influence that TV has. And, of course, we can expand this to computers and the internet as well.

The thing is, we only have so much control over who does what on TV, the internet, or any other form of media or entertainment that has an influence in our lives. We can and should let out voices be heard about programming and such, but sometimes our voices are simply ignored.

What we can control is how we use these avenues of media. We can use discernment and self-control in our utilization to monitor their influence in our lives and in the lives of our families. I find it interesting that we sometimes get so distracted by circumstances and influences we can't control that we forget what it is that we can control. For some reason, this seems to be especially true when it comes to media sources and entertainment and the part they play in our lives. All of these devices that bring all of this "negative influence" into our lives do have on/off buttons. We need to exert the power to power them off when we discern that what we see and hear is not what we should be seeing or hearing.

Ephesians 4:20-24 reminds us of the source of this power, "That is not the way you learned Christ! For surely you have heard about him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus. You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness."

TV has been around for 70 years now and has influenced society and made an impact on our lives. We should not forget that we can control just how much influence it has on us and how much of an impact it can make on our lives. Use this power!

Pastor Steve Willis
Friday December 01, 2017

Have you heard of Irish-born flautist Sir James Galway? He is a classical music superstar who has been dubbed "The Man with the Golden Flute". David MacCasland writes, "As Galway neared the age of 50, he looked closely at his life and decided he was not going to fall into the trap of 'getting old and famous and playing bad concerts.' So he started practicing for several hours every day."

He began his personal overhaul by playing scales. He said it was the biggest shock of his life to discover how out of shape he was. "I could play concertos and repertory pieces. But the scales were stiff, and they were inconsistent from key to key." James Galway--master of the flute--playing scales!

We should take a lesson from this. No matter how "old in the faith" we are, we should never forget the basics. We should always remember how important a daily discipline of prayer, Bible reading, meditation, and even a personal time of praise, are to us and our continued growth in the faith. Reading and rehearsing the "Sunday School stories" of David and Goliath, Daniel in the Lion's Den, Joseph in Egypt, as well as others, are good things to do to keep us constantly aware of God's provision. Doing so keeps us "limbered up" spiritually. So, no matter how long you have been with the Lord, don't forget to play your scales!

Pastor Steve Willis

My Favorite Bible Verse

Connie McCall

Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
John 14:6

Pauline Phillips

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Matthew 6:33

Lois Strole

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.
Ephesians 2:8

Week Of Apr 15th, 2018

5:45 PM
6:30 PM
Wed. Apr 18th
Cross Training
5:00 AM
Thur. Apr 19th
Ladies day Out
9:00 AM
Sat. Apr 21st
Prayer Time

Happy Birthday

Payne Davidson
Sun. Apr 15th
Ruth Spraggins - Drake Wolf
Wed. Apr 18th
Norman Tracy - Rick Strole
Sat. Apr 21st

Coming Events

Sing For Missions
Apr 29th
Popcorn & A Movie
Jun 23rd

April Ministry Schedule

Assisting in Worship
Kent Klier
Brad Tarr
Adam Wolf
John Dryden Jr.
John Dryden Sr.
John Dryden Sr.

John Dryden Sr.
Steve Kidwell
Kyle Klier
Ross Meinhart

Special Music
Nicole & Chloe
Richard & JR Dryden
Kent Klier
Song Leader

Jolyn Bigard
Cheryl Earnest

Nursery Workers
Joyce Kamis
Kyle & Courtney Klier
Michelle Fulton
Maria Green
Mike Phillips

Curt & Gail Ann Coillins
Jason & Michelle Fulton
Mark & Poodie Zumbahlen
Gary & Teri Wolf
Kent & Chris Klier

Jr. Church
Bridgett, Becky, Anthea, Sarah
Steve, Rachel, Bob, Jayne
Ross, Jennifer, Kyle, Courtney
Mark, Poodie, Jerod, Brooke

Door Attendents
Ray Watkins
Jim Brackett
Tyler Ghast
Sam White
Kevin Ear nest

Patti Litchfield & Jennifer Meinhart

My Favorite Bible Verse

Beverly Brackett

Finally, brothers, 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

Madonna Klier

I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
Philippians 4:13

Deloris Staley

The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
Psalm 18:2

Stephen G. Wllis has been the pastor of the First Baptist Church since August of 1983. He and his wife, the former Scherry Roth, are natives of Ironton, OH and were married in 1977. Steve has an A.B. in education from Marshall University in Huntington, WV and a Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary. In October 2004 he received his Doctor of Ministry from Trinity Theological Seminary. He has been active in ministry since 1971, serving as an evangelist and as a pastor before moving to Dallas in 1979 and then to the pastorate in Newton after obtaining his master's degree. In addition to his ministerial duties, Steve is a member of several committees and boards in Jasper County. He has served as president of the Jasper County Ministerial Association and Newton Rotary, and is currently the secretary-treasurer of the ministerial association.

Scherry is a graduate of ITT with certification in interior design. In Ohio she worked as a secretary and then with the Ohio Department of Health and Human Services. She was a secretary in Dallas at Dallas Theological Seminary. After moving with Steve to Newton, she took some time away from the workplace to have two daughters, Stephanie, born in 1983 and Megan, born in 1985. When both the girls were in school, Scherry returned to the workplace, first at Arndt's Stores, then as a painter with Hidden Blessings, and since 1994, as a secretary for the Jasper County Unit #1 School District. She retired in June of 2016. She is active in the church as leader of the Children's Choirs and directing the adult choir.

Megan graduated from Judson University, Elgin, IL in December of 2007, and received her ThM from Edinburgh University (Scotland) in August of 2008. She married Casey Robbins in February of 2014 and they own a business in Galesburg, IL. She also teaches English at Williamsfield High School.

Stephanie is a graduate of the University of Illinois (2005) and received a master's degree from Marshall University, Huntington, West Virginia, in May of 2007. She is now a speech pathologist with Southern Ohio Educational Services in Portsmouth, Ohio. She married Jimmy Bailey in July of 2009. Jimmy is a teacher and coach with the New Boston, Ohio, School District. They live in Wheelersburg, OH. They have two children, Madelyn and Cullen.

My Favorite Bible Verse

Lawrence Klier

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:16

Scherry Willis

I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
Philippians 4:13

Richard Lewis

But he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.
Luke 11:28

For those of you not currently attending church on a regular basis we would like to extend an invitation to you. Regular church attendance can make a big difference in your life. Worshiping God, learning more about Him and enjoying fellowship with other Christians is a very rewarding way to spend Sunday morning. Our service at the First Baptist Church starts at 9:00 AM and we hope you will join us soon. You will be greeted by some of the friendliest people in downstate Illinois. If you sometimes feel that there is something missing in your life this could be a great opportunity to fill that void. Jesus said in John 14:6, "I am the way, the truth and the life." Through faith in Him, the void you have can be filled. He said in Matthew 11:32 "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest."

A good way to find out what you need to do to place your faith in Him is to find a church where you can learn what it means to have a relationship with Christ and what that can mean to you. If you are too far away from our location, please try to find a church near by. It can change your life. If you would like to invite Christ to come into your heart as your Savior and Lord, you may do so by simply asking him to do so. Here is what you can do to receive the free gift of eternal life he offers:

1. Acknowledge that you have sinned and need to be forgiven.
Romans 3:23 - "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God."
Romans 6:23 - "The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord."
2. Believe that Jesus died for you and wants to forgive you and give you the free gift of eternal life.
John 6:47 - "I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life."
3. Confess your sins to him and ask him to come into your heart as your Savior.
Romans 10:9-10 - "That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved."

If you are now enjoying all the benefits of being part of a church family, wherever it might be, we offer you a challenge. In your community there are people waiting for you to extend an invitation to them. We urge you to find them, invite them to your church and show them how a relationship with Jesus can enrich their lives. The Word of God ends with an invitation. Revelation 22:17 says, "The Spirit and the bride say, 'Come!' And let him who hears say, 'Come!' Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life." Be an inviting person!

Dr. Steve Willis - Pastor

My Favorite Bible Verse

Lawrence Klier

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:16

Scherry Willis

I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
Philippians 4:13

Richard Lewis

But he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.
Luke 11:28

April 1, 2018

At this time last year, as we were preparing for our Easter Celebration, I was ambulating via a wheelchair. I didn't complain about this as I was just really tickled to be able to be involved as much as I was after my fall and subsequent surgery. I was even able to help make the charoseth, as I usually do, for the Seder Dinner. That is always an enjoyable endeavor.

I am grateful that I am getting around better this year, although my abilities are certainly diminished. This is attributed not just to my accident last year, but through an accumulation of surgeries and "replacement parts." There is nothing I can do about this, and please know I am not complaining. I'm just grateful I can still get from point A to point B when I need to do so!

I can't do anything about this, but God has promised me that someday he will do something about it. Paul tells us, "For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands." (II Corinthians 5:1) At some point in time, I will "move on up to the east side" and received my new body. Now, I am in no hurry for this to take place - this transition is in the hands of God - but I am glad for the hope that I have that it will indeed take place. I will have to relinquish all of my metal parts, my back will be restored, my eyesight will be better than it has ever been, as well as other significant improvements.

All of this is possible because my Savior did not spare his own body in order that I may have the hope for a new body. Christ told the apostles, "This is my body given for you." (Luke 22:19) He said this in reference to the bread they were going to eat - but this bread was a symbol of his body that he would surrender to be tortured and put to death in order that we may have new life.

We have focused on this hope through our studies during this Lenten season. What a marvelous hope that we have. Let's give thanks and praise to our Savior Who did not spare himself so that We may be spared.

Pastor Steve Willis

My Favorite Bible Verse

Gloria Bradley

But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
Isaiah 40:31

Ruth Spraggins

Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.
Hebrews 7:25

Carolyn Woods

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.
I John 5:13