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


Sam White
John Dryden
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

Pastor Steve Willis

Friday October 28, 2016

Several years ago I received a unique and rather challenging phone call from my youngest daughter. She was in New Haven, Connecticut, and needed directions to Yale University. Now, I was in Illinois, so why did she call me? For one thing, her GPS died and she didn t have a smart phone. More importantly, I am her dad and over the years I have done all I could to let my kids know I would never steer them wrong. She knew I would do everything in my power to get her going the right direction. She knew I would probably be sitting in front of a computer and could look up directions for her. Yes, I was able to help her. It was an interesting experience, but I was happy that my daughter trusted me enough to call me when she needed help.

Trust is one of the things parents need to build in their children. As my girls were growing up, I wanted to let them know they could trust me. I wanted them to have the confidence that they could come to me at any time and know I would do all I could to be there for them and to help them. Of course, parents aren't infallible and aren't omnipotent, so at times there are limitations to what we can do. Still, they know I will be there as much as I can.

Our children need to know that we will do our very best to steer them in the right direction at all times. God calls upon us to steer our children in the right direction. Proverbs 22:6 says, "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it." God is also a role model to follow when it comes to building trust in our children and letting them know we will never steer them wrong. We know God will never steer us wrong.

Proverbs 3:4-5 tell us to "Trust in the Lord with all you heart and lean not to your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths." We know we can and should do this because God would not lead us the wrong way - it simply is not in his character. It should not be in our character to misguide our children - or anyone else for that matter. Let your children know that when they call you and ask for directions (even if they are in another state!), you will do your best to lead them right!

Pastor Steve Willis
Thursday October 27, 2016

Many wonder about God's will for their life. They want to make sure to make right decisions - decisions that would be pleasing in God's eyes and reflect God's will for them. Sometimes frustration comes when it is not really clear what the will of God is. This is sometimes caused by on overemphasis on what we want instead of focusing on what God wants.

There are some plain statements in the New Testament about the will of God. II Corinthians 8:5 says, "And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God's will." I Thessalonians 4:3 says, "It is God's will that you should be sanctified." I Peter 2:15 says, "For it is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men." I Thessalonians 5:18 tells us, "give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."

The common thread in all of these statements is that God wants us to live righteous lives. As we live a life that is pleasing to God, we will find that God will direct us in making decisions that relate to specific circumstances and life situations. Do God's will by living a life which reflects Gods character. You won't go wrong if you live for this!

Pastor Steve Willis
Wednesday October 26, 2016

Many of you enjoy candles. Candles are one of those items that were at one time an item of necessity but now are used optionally. Candles provide light and warmth and even though we have more effective sources of light and warmth, candles are still popular. Although candles may have more of a "decorative" function now, you still need to exercise caution when you use them. Many home fires are caused by candles that are left burning. Candles need to be used correctly.

As it is with candles, so it is with our lives. We need to take care of our lives and not allow them to burn improperly. We sometimes get caught up in so many things and activities we "burn the candle at both ends." Even as with a real candle, we need to exercise caution with how we allow our lives to "burn." We want to be able to burn for God, not burn up.

A candle that burns the way it should does so slowly, providing a source of light, warmth and, with most candles today, pleasing aroma. The candle enhances the atmosphere around it. If misused and allowed to ignite its surroundings, the candle becomes a destructive force, even to itself, as it will probably be destroyed in the ensuing maelstrom.

Guard your lives and how you "burn." Be an influence on your environment, not a destructive force. Avoid useless, self-caused, stresses that cause burnout. Work to provide a consistent, productive, helpful influence. Paul refers to burning your candle wisely in II Corinthians 12:15, "So I will very gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well." Allow your lives to burn correctly and be careful so that you don't burn out!

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday October 25, 2016

Don Hewitt was a pioneer in television journalism. He started at CBS in 1948. His early years were spent directing the Edwin R. Murrow newscast. He was the first executive producer of the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. He directed the 1960 Nixon-Kennedy presidential debates. However, all of this did not prevent him from being demoted in the early 60's. I am sure he was angered by this move, as I know I would be. Many of us would simply quit, pout, or seek something else. Not Hewitt. He didn't let this setback deter his creative juices.

In the late 60's he came up with an idea for a news broadcast that would focus on three stories in the span of an hour. This broadcast would present the news from a "you are there" perspective, and focus on the people, not just the issues. He pitched his idea to the network execs, Mike Wallace was hired as the main newsman, and the first segment of "60 Minutes" was put on the air on September 24, 1969. In case you didn't know, "60 Minutes" is still on the air, making it the longest-running television series in television history by about a mile or so. This says a great deal about Hewitt's character. What a legacy he left!

How do you respond when things don't go your way? This does happen in our lives, doesn't it? Jonah is an example of someone who pouted when he didn't get his way. What makes his story ironic was he had met with great success on his mission - the people responded! God's confrontation of the pouting Jonah is found in Jonah 4:10-11, "But the LORD said, 'You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?'"

A positive example of how to respond when we don't get our way would be the life of the apostle Paul. Countless times his plans were changed. He was mistreated, abused, stoned, thrown into prison, but he never lost his desire to go forward and do something new. He certainly got discouraged, but he never quit. At the end of his life he was able to say, "For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day (II Timothy 4:6-8)." I think this says something about Paul's character. What a legacy he left!

When things don't go your way, are you a Jonah or a Paul?

Pastor Steve Willis
Monday October 24, 2016

Recently I have seen a commercial on one of our local TV channels for a roofing business named "Honest Abe's Roofing." A Lincoln impersonator is seen in a variety of circumstances that all play off the well-known honesty of our 16th president. Two of my favorite stories about Lincoln's honesty took place when he was a clerk in a store in New Salem, Illinois. One story relates how he walked to a customer's home after closing to return a few cents in change that he had held out inadvertently. Another involved Lincoln taking tea to a customer when he found he had weighed her request incorrectly.

Honesty is a character trait that should be desired and displayed, especially by those who call themselves followers of Christ. However, you can be honest and still not very nice. God wants us to be both.

In Exodus, the character traits of honesty and kindness are brought together as principles that should be practiced by the people of God. Exodus 23:3 says, "If you come across your enemy s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to return it." Straying animals are to be returned to rightful owners, even if the animal belongs to an enemy. In verse 4 we read, "If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help them with it." Kindness is to be expressed to those in distress, even if we don't care for the person experiencing the problem.

Honesty and kindness are a good pair that should be on display in the lives of God's people. We can be honest but mean, and we can be kind but dishonest. Put them together and you get a formidable partnership.

Pastor Steve Willis
Sunday October 23, 2016

In a strip of "Peanuts" a number of years ago, Lucy belittles Charlie Brown for his attempt at a building project. Charlie Brown tells her, "It's a birdhouse for sparrows." "For sparrows?" Lucy replied. "No one builds a birdhouse for sparrows." "I do," says Charlie Brown, "I build birdhouses for the underbird."

Sparrows may be considered "underbirds" of little worth, but God considers them important enough to watch their movements. "Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows." (Luke 12:6-7) Christ spoke of the degree of care God has for his children by using the example of sparrows. Apparently, even at the time of Christ, sparrows were not considered very valuable or desirable birds. Yet, even these "underbirds" were kept under the watch care of God himself.

God builds houses for underbirds. God is concerned about the details of your life. He is aware of all that happens and is always concerned about your welfare. He has nothing but your best interests at heart. Therefore, you need to trust him with the details of your life. With God, you are never an underbird!

Pastor Steve Willis
Saturday October 22, 2016

New airline restrictions that have appeared in recent years regarding how much one can carry without being charged for excess weight has caused travelers to be more circumspect with regard to packing bags. I have found this quite interesting in my recent trips. It is amazing how much we can do without stuff when forced to think about what we really need. I used to be one of those folks who severely over packed. I cannot say I am an expert "packer," but I have found living on less is not a real problem.

Why is it that we think we need stuff? Why do we tend to be "packrats" and accumulate so many things we don't need? There are so many things out there that are advertised as items we "cannot do without." In reality, these items are probably the first things we should avoid, or the first things we need to eliminate if we already have them.

We need to avoid this tendency in our spiritual lives. Jesus warned against this tendency in Luke 12. He warns, "This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God." (Luke 12:21) Be rich toward God and don't accumulate extra stuff that won't do you any good. Focus on what you really need.

Pastor Steve Willis
Friday October 21, 2016

Recently I read an article that talked about the divided opinions regarding coyotes. Coyotes have made a comeback in recent years. Their increasing numbers are viewed as a threat by many because of dangers posed to domestic animals and small livestock. However, others view them as a positive addition because of the role they play in rodent control. So, is their presence to be viewed as positive or negative? It would seem that one's perspective plays a role in the determination of opinion.

The same can be said about those problem situations we face or those dear folks with their biting criticism we often encounter. Are these good additions to our lives or are these negatives? It would seem that one's perspective can play a role in the determination of their status. If we decide to do what we can to learn from adversity or from negative criticism, then it seems we can turn what is a negative into a positive. Now, I am not saying this is an easy thing to do, but if you have lived any time at all, you know that you will not be able to avoid these situations, so what can help is to do your best to make them useful experiences. We recognize the danger they pose, but do we see the benefits that can be derived from their presence?

Paul learned to benefit from negative experiences in his life. He said, "That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong." (II Corinthians 12:10) There is no secret formula to how to develop this attitude; it comes from developing spiritual discipline and letting the Holy Spirit work within us to motivate our response. Ask God to help you see the positive where others only see the negative.

Pastor Steve Willis
Thursday October 20, 2016

In a world where the population continues to increase, I have long maintained that concern for others continues to decrease. All you need to do is visit a parking lot of your nearby grocery store or mall to see the evidence of this. Parking lots are battle zones. Folks fail to yield when they should, continually drive the wrong way, and the boundary lines which delineate parking spaces mean nothing as double parking seems to be the rule and not the exception. To me, the driver of the double-parked vehicle is saying "I am more important than you and whether you have a place to park or not is irrelevant."

Have you seen Fried Green Tomatoes? There is a scene in the film where the character played by Kathy Bates gets really frustrated because a young female driver cuts her off to get to the only available parking space in a parking lot. As the young girl exits her vehicle after pulling in front of Bates she says, "That's how it is when you're younger and faster." Bates, in a fit of anger, smashes into the girl s car and then calls out to the girl, "That's how it is when you older and have more insurance."

Our care for others needs to extend beyond parking lots. We need to open our eyes to see the need of those around us. Christ taught this principle and demonstrated this principle in so many ways when he was on the earth. His life was all about others and we should be glad of that. If it wasn't, he would not have let them put him on the cross.

Christ told his followers that the second greatest commandment was to "Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these." (Mark 12:31) In other places he defined a "neighbor" as anyone who happens to be close by and has a need. Remember the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10?

Don't get into Parking Lot Wars. Be considerate of others. I don't care if you do have good insurance.

Pastor Steve Willis
Wednesday October 19, 2016

So, what are the two most wonderful words in the English language? Have you ever thought about that? Has anyone even ever asked you that? Well, you have been asked, so what do you think? Let me give you one suggestion as an answer to the question, "What are the most wonderful words in the English language?" I submit that the two most wonderful words are "But God", regardless of what language you use. Whether you say "pero Dios" or "mais Dieu" or "Aber Gott" or even "Kai Theos", these are the most wonderful words.

Perhaps you ask, "How are these the most wonderful words?" Let me give a few reasons: "Because the patriarchs were jealous of Joseph, they sold him as a slave into Egypt. But God was with him" (Acts 7:9); "But God has helped me to this very day" (Acts 26:22); "But God had mercy on him" (Philippians 2:27). And how about, "But God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions"? Wow - isn't that wonderful? This is possible because "But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him." (Acts 2:24)

We were headed down a path towards destruction, but God intervened. Now, where death ruled, we can celebrate life. There was no hope for us, but God gave us eternal hope. I don't know about you, but I think the words but God are wonderful.

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday October 18, 2016

I think I wrote my first love note when I was in the sixth grade. That was also the time I remember receiving my first love note. As I remember, the notes were really thoughtful and deep, something like, "I love you. Do you love me? I hope you do. Because I love you. Love, Steve." Isn't that profound? Well, it may not be the pinnacle of literary endeavor and I am sure it wouldn't scare Shakespeare, but it was effective. The ones written to me were along the same line, and I remember reading them over and over with undivided attention. Those notes really had my focus.

Something else that should hold my attention in this way is another love note that was written to me - actually, not just to me, but to all the world. The Bible is a love note from God to all of mankind. "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life." John 3:16 reflects the theme of the Bible.

Since we know this to be true, we need to read the Scripture with the same excitement and anticipation as we do a love letter. God has so many wonderful things to say to us. It really is a shame we miss so many of them because we fail to read them! Give God your undivided attention!

Pastor Seve Willis
Wednesday October 19, 2016

So, what are the two most wonderful words in the English language? Have you ever thought about that? Has anyone even ever asked you that? Well, you have been asked, so what do you think? Let me give you one suggestion as an answer to the question, "What are the most wonderful words in the English language?" I submit that the two most wonderful words are "But God", regardless of what language you use. Whether you say "pero Dios" or "mais Dieu" or "Aber Gott" or even "Kai Theos", these are the most wonderful words.

Perhaps you ask, "How are these the most wonderful words?" Let me give a few reasons: "Because the patriarchs were jealous of Joseph, they sold him as a slave into Egypt. But God was with him" (Acts 7:9); "But God has helped me to this very day" (Acts 26:22); "But God had mercy on him" (Philippians 2:27). And how about, "But God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions"? Wow - isn't that wonderful? This is possible because "But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him." (Acts 2:24)

We were headed down a path towards destruction, but God intervened. Now, where death ruled, we can celebrate life. There was no hope for us, but God gave us eternal hope. I don't know about you, but I think the words but God are wonderful.

Pastor Steve Willis
Monday October 17, 2016

Have you carved your pumpkin yet this year? Some were sort of fearful that our wet weather would diminish the pumpkin crop, but it appears that diligent farmers have once again triumphed and there seems to be an abundance of the round, orange globes available just for the purpose of decorating and carving. We don't carve pumpkins much anymore as our daughters are all grown up and not around to participate in this task. But I have many fond memories of picking out just the right pumpkins and then spending time preparing them for display.

When you work on a pumpkin, the last thing you do is put in the candle. I remember reading an article by Christopher de Vinck where he called this activity "putting in the pumpkin's heart." Even after the carving, the pumpkin really doesn't seem like much. But when you put in the candle and light it, the pumpkin seems to acquire a personality all its own. That simple little flame inside seems to give it life and makes a statement to the outside world.

Do you let your inner light show to the outside world? Do you let your heart make a statement to others? As followers of Christ, we have light within us that makes us distinctive. However, that light is not meant to be hidden, but to shine brightly to others so that they can see our heart. More importantly, as we let the light out, they are able to see the heart of the Savior.

We read the words of Christ in Matthew 5:14-16, "You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven." Let your light shine! </p

Pastor Seve Willis
Sunday October 16, 2016

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
Sunday October 16, 2016

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 October 17, 2016

Have you carved your pumpkin yet this year? Some were sort of fearful that our wet weather would diminish the pumpkin crop, but it appears that diligent farmers have once again triumphed and there seems to be an abundance of the round, orange globes available just for the purpose of decorating and carving. We don't carve pumpkins much anymore as our daughters are all grown up and not around to participate in this task. But I have many fond memories of picking out just the right pumpkins and then spending time preparing them for display.

When you work on a pumpkin, the last thing you do is put in the candle. I remember reading an article by Christopher de Vinck where he called this activity "putting in the pumpkin's heart." Even after the carving, the pumpkin really doesn't seem like much. But when you put in the candle and light it, the pumpkin seems to acquire a personality all its own. That simple little flame inside seems to give it life and makes a statement to the outside world.

Do you let your inner light show to the outside world? Do you let your heart make a statement to others? As followers of Christ, we have light within us that makes us distinctive. However, that light is not meant to be hidden, but to shine brightly to others so that they can see our heart. More importantly, as we let the light out, they are able to see the heart of the Savior.

We read the words of Christ in Matthew 5:14-16, "You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven." Let your light shine!

Pastor Steve Willis
Sunday October 16, 2016

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
Saturday October 15, 2016

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

It is no wonder that Sallman struggled with what to paint. The New Testament does not contain any physical description of Christ at all. Was he tall or short? Was his hair curly or straight? Was he homely or handsome? We really don't know. Our desire to know what he looked like is so strong that we sometimes accept images such as Sallman's as reality. This, or course, is a mistake.

It really is good we don't know what Christ looked like. This makes us concentrate on what we do know something about - his ministry and his character. The New Testament says quite a bit about both of these. And since it does, these are the aspects of Christ on which we should focus.

I m glad we have no actual physical description of Christ. If we did, we would want to emphasize this in our study of Christ. We would want to imitate his physical appearance. In our appearance-crazy age, I would imagine we would do all kinds of things to "look like Jesus." I am sure that even plastic surgery would be in the mix.

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

Pastor Steve Willis
Friday October 14, 2016

A man once stowed away on a ship, but was discovered and locked up in the ship's brig. When the ship reached its port of call, the captain ordered that the man be put ashore. However, when the customs agents found out that the man had no passport, they would not let him disembark. So, he stayed on the ship and returned to the home port. There the scenario repeated itself - with no passport, the authorities would not let him enter the country. This went on for a few trips until finally he was allowed to go ashore at the port where he originally entered the ship.

There are folks among us who are "without a country." They are homeless, friendless, with little means to support themselves. Sometimes they are "bounced around" from agency to agency and from person to person as they seek help. Sometimes they are treated as was that man who was without a passport. "Sorry, you can't stay here. There is no help here. Move on." Our inclination is to reject the dirty, the unattractive, the different, those without means.

James writes about our response to those in need, "What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, 'Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead." (James 2:14-17).

Don't have a "dead faith." Do all you can to help those who seem to be "traveling without a passport." God will bless you for it.

Pastor Steve Willis
Thursday October 13, 2016

What is the greatest need in your life right now? When we focus on this question, it is easy to look at externals. Often we might answer this question by saying "My greatest need is for that person to change his or her mind" or "My greatest need is for this circumstance to change."

When Solomon was told by God to ask for whatever he wanted, he focused on himself. That is, he asked for discernment and wisdom that he might lead well instead of asking for better circumstances, more money, or better people with whom to work. He asked that he would be able to see what was needed and that he would be able to change. We read in I Kings 3:5-9, "At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, 'Ask for whatever you want me to give you.' Solomon answered, 'You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day. Now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?'"

Solomon didn't ask for better circumstances, better others, or better things, he asked for a better self. This would help him as he encountered problems with people, circumstances, and things. Ask God to help you with your greatest need - a wiser self!

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday October 11, 2016

Have you ever had super glue or oil-based paint on your hands? If you have, you know these substances don't come off with just soap and water. You need another special solution to remove them. However, with the right solvent, you can remove the glue or the paint easily.

We sometimes face burdens that prove to be sticky and hard to remove. They just don't seem to go away no matter what we try. The joy of the Christian life is knowing that God can handle anything we turn over to him. However, one of our weaknesses seems to be our unwillingness to hand over to God the issues that we can't handle. For some reason, we want to hang on to them even though we know we are incapable of finding a solution to the problem. They stick to us like super glue or paint. We need to heed the advice of David found in Psalm 55, "Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken." (vs. 22) Give these issues over to God and let him provide what is necessary to solve the problem. There are times when we don't want things to "stick to us like glue".

Pastor Steve Willis
Monday October 10, 2016

In 1989, a fire broke out at a recycling facility near Interstate 78 in New Jersey. The heat from the fire was so intense that it warped girders supporting the roadway. The interstate was closed for a long time as repairs were made. Three years after the fire, the owners were convicted of operating the facility improperly and faced jail time as well as heavy fines. The state of New Jersey had been trying for years to impose sanctions on the facility because waste materials were not being disposed of properly. Debris including wood chips, yard waste, carpet, shredded metal, paper, and other trash had accumulated for years. This was the fuel for the intense fire leading to dire consequences.

This illustrates a basic story of life. Most of our problems don't just happen. They are the result of bad decisions that accumulate over time and eventually lead to dire consequences. II Chronicles 36 tells a tale of consequences brought about by the accumulation of bad decisions, "The Lord, the God of their ancestors, sent word to them through his messengers again and again, because he had pity on his people and on his dwelling place. But they mocked God's messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the Lord was aroused against his people and there was no remedy. He brought up against them the king of the Babylonians, who killed their young men with the sword in the sanctuary, and did not spare young men or young women, the elderly or the infirm. God gave them all into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar." (vss. 15-17) Don't let your sins accumulate. Deal with them, or experience the consequence.

Pastor Steve Willis
Sunday October 09, 2016

I have heard it said, "Never trust a carpenter with soft hands." The meaning of this is evident - if someone claims to be a carpenter then the hands should let it be known. If someone claims that they are in the business of carpentry and their hands look like they have never touched the first piece of wood, then you may want to think twice before you have them fix your roof or add a room to your house. And you certainly need to think carefully before you let them build a house for you. One's hands reveal something of the kind of work he or she does.

What do your hands reveal? You may say, "Well, I am not sure my hands reveal anything." Perhaps you are correct when it comes to your physical hands, but what about the hands you are using to do work for Christ? What about the hands you should be using to reach out to someone who is struggling making a rent payment? What about the hands you should be using to reach out to someone who has just lost a loved one? What about the hands you should be using to reach out to someone with the message of the Savior? Do they show any "wear and tear?" Our hands should give evidence of what we do, and I hope my hands show that I am living for my Lord. If not, I need to start doing what I should be doing. Along with Moses we should pray, "May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us-yes, establish the work of our hands." (Psalm 90:17)

Pastor Steve Willis
Saturday October 08, 2016

There are very few alive today who can remember the Great Depression. My mother spoke of this time on a number of occasions. She never really talked about being poor because although her family did not have a tremendous abundance, her father had a job, they didn't go hungry, they had a home, they had wood for fuel, they had a good well, and even a sturdy outhouse. They were in a similar situation as their neighbors, so they really didn't consider themselves poor. As she reflected on those times, she spoke of the fact that they might be considered poor by newer standards, but they were better supplied than many people of the day so they didn't consider their lives to be all that harsh.

How much money does it take to be considered rich? How much money do you have to give away to be considered generous? Hard to say, isn't it?

Paul speaks of the generosity of the Macedonian Christians who gave out of their poverty. He writes, "And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability." (II Corinthians 8:1-3) Paul doesn't set a percentage that needs to be met but reflects on being generous with what you have. By using the Macedonians as an example, he challenged the Corinthians, and challenges us, to look at our giving and determine if we are reflecting God's grace in what we share with the church. He reminds his readers that the Lord, though he was rich, became poor so that we might become rich. Our giving needs to reflect this reality. Our love for Christ should provide us with the motivation to be generous with our giving.

Pastor Steve Willis
Friday October 07, 2016

Many of us have had "I was only trying to help" moments. One of mine was when I was helping some friends move and I dropped a box containing one of their favorite glass bowls. Oh yes, it broke - into about a million pieces. Well, what could they say? What could I say? "I was only trying to help!" I had nothing but good intentions, but made a mistake.

We read about a fellow with good intentions in Judges 8. Gideon had helped rid the Israelites of the threat of the Midianites. They even wanted to make him king, which he refused. However, he asked for a golden earring from each of the victorious soldiers which he used to fashion into a golden ephod. This golden ephod became an object of worship and eventually led the people away from worship of God. We read in Judges 8:26-27, "Gideon made the gold into an ephod, which he placed in Ophrah, his town. All Israel prostituted themselves by worshiping it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family." Not only his family, but the next generation of Israelites turned away from the true worship of God, all because of his actions done with good intentions. He may have had good intentions but his decision proved to be very wrong.

Dropping a box and unintentionally breaking a friend's bowl is one thing, but taking our eyes from the true worship of God is another. Watch your lives so that you don't turn away from following God. Your decision may also affect others - and that certainly is not trying to help!

Pastor Steve Willis
Thursday October 06, 2016

When I was a kid, we would travel to northern Ohio two or three times a year to visit my aunt (my mother's only sister) and her family. There were a number of tourist attractions near where my aunt lived. We enjoyed visiting Cedar Point, Put-in-Bay, Marblehead, and many other places.

One attraction that always held a fascination for me was a place called the Blue Hole, near Castalia. This was a pond with water that had an eerie blue green "glow." It was fed by subterranean springs which allowed it to maintain a constant level and temperature at any time of the year. Because of the presence of certain minerals, fish could not survive in the pond, and there was also the legend that the bottom could not be found.

One practice of visitors to the Blue Hole, as is the case with many fountains and other bodies of water, was to pitch a coin in the Blue Hole and make a wish. Have you ever done that? This practice is really harmless, unless you are really counting on something to happen. Mercy, I hope you aren't.

Somewhat akin to the foolishness of counting on wishes made when throwing coins into bodies of water is living our lives without plans. We really need to do some thinking about our lives, how we want to live our lives, and what we want to do with our lives. Planning is so important in so many areas - family, finances, our future. Someone once said, "When we fail to plan, we plan to fail."

One important area of planning is how we are going to live for God. What kind of impact do we wish to make? What should I do to please him? What can I do for someone else to make an impact spiritually? How can I help someone else with some need they might have? Asking these questions helps us to make important decisions and helps us to make plans that are beneficial to ourselves and others.

Don't just throw coins in a pool and make a wish. Make some plans on how to become what you should be for God and for others. Proverbs 21:5 tells us, "The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty." Diligent planning leads to directed service!

Pastor Steve Willis
Wednesday October 05, 2016

One morning as I was driving to my office at church a rather interesting thing happened. It was dark and drizzling rain. As I approached an intersection where there was a stop sign, I saw a lady in a yellow rain suit out for a morning walk frozen about one third of the way across the crosswalk. It became obvious to me that she was not sure whether I was going to stop, and was not about to take the chance to continue. In essence, she stopped because she didn't trust me to stop.

Wouldn't it be so much better to live in a world where we knew we could trust others to do the right thing? If we did, she could have proceeded across the intersection with no fear. How many other examples could we think of if we lived in a world where we knew we didn't have to "watch out for the other guy?" One of the first lessons I gave to my girls as I was teaching them to drive was to "drive defensively."

We should show our trustworthiness with our lives. Others need to know they can trust us. Jethro encouraged Moses to pick out individuals who could be trusted to help with the management of the people. We read in Exodus 18:20, "But select capable men from all the people men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens."

Would you be one of those selected for this task? Do you show yourself to others as one who can be trusted? Another thing - we know we can always trust God. We are encouraged in Proverbs 3:4-5 to "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight." So, trust God - and show yourself to be trustworthy! That way you won't terrify pedestrians at intersections!

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday October 04, 2016

My grandparents were a little leery of banks. Now, they used a bank, but they had been stung by the stock market crash and bank failure of 1929, so they were a little leery of them. And, you really couldn t blame them. The old adage, fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me probably could have applied.

They were not alone in their concern. Many folks shared this fear after 1929. That is why the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation was established. Of course, even this entity could fail any of man s institutions can fail. There are no absolute guarantees in life with anything. Well, that isn t entirely accurate. We know that God s promises to us are absolute. He will never ever break any of his promises to us.

As you read God s Word and come across his promises, you can rest assured they will not be broken or done away with. You will never experience a stock market crash with God. When he says, Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you (Hebrews 13:5), he means it. Life is indeed uncertain at times, but God provides assurance in uncertain times. He is infinitely superior to the FDIC. So put your trust in him because he will never let you down!

Pastor Steve Willis
Monday October 03, 2016

A few years ago, the youth group at my church planned to attend a nearby music festival. So, I ordered the tickets for the event. The time for the festival was approaching, and we had not received the tickets. The festival was a weekend event, so when the Tuesday before the scheduled time came and there were no tickets, I got a little nervous. I called the organizers of the concert and was told the tickets were mailed, but Wednesday came and went with no tickets. So I called the folks back and made other arrangements. The plan to get more tickets was going to be inconvenient, but we had no choice the tickets weren t here!

Thursday s mail arrived at the usual time. Guess what? You got it! There were the tickets the day before the event, right on time! Everything was well. The tickets, which really were of no use to me until that day, were in my possession and we were just fine. So then, why the worry? It hadn t helped much even making alternate plans was not all that helpful because now the plans were moot. If only I had exercised patience. Sometimes, that is hard to do.

We often experience this in our relationship with God. We think we need something and we think we need it now, so we ask God for this something and then get frustrated when we don t receive whatever it is for which we were asking when we asked for it. Often we become a little irritated when we think our prayers are not answered when we need them to be and in the way we think they should be.

We really need to trust God. His timing and his wisdom are impeccable. He knows far better than we what we need and when we need it. Christ gave this assurance about our father in Matthew 10:29-31, Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. God knows exactly when we need the tickets. We need to trust him. There is a song based on this scripture that says, His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me. And do he does.

Pastor Steve Willis
Sunday October 02, 2016

Some time ago an old house near where I live was torn down. Now, I knew it was an old house before they started the demolition, but as they peeled off the outer layer of shingles, it was apparent to me the structure was even older than what I first thought. The removal of the outer layer of shingles exposed another layer of shingles that was from a much earlier era of building. It is amazing what can be covered up by a new layer of material, isn't it?

Sometimes the same is true in our lives. We try to cover up things about ourselves that we don't want others to know. We try to be something that we are not. We try to hide things. We do good things, but we don't have the right motive for doing them. Sometimes we are successful at covering up things, sometimes we are not. Of course, there is one person that we can never fool - and that is God. We read in I Samuel 16:7: "The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."

I have often paraphrased a familiar quote from Abraham Lincoln this way: "You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time. But you can't fool all of the people all of the time." I like to add, "And you can't fool God at any time." What's in your heart?

Pastor Steve Willis
Saturday October 01, 2016

During a performance on October 3, 2003, Roy Horn, one-half of the Las Vegas mega-star duo "Siegfried and Roy", was mauled by one of the tigers used in their magic review. For years, this duo kept audiences on the edge of their seats with their unique blend of animal mastery and magical illusion. Although the animals in the act always seemed tame and friendly, for some reason a tiger attacked Horn. The attack ended their brilliant shows. In 2009, they made a "comeback" show of sorts, but the injuries Horn sustained will prevent him from ever being the showman he once was.

No one knows for sure what prompted the attack. Many theories have been put forth, including a couple by Horn himself. Horn suffered a stroke almost simultaneously with the attack. It was not determined if the stroke was caused by the attack, or if Horn suffered the stroke before the attack. Horn thinks the latter, and believes his tiger was reacting to this, doing what he thought was necessary to save Horn's life. Of course, all of this is speculation. One fact that all animal trainers know stands out - you really don't "tame" a wild animal, you simply keep its behavior under control.

James uses the analogy of taming wild animals in describing the trouble we have with our tongue. He says in 3:7-8, "All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison." We have a greater chance of keeping a wild beast under control than we do keeping our tongues under control.

Much training was required to get the animals to the place where they could be "performers" in Siegfried and Roy's show. Much more training is needed to keep our tongues under control. A lot of damage was done to Roy Horn by an out of control animal. A lot of damage can be done to people by an out of control tongue. Keep this in mind the next time you feel that you are losing control of your tongue. Remember it is "full of deadly poison" and needs to be closely guarded. Don't maul others with it - keep it tamed!

Pastor Steve Willis
Friday September 30, 2016

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 you feel appreciated; and it can certainly help if received at a time when you have experienced someone who has been 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 us 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. Live in a way so that you are deserving of God's compliments!

Pastor Steve Willis
Thursday September 29, 2016

I was in junior high school when I first drank Gatorade. A teammate brought a bottle to football practice. Gatorade is a drink designed to restore lost electrolytes in those who had been involved in intense physical activity. It was named Gatorade because it was developed by a researcher at the University of Florida, home of the Gators.

Recently I read a story about another type of "gator aid." It seems some recruits at an armed services training facility in Florida were making a habit of slipping off a rope into a pond during a training exercise to "cool off" in the hot climate. To change this habit, a drill instructor had a large alligator put in the pond. From then on, the recruits would swing all the way across the pond without slipping. Wonder why?

God sometimes uses similar tactics to bring us in line with his plan. The use of unfavorable circumstances to mold and shape our character and encourage obedience is seen in scripture and in our personal experience. Hebrews 12:6 tells us "the Lord disciplines those he loves." Sometimes that means putting an alligator in the water as a form of "gator aid." David says in Psalm 119:71, "It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees."

Remember this the next time you feel that God is using "gator aid" with you. It shows that he loves you. It shows he wants you to be, in the words of the Armed Services, "all that you can be." A friendly reminder - don't let go of the rope!

Pastor Steve Willis
Wednesday September 28, 2016

"My God, what will become of me? I have no desire but to die!" wrote the 30-year-old lady in her diary. Obviously struggling with depression and grief, what was to become of this person who had come to the end of her emotional rope?

Well, she became a pioneer in the use of antiseptics and chloroform which relieved much human suffering. What became of her was being the founder of the modern-day nursing profession. Florence Nightingale did much to improve the practice of medicine and lived to the marvelous age of 90 before leaving this life for the life to come. What changed was discovering a purpose outside of herself, outside of her suffering. What changed was channeling her suffering and grief into activity that led to the relief of the suffering and grief of others.

Do you feel like you have come to the end of your emotional rope? Look around - who can you help? Remember that in the work of helping others, our own pain can give way to healing.

Like Nightingale, Job came to a place where he wished he had never been born. Job 3:1-3 tells us, "After this, Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. He said: 'May the day of my birth perish, and the night it was said, A boy is born!'" Also like Nightingale, Job worked through his personal grief and pain. His story has become an inspiration to many others who struggle with grief and suffering.

Facing a painful time? Remember the examples of Florence Nightingale and Job. They worked through what they experienced and were blessed because of their faith. You can do the same.

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday September 27, 2016

According to an old legend, there was once a day when the sun didn't shine. At 6 a.m., there was no evidence of the sun. 7 a.m. came and passed by with still no sun. At noon it was as dark as if it was midnight. People began flocking to churches to pray. Fear gripped them as what should be was not. The sun always rose in the morning, didn't it? It was always there to provide light and warmth, wasn't it? Well, not this day. People prayed that God would send back the sun.

The next day, all the people gathered and faced east, hoping to see the familiar sight of the sunrise. When the sun appeared, a huge cheer rose from the massive throng. What was once taken for granted would be taken for granted no more.

We are prone to do this - take for granted things that shouldn't be taken for granted. We do that with God's benefits and blessings. They are always there, aren't they? Yes, God is always there and always wants to give us good things and provide many blessings; however, we should do all we can to make sure we don't take these things for granted.

What can we do to make sure we don't take God's benefits for granted? Do what David did in Psalm 103. He couldn't list all of God's benefits, but he listed as many as he could: "Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits--who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's."

We can't list all of God's blessings, but we should take time each day to think of some of them. In this way, we will be kept from taking what God gives us for granted. It will keep our focus on the One who never withholds the sun, who never lets us down, who never leaves us alone.

Pastor Steve Willis
Monday September 26, 2016

Years ago when I lived in Ohio, I would occasionally drive by a small dwelling that was once a school house. It was near the road and even though it had been modified a good deal for use as living quarters, the shape had not been changed to the extent that its original use was completely hidden. Another unique feature of this structure was that it had been the scene of a terrible tragedy. Construction workers on a road-building project some distance away were using dynamite to blast some rocks and remove tree stumps. They placed a larger charge than necessary under one particular stump. The explosion propelled the stump almost one-half mile away - right through the roof of the school which was filled with students. One young boy was killed instantly and a number of other students were injured - all as a consequence of an improperly calculated explosive charge.

This was truly a great tragedy, something that one would hope would never be repeated. It shows the need to be careful with dynamite - an explosive charge can lead to devastating consequences.

There is another type of explosive charge that can lead to devastating consequences. Albeit not deadly, an explosion of anger can still produce effects that are harmful, hurtful and tragic. Using forceful words and explosive actions may allow us to get what we want, but it will also leave a good deal of damage in the wake of our words and deeds. Hurt feelings, injured friendships, and damaged relationships are often the results of inappropriate displays of our forceful will.

Moses had to deal with the consequences of an action fueled by anger. We read in Numbers 20:8-12, "'Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.' So Moses took the staff from the LORD's presence, just as he commanded him. He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, 'Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?' Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank. But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, '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 anger kept him from personally entering the Promised Land. What has your anger cost you? Just as there were consequences to the explosion which sent a stump plummeting into a schoolhouse full of children, there will consequences to our explosions. Explosions are much more easily controlled before the fact - so do what you must to keep things in control!

Pastor Steve Willis
Sunday September 25, 2016

When I was younger I used to be called "four eyes" because of my glasses. There is a species of fish found in Central and South America called the Four Eyed Fish, Anableps anableps. It is called the Four Eyed Fish because it has two lenses in each eye - one that enables the fish to look at the world above as it swims near the surface. The other set of lens allows it to see what is going on in the water. This sounds like a useful trait.

We don't have this physical attribute, but we need to develop a "four eyed" spiritual trait. We need to be able to look above, to train our focus heavenward so as to be aware of God and his desire for us and what he has in store for us. Paul states in Colossians 3:1, "Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God." However, we should never lose our focus on our responsibility here and now. There are needs that should be met; there are things that need to be done. Christ spoke often of heaven and our place there (read John 14:1-6), but he also spoke of the need to seek justice and help meet needs now. We find Christ's words in Matthew 5:5-6, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy."

Do your best to develop four eyes. Train yourself to look above and look below. In this way we will keep ourselves encouraged as we think of what God has for us, but also keep ourselves involved in what is going on around us. Being "four eyed" is a really good thing!

Pastor Steve Willis
Saturday September 24, 2016

Years ago the state of Queensland in Australia offered "the greatest job in the world." They offered to fly someone to Hamilton Island, located in the Great Barrier Reef. There, the individual would be responsible for a few tasks each day, would roam around the island, walk the beaches, and report daily on an internet "blog" sight what was taking place. The purpose of the job was to promote tourism. The person was to live expense free in a 3-bedroom house on the island and receive a salary of $105,000 (US). All this for six months work. Well, it was a grueling job, but somebody had to do it! I never heard who took up Queensland on this offer, but I have no doubt that someone did.

Most of us might drool at the prospect of a job like this, because what we do is nowhere near this job description. Yet, we should not demean what we do. Our work is honorable in God's eyes, and Paul reminds us in Colossians 3:23-24 that "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving."

I don t know if you have a "cushy" job like what was described earlier; however, as Paul tells us, whatever you do, work to please the Lord, because it is the Lord you are serving.

Pastor Steve Willis
Friday September 23, 2016

"Lonely, I'm Mr. Lonely" crooned Bobby Vinton in one of his hit songs from the '60's. How could anyone be lonely with more than 6 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
Thursday September 22, 2016

Today is the first day of Autumn; however, where I live there are few signs that summer actually has passed and fall is here. The crops are ripening and there is some activity in the fields, but this is the strongest evidence to date that this really is the date of another season, particularly one in which the leaves change color, the temperatures get lower, and you start mowing your grass less frequently. Most leaves are still green, the temps remain high, and I am still mowing my lawn at least once a week. Oh, the days are getting shorter also. Still, summer is hanging around big time and we are still sweating it out. Does this mean fall isn't going to come this year? Of course not - fall just isn't coming in the way we expect it. Fall is here at just the right time, in spite of indications otherwise.

Christ will come at just the right time, in spite of what we may think are indications otherwise. Even the folks in the first century were having trouble with this. That is why Peter wrote, "They will say, 'Where is this coming he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.'" (II Peter 3:4) The thing is, it isn't good to try to second-guess God. Even as fall arrived just when it should in spite of how things appear, Christ will return just when he should in spite of how we think things appear. We should live expectant lives as we wait for his return.

Today is indeed the autumnal equinox. There will be a day that will indeed be the day of Christ's return. Even as I am writing this, a television weatherman is saying, "Wouldn't it be nice if fall would just arrive as it usually does, as we expect for it to appear?" Sometimes it just doesn't happen as we expect. So it is with Christ's return. "So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him." (Matthew 24:44) The date on the calendar says this is the day. At some point, the date on God's calendar will be the time when God says, "This is the day." Be ready!

Pastor Steve Willis
Wednesday September 21, 2016

These humorous "excuses" have been all over the internet, but I thought I would print them again for your amusement. They supposedly were taken from actual accident reports:

"I had been driving my car for 40 years when I fell asleep at the wheel and had the accident."

"I pulled away from the side of the road, glanced at my mother-in-law, and headed over the embankment."

"The pedestrian had no idea which direction to go, so I ran over him."

"The telephone pole was approaching fast. I attempted to swerve out of its path when it struck my front end."

"The guy was all over the road. I had to swerve a number of times before I hit him."

"The indirect cause of this accident was a little guy in a small car with a big mouth."

We are usually pretty good at coming up with excuses for incidents, or when we are trying to avoid culpability in some situation. We come up with excuses for why we have not finished a task we were supposed to do, why we forgot an appointment, and even why we have been unable to attend church. We should be pretty good at this, as mankind hawe have been doing this since the beginning. When God confronted Adam and Eve about their sin, Adam said, "The woman you put here with me--she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it (Genesis 3:12)."

Try to break the cycle. Don't make excuses for something you have done or have failed to do. Truth is always the best policy.

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday September 20, 2016

Many of us have had the experience of walking into a room and knowing that someone has been there, or is still nearby, even though we did not or could not see them. We have that knowledge because we detect the familiar smell of their favorite cologne or perhaps we detect by some other means that they were there. "Now, wait a minute," one might ask, "How do you know this since you can't or didn't see them?" Well, there are other lines of evidence that validate their presence.

Many argue against the existence of God because he cannot be seen. However, just because we cannot see him does not mean he isn't there. There are many other lines of evidence that point to his existence. Of course, it does eventually come down to faith. One must believe that God is even though he or she has never seen God. Christ told Thomas in John 20:29, ""Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." Hebrews speaks of believing without seeing as being the definition of faith. We read in Hebrews 11:1, "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see."

The old adage "seeing is believing" does not apply here. We believe even though we have not seen. Faith is the ability to "see" the spiritual world, to "see" God. As George MacDonald wrote, "Our goal then is to 'grow eyes' to see the unseen."

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday September 20, 2016

Many of us have had the experience of walking into a room and knowing that someone has been there, or is still nearby, even though we did not or could not see them. We have that knowledge because we detect the familiar smell of their favorite cologne or perhaps we detect by some other means that they were there. "Now, wait a minute," one might ask, "How do you know this since you can't or didn't see them?" Well, there are other lines of evidence that validate their presence.

Many argue against the existence of God because he cannot be seen. However, just because we cannot see him does not mean he isn't there. There are many other lines of evidence that point to his existence. Of course, it does eventually come down to faith. One must believe that God is even though he or she has never seen God. Christ told Thomas in John 20:29, ""Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." Hebrews speaks of believing without seeing as being the definition of faith. We read in Hebrews 11:1, "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see."

The old adage "seeing is believing" does not apply here. We believe even though we have not seen. Faith is the ability to "see" the spiritual world, to "see" God. As George MacDonald wrote, "Our goal then is to 'grow eyes' to see the unseen."

Pastor Steve Willis
Monday September 19, 2016

There is a story about a young girl in Africa who gave her teacher an exquisite seashell as a Christmas gift. "Where did you get this?" the teacher asked. "These shells are only found on a beach that is far away," the girl replied. Realizing that the girl had walked a long way for the gift, the teacher told her she shouldn't have traveled so far. The girl replied, "The walk was part of the gift."

Many people go to great lengths to help others or to find a particular gift for others. They consider the journey part of the gift. Christ's gift to us included the long journey from heaven to earth. Dottie Rambo once wrote in a song, "He left the splendors of heaven knowing his destiny was the lonely hill of Golgotha where he laid down his life for me. If that isn't love. . . " Certainly that is love!

Paul speaks of that journey in Philippians 2:5-8, "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross!"

As you think of what Christ has done for you, remember that the walk was part of the gift!

Pastor Steve Willis
Sunday September 18, 2016

Many of us find it hard to accept criticism, especially when it is presented in a way that is confrontational. A teenage boy overheard a man from his church loudly criticizing the pastor for something the pastor had said in his message. The pastor responded in a quiet way, and told the man he would give the matter some thought. Later, the teenager asked the pastor how he was able to respond in such a quiet way without "firing back." The pastor told the young man, ""Every piece of criticism can be helpful. God may be in it, and if he is, I need to hear what he's saying. The critic just might be right."

Proverbs 15:1 says, "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." Here are some thoughts about handling criticism, especially when it is given in a harsh way: First, try not to respond in anger. This usually makes things worse. Secondly, try to look at the criticism from the perspective of the critic. Is he or she right in what they are saying (even though they might be saying it in the wrong way)? Finally, use the incident to model the attitude of Christ. It takes a great deal of patience and control to respond in this way, but these are characteristics we see in Christ, and also "fruits of the Spirit."

Sometimes handling criticism is difficult, especially when it is given in the wrong spirit. Work ahead of time to develop these attitudes, and develop the mind of Christ!

Pastor Steve Willis
Saturday September 17, 2016

Perhaps you have had the experience where you get the tune of a certain song in your head and, try as you might, you just can't seem to quit thinking about it. Actually, the harder you try to forget it, the more "present" it seems to be. That is the way it is with our thoughts - the more we concentrate on trying to not think about something, the more we think about something. The only way to move on to something else is to concentrate on something else.

This especially holds true with thoughts that bring us anxiety and worry. There are things that cause us to worry, and sometimes we spend sleepless nights trying to rid ourselves of these thoughts. What is helpful is to develop a different focus. I Peter 5:7 tells us to "Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you." When we have something that is crowding our thinking and creating fear, we need to focus on God and his goodness. In this way, we give these anxious thoughts to God and release our minds to focus on more positive things.

Paul tells in Philippians 4:6, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." Christ himself addressed this issue and told his followers, "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." (Matthew 6:34)

That this issue was addressed so many times in scripture shows it is a common experience, but with each of these statements comes sounds advice for us to follow. Focus on the goodness of God. Concentrating on God and his provision will help us release anxious thoughts. God does care for you!

Pastor Steve Willis
Friday September 16, 2016

Some time ago I was sent some pictures of eagles that had been taken by a local photographer. The pictures were magnificent - of course the eagles looked very regal. They really are incredible birds. Eagles can fly almost straight up. They have the ability to look directly into the sun without being blinded because of a special structure on their eye. They can dive at tremendous speeds. For such a large bird, they never seem clumsy; they seem to be always in command.

As I looked at those pictures, my thoughts were drawn to one of my favorite verses in the Scripture. Isaiah 40:30-31 says, "Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; 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." This passage was written to encourage some people who were facing uncertain times. The message for us is just as true - when we face times of uncertainty and times of trouble, we should continue to focus on our Lord who will continue to provide for us and will lead us skyward out of the mess in which we currently stand.

When you are struggling, think of the eagle and remember that God has promised to restore you to a position of strength. Regardless of how "clumsy" you might feel now - you will be restored to a position of command.

Pastor Steve Willis
Thursday September 15, 2016

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: leaving the outcome in God's hands and believing 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. 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. Our response to this 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
Wednesday September 14, 2016

David Doubilet has taken some of the most breathtaking underwater portraits you will ever see. You should check out his website sometime. Some environmental groups have felt that he should use his influence to work against the polluting of our oceans and seas through his photography. They have suggested that he should post more "ugly" scenes. His response to this is he feels it is better to show the beauty of the world that God created instead of showing evidence of man's mismanagement. He believes this is a more forceful apologetic as to why we should take care of our environment.

I think we can learn a lesson from this. Sometimes we get so caught up in trying to show what is wrong with the world and talking about all the evils, that we forget we should be offering a positive picture of what God can do when we yield to his control. This should start in our individual lives. We sing the song "They'll Know We Are Christians by Our Love," yet we often fail to put this principle into practice.

Christ said in John 13:35, "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." Christ never glossed over sin and neither should we; we simply need to deal with its effects in a positive way by providing a picture of the beauty God intends for us. Show Christ's love in your life and see what kind of impact this will have on your environment!

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday September 13, 2016

A farmer placed a weather vane inscribed with the words "God is love" on top of his barn. One day a traveler stopped by the farm and watched the weather vane moving with the breeze. Then, with a smirk on his face, he asked, "Do you mean to say that your God is as changeable as the wind?"

The farmer shook his head and replied, "No. What I mean to say is that no matter which way the wind blows, God is love!"

The scripture states that God is Love. This means that the essence of God's character is love. It is just not something he does, that is, love us no matter what. Love is the essence of his being. We will never be able to plumb the depths of God's love. I don't think that we can fully appreciate God's love in this lifetime.

John writes, "Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. . .God is love (I John 4:8-12; 16).

No matter which way the wind blows, we know God is love. He will never be any other way because he cannot be any other way. He is love. We need to reflect God's love no matter which way the wind is blowing.

Pastor Steve Willis
Monday September 12, 2016

Some time ago, I had a mildly frustrating thing happen to me. In actuality, I was going to write that it was a very frustrating thing until I came across a story you will read later in this article. Anyway, my mildly frustrating experience involved placing an order over the phone. I had a lengthy list of items and had just completed going over the list with the vendor when he said, "I need to put you on hold to check something." Try not to let folks put you on hold. Nothing good can come of it. I was put on hold all right - the irritating blare of dial tone indicated I could hold on all I wanted. The vendor was not coming back. What to do? Well, we needed the stuff, so I called the company back and told the agent what had happened. Did she have a record of the transaction? No, she didn't. I proceeded to go through the entire list again. This time, I did not get put on hold and we had the items we needed in a few days.

I downgraded this to a mildly frustrating experience when I came across an article about Major General George Goethals. Goethals was the man who took over the job of building the Panama Canal. He was appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt on March 4, 1907, as Chairman and Chief Engineer of the Isthmian Canal Commission (I.C.C.). He served in that position until completion of Canal construction in 1914, following which he served as Governor of the Panama Canal until his resignation on January 17, 1917.

During the construction, there were many setbacks. While cutting through the mountains in the center of the Isthmus, a tremendous landslide occurred erasing months of work. While surveying the damage, an aide asked Goethals, "General, what do we do?" Without a moment's hesitation, Goethals replied, "Dig it out again."

Because of such perseverance, there is now a canal in Panama that provides passage for over 14,000 ships each year. This past June, an expansion of the canal was completed to accommodate the much-larger ships of our current day, but it began with the tenacity of Major General George Goethals. The website of the Panama Canal Authority has this testimonial, "The name Goethals will be recorded in history as the man who accomplished one of the greatest feats of engineering and construction since the Egyptians completed the mighty pyramids - the construction of the Panama Canal."

We face setbacks in life that require us to "dig it out again." James 1:2-4 tells us, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." Perseverance is a difficult trait to develop, but good things come to those who persevere.

Pastor Steve Willis
Sunday September 11, 2016

Many of us know exactly where we were 15 years ago today when we first learned of the incredible events that took place that day. I was in my office at church when we got a call telling us to turn on our TV if we had one available. At that time, I had a little black and white portable with a five-inch screen. I only had the built-in antenna to use, but I got an image. The lack of color and the fuzziness only added to the surreal nature of the events that I saw that day. The first jet had already plummeted into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. At that point, nothing was known about the aircraft. Speculations were being given, and talk was on-going about what happened. Then, as smoke billowed out of the north tower, another jet flew into the face of the south tower. When this happened, it was apparent that what was taking place was not just a random accident.

I have often wondered why it takes events such as these to remind us of the fragility of our position, our existence. That usually is the case, isn't it? Traumatic and painful events jolt us into the reality of our position in the world. We suddenly began to embrace God more closely as we realize we aren t as secure as we thought. This was one of the results in the days and weeks following the events of September 11, 2001. Church attendance increased, there was more "God talk" on public mediums, and people openly shared their fears of our vulnerability. Has this continued? Perhaps for some, but as in many cases, once things "settled down," there was a return to business as usual.

Our relationship with God should never be "business as usual." We should not wait for an event that sweeps us off our feet to realize how insecure we are. Trust God at all times and never fail to acknowledge his Lordship. You will either do that now, or you will do it later. There is no doubt about that. Paul tells us in Philippians 2:10-11, "at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Don't wait for some great tragedy before you do this. And certainly don't wait until it's too late to do so. Your life is fragile - handle with prayer.

Pastor Steve Willis
Saturday September 10, 2016

To me, one of Christ's most fascinating characteristics was his humility. He certainly was a "take charge" person when this was necessary, but we see him model humility is so many ways. His submission and obedience to his Father were certainly ways his humility is seen. His prayer in the garden on the night of his betrayal and arrest shows his humility and submission to his Father's will. In Philippians 2, Paul writes that we should emulate his humility in our lives.

Developing a spirit of humility is not all that easy. This really goes against the grain of how we are typically. We want our "rights;" we want things done our way; we want our ideas to be used; we want our voice to be heard; we want to be in charge.

These are things we need to keep in check as we develop true humility in our lives. Humility may not be easy, but it is certainly the path by which the greater good can be accomplished. Paul instructed Titus, "Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men (Titus 3:1-3)."

How are we at showing "true humility toward all men?" Be honest - and be humble!

Pastor Steve Willis
Friday September 09, 2016

When I was a teenager, I had a camp counselor who would declare "I don't get mad, I just get even" when he found himself on the receiving end of some practical joke. That may be all well and good when you are talking about some light-hearted fun, but there are some who are intent on revenge when the stakes involve more than just jokes.

Seeking revenge is not a behavior a follower of Christ should pursue. We may experience circumstances where we would really like to "get back" at someone, but we need to take a different path. Seeking revenge lowers us to the place of those who have caused our problem to begin with, and may cause us to violate the Christian principles of fairness, kindness, forgiveness, and love for others. We need to allow the goodness of Christ dictate our response at times when we are wronged or are trying to deal with someone who irritates us.

Paul wrote, "Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord. On the contrary: If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Romans 12:19-21)

Respond in God's way, not your way, when you find you are in a position where you really would like to do something to someone because they have done something to you. Don't get mad, and don't get even, get glad with God's goodness!

Pastor Steve Willis
Thursday September 08, 2016

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

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis
Wednesday September 07, 2016

As many of you know, Kobe Bryant retired from the Los Angeles Lakers this year. Many years ago I was watching him play on TV. The Lakers were losing to the Spurs in San Antonio when they called for a timeout early in the fourth quarter. Kobe Bryant was the best player on the Lakers team at the time; however, his performance had been less than stellar for much of the game. After the timeout, Kobe went on a tear and started scoring seemingly at will. The Lakers won the game. What happened? Comments made in the Laker's huddle during that timeout were recorded. Coach Phil Jackson said to Kobe, "Kobe, you need to activate the ball more. You need to shoot the ball. You need to do some scoring."

Now, one would think Kobe would have known that. He had played basketball ever since he could tie his own shoelaces. Surely he knew that in order to win the game, you need to score points. As one of the leading scorers in the league, he knew how to score. So what was with Jackson s advice?

Well, the advice worked, because Kobe started doing some scoring. An observation I made from this is that you are never so good at something that you wouldn't benefit from some good coaching. Every now and then, you need to be reminded of what needs to be done in order to accomplish a goal you are pursuing. Coaching can be really helpful to keep one on track and focused on the task, or tasks, at hand.

God wants us to remember this as well. He is always available to provide us with the coaching we need to keep on track and remind us of what we should be doing. Even though we may have been followers of Christ for a long period of time we can benefit from good coaching. Of course, no amount of coaching will help if we aren't willing to listen. Phil Jackson must have "had Kobe's ear," because Kobe followed his advice and changed his performance.

We need to listen to God and when we do, we will change our behavior in order to enhance our performance. Proverbs 19:20-21 reminds us, "Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise. Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails." When his purpose prevails, we know we will do better. Listen to your Coach!

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday September 06, 2016

Did you hear about the golfer who set his local country club on fire? And I don't mean in a figurative sense by shooting a low score, I mean literally set it on fire. He didn't mean to, he was just playing out of the rough, as all of us who enjoy torturing ourselves playing golf have had to do. He was playing a shot out of tall, dry grass. During his swing, he hit a rock embedded in the ground causing a spark. The spark set the grass ablaze and before the blaze was stopped, 25 acres had been charred. It took 120 firefighters, several fire trucks, and a helicopter to extinguish the blaze. This incident sort of adds another twist to the song "It only takes a spark. . ."

This story goes to show what a little spark can do. We should keep this in mind when it comes to our ideas to help others. We need to keep that in mind when it comes to our contribution to the ministry of our church. Do you see an area of need? Well, why not provide the spark that gets the fire started to take care of that need? Big movements and big contributions often start with small steps. Naaman's maid provided a spark that led to the fires of healing for her master. When she learned of Naaman's plight, she made the brief statement, "If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy (II Kings 5:3)." Her little spark led to big results.

Don't discount your idea because you think it might be too insignificant. Don't downplay or count out those "little" thoughts - they just might be the spark needed to start a big fire. Now, we don't need "wildfires," but we often need to have a fire set under us to keep us from becoming stale and bring improvement. You might just have the right idea to bring about good things.

Pastor Steve Willis
Monday September 05, 2016

Today is Labor Day, as you well know. Some of you have already read my post in our sermon section of our website, or perhaps have read my article in our church newsletter. In this piece, I make the comment that Labor Day is the most hypocritical of our holidays. Labor Day is meant to honor work, and what do we do? Give folks a day off! Well, you no doubt deserve it, so enjoy your day.

As you may know, Labor Day had a sad origin. The day arose out of public outcry over an incident where federal troops killed many striking Pullman Railroad Car workers. I encourage you to look this up if you are not familiar with the particulars. Labor Day is an example of a positive experience that has an origin in a bad circumstance.

God is good at doing this - bringing positive results out of bad situations. Joseph pointed this out when he said, "Don't be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don't be afraid. I will provide for you and your children (Genesis 50:19-20)." Joseph went through a lot of bad experiences that he could not avoid. However, he knew that the bad experiences he went through were necessary to bring about positive benefits for many others, thousands of others, including seventy of his own family.

Keep this in mind when you face a bad time. God can turn your circumstances around for your benefit, or for the benefit of others. Nothing is hidden from God, and his plan is being enacted. Remember the example of Joseph, and also remember the words of Paul in Romans 8:28, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."

Pastor Steve Willis
Sunday September 04, 2016

Two acquaintances were talking about the benefits of church attendance. One said, "I don't see the point - I never recall what the pastor said in his sermon." The other asked, "Do you recall what you had for dinner a week ago today?" "No," replied the first. "But you ate and you did derive benefit from the meal, didn't you?" The first man said, "Yes, I did."

Sometimes details of meals, and many others experiences, escape us as most of us do not possess encyclopedic memory. However, we cannot deny the benefits we derive from our experiences, especially our meals. So, to use the idea that we can t remember to justify our non-attendance of church functions simply is incorrect. Each encounter we have with God's Word leaves us with benefits. These encounters may come in a variety of ways, and certainly our worship time is one. In addition, worship provides many other experiences that benefit us and give us the opportunity to reflect God's person and character with other believers. This is the prime goal of worship. When we gather with other believers, we are able to participate in an experience of showing God our love for him in a way that we really cannot accomplish on our own. We receive from him "nourishment" though his Word and other means that is unique to that experience.

Psalm 119:33-35 says, "Teach me, O LORD, to follow your decrees; then I will keep them to the end. Give me understanding, and I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart. Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight." Each encounter we have with God's Word through reading, teaching, music, preaching, brings lasting benefit and feeds our soul. Be careful when you say, "I don t remember," you may have received more than you think!

Pastor Steve Willis
Saturday September 03, 2016

A man touring the Far East came across a rather unusual scene. A young boy was pulling a plow while an old man held the handles and guided it through the rice paddy. "My," the man said, "those people are so poor!" "Yes, " replied the guide, "They are poor. They sold their only ox last autumn to help build a new church."

That is quite a sacrifice, don't you think? Sometimes we are not even willing to give up a candy bar in order to be able to give something back to the Lord. What we have in the example above is the embodiment of sacrifice. God wants from us a spiritual sacrifice that resonates with his willingness to sacrifice. God delights in deeds that spring up from a desire to serve him. Galatians 5:6 says, "The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love."

With what deeds of sacrifice have you been involved? We need to look for ways to "sell our ox." We should look for ways of service, look for ways to sacrifice. These should not be done to call attention to ourselves, but to call attention to God's ministry. He is the one who deserves the attention and merits our sacrifice.

Pastor Steve Willis
Friday September 02, 2016

John Ruskin was an art critic, poet, painter, and social thinker who lived in London in the 19th century. His work was very influential, and his influence was quite varied from literature to philosophy to art. Once a lady came to him to speak to him about some of his ideas. In the conversation, she lamented about how her valuable handkerchief had been ruined by an ink blot. "Let me see your kerchief," asked Ruskin. He proceeded to turn the ink blot on the handkerchief into a beautiful scene. This made the handkerchief more valuable than ever as it was now an original work of art by Ruskin.

This is what God will do with our lives. He turns the unsightly inkblot that mars the appearance into something wonderful and glorious to behold. He can take the blotches and turn them into beauty. What God is doing with the believer is creating something that will be better than the original. Our lives are marred by the effects of sin, but when we place our lives into the hands of God, he takes the brokenness, the confusion, that which is unsightly, and makes us into a new creation.

Ezekiel 36:36 speaks about the transformational work of God: "And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh." Bill Gaither wrote about the transforming work of God:

Something beautiful, something good

All my confusion he understood

All I had to offer him was brokenness as strife

But he made something beautiful of my life.

Pastor Steve Willis
Thursday September 01, 2016

Juliette Gordon Low could have been another casualty of adverse life circumstances. As a young lady, she lost hearing in one ear because of improper treatment of an ear infection. Then, her hearing was impaired in her other ear when a piece of rice thrown at her wedding lodged in her ear and burst her eardrum. While she loved children, she never had any of her own. Her husband was unfaithful and they were estranged at the time of his death in 1905. So, what was her response to all of this adversity? Well, many of you have already recognized her name and know her as the founder of Girl Scouts of America.

In 1912, she gathered 18 girls together in Savannah, Georgia, initiating a movement that became the Girl Scouts of America. At a meeting in England in 1911 she met Sir Robert Baden Powell, the founder of Boy Scouts. This provided the inspiration that led to the Georgia gathering. Low had been searching for "something to do with her life," and I think she found it.

Low's life could have gone a drastically different direction. How easily she could have given in to her circumstances and become embittered. Instead, she searched for "something to do with her life," and what a discovery she made. Over the years more than 50 million girls all over the world over have been influenced through their experience as Scouts. And how about the impact of Girl Scout Cookies? The thin mint variety is my favorite.

The point I am making is that in Low we have an example of someone who received some lemons in life and decided to make lemonade. Instead of being overcome with adversity, she overcame adversity and made an incredible impact. She didn't let self-destructive bitterness creep in when life circumstances became negative. This poem was found in her journal after her death:

Only thyself, thyself can harm.

Forget it not - and full of peace,

Ignore the noise and world's alarm,

And wait till storm and tumult cease.

We usually do not have a choice when it comes to the adversity that comes our way in our life. However, we do have a choice when it comes to our response to the adversity. David gives a perspective on dealing with adversity in Psalm 3:5-6, "I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me. I will not fear the tens of thousands drawn up against me on every side." Avoid bitterness and allow God to help when adversity strikes.

Pastor Steve Willis
Wednesday August 31, 2016

I remember reading 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 our lives. 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
Tuesday August 30, 2016

When we are in positions of leadership and organization, in our church or otherwise, sometimes it is easy to slip into a "blinders on" mode. The necessity of making decisions can sometimes lead us down a path where we become self-absorbed and a little close-minded to the thoughts and ideas of others. Whether we are in a role of leadership or not, this is not a good thing. We benefit from the ideas of others. We need input from trusted family members and friends. Getting to the place where we think "my way is the right way" at all times can lead to trouble.

First and foremost, we need to keep ourselves open to God's input and direction. We cannot do without his advice and guidance at any time. Secondly, be willing to listen to others and consider their thoughts, especially when it involves weighty issues. Proverbs 12:15 says, "The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice." A further thought on this subject is found in Proverbs 15:31, "He who listens to a life-giving rebuke will be at home among the wise."

Heed these statements. Don't tune out God's voice in your decision-making process. Don't tune out the voice of others. A further thought - God can use others to give us what he wants us to know. Closed thinking can impede our progress. Open your thinking to the ideas of others. Doing this will show in the results.

Pastor Steve Willis
Monday August 29, 2016

Some time ago, I drove by a construction site. A crane was lifting an oddly shaped something to the roof of one of the buildings. The reasons that it looked odd were the angle at which the crane was holding the piece and the fact that it was just that - only a piece to a whole that would make sense and look correct when it was joined up with what was already in place.

How much like our lives. There are times when we look at our lives and what is taking place in our lives and only see pieces that look odd and don't seem to fit. Then, it time, God puts those pieces together for us, and it all makes sense. Just as with the construction of the building, time is needed for the process to bring about a desired conclusion, and the person doing the work must know what they are doing to make sure the things that look odd fit together to make sense. We may things feel a bit odd and look at bit odd at times, but God can be trusted to put everything together.

Job had struggled with some very odd circumstances in his life. There were a lot of pieces that didn't seem to fit, and he wondered why. God reminded Job that he knew how things went together. You can read his entire explanation to Job in Job 38 and 39. In no uncertain terms, God lays out his credentials. Here is just a part: "Do you know the laws of the heavens? Can you set up God's dominion over the earth (38:22)?"

Don't ever forget that God is the one who can turn those odd looking pieces into a well-constructed whole. He is the Master Designer - not just of the universe, but also of your life!

Pastor Steve Willis
Sunday August 28, 2016

His teachers thought he was an "odd ball". He was so different that he was called "dull and backward and impractical." His eccentric behavior led to his being asked to leave college. So, what did he do? Well, at the age of 19 he received his first patent for a rotary steam engine. George Westinghouse would go on to receive more than 400 patents for his inventions. He developed air brakes and was a big proponent of alternating current instead of direct current (favored by none other than Thomas Edison), which has proved to be a stroke of genius.

It is so easy to make snap judgments about people who are different in some ways. One's appearance, abilities, aptitudes, and patterns of thought, if considered different than the "norm", often are used wrongly in our assessment of them. We need to be careful not to form incorrect opinions of others because they seem to be dissimilar.

Westinghouse was confined to a wheelchair in his later years. His thoughts on a motorized wheelchair laid the foundation for something that is commonplace today and greatly enhances the mobility of many. All of this from a person considered to be "impractical".

Consider others who might be different in appearance and actions on the basis of mercy and acceptance, not judgmentally and critically. Accept others according to God's design and desire, not our inappropriate standards. Paul encourages us to "Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God (Romans 15:7)". Let's do just that, and if this poses a problem for us, remember Westinghouse!

Pastor Steve Willis
Saturday August 27, 2016

We all need certainties in our lives. We can deal with a degree of uncertainty, but what helps us with the uncertainty is the ability to have confidence in something. What is something in which we can always be certain? Well, God's love for us is a biggie.

God always deals with us on the basis of his love for us. Isn't that wonderful? Since we know thist, we know he will always be fair with us, he will always have our best interests at heart, he will never leave us in the dark, and he will not be hard to find when we are in need of his presence.

Psalm 6:4 tells us "Turn, O LORD, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love." We can always count on this truth. We can always count on God's love. If you are facing a time of uncertainty right now for some reason, retreat to something that is certain: God's love. Knowing we can count on the certainty of his love at all times gives us strength to face the things that are uncertain.

Pastor Steve Willis
Friday August 26, 2016

A man was in a hospital recovering from heart surgery. A nurse came in the room and asked if he needed anything. He said, "I would like some ice." The nurse said, "Would you like a new BMW or some ice chips?" The man replied quickly, "Ice chips!" "Don't ever forget that," the nurse said.

Many might think this an unrealistic story because, well, who would want ice chips over a BMW? Actually, it is a true story, and I would imagine that those of you who have had surgery could vouch for its realism. Having had surgery a few times, I know that I certainly can.

Certain things in life remind us of the need to be thankful for the little things. I hope you don't need a stay in the hospital to teach you this lesson. We should never take little things for granted.

Colossians 3:16-17 tells us, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." Be grateful for all things, great or small. Many times ice chips are indeed superior to BMW's.

Pastor Steve Willis
Thursday August 25, 2016

Recently I read an article in which various models of automobiles were rated for their dependability and performance. Cars from Asia generally received good scores. Cars made in the U.S. have made significant improvement in the ratings. European cars were somewhat disappointing in their scores for reliability. I thought this was all rather interesting.

When I finished reading the article, I was struck by a thought. What if God rated us according to our reliability? How would we stack up? What kind of scores would we receive for durability and consistency? If he was to use the fruits of the Spirit as standards by which we are measured, how would we rate? Paul gives us the standards in Galatians 5:22-23, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law."

How is our faithfulness? What about kindness? Where are we on the goodness scale? Would we receive high marks for patience? I hope you would score high in these areas. If there are areas of weakness, let's do what we can to improve. God wants to be able to depend on us. Let's do what we should to make sure he can.

Pastor Steve Willis
Wednesday August 24, 2016

One of my favorite things to eat is chocolate. If I would allow myself, I could eat chocolate until I make myself sick. That really isn't very good. I know this, and although I don't totally abstain from eating chocolate, I always exercise my awareness of what chocolate could do to me if I decide to indulge too much. I know that it isn't good for me, so I choose to exercise control over it so it will not control me.

Most of us have weaknesses in some area. Knowing these weaknesses and acknowledging these weaknesses are important steps to gaining mastery over our weaknesses so that we can maintain control. When you face these areas where you struggle: 1) Acknowledge that you have a problem and need help with the struggle; 2) Take steps to gaining control over your area of weakness; and 3) Avoid activities and scenarios where you know your area of weakness is likely to be strongly tested.

Proverbs 4:23 tells us to "Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life." When you make an effort to guard your heart and your ways, you are empowered to overcome your area of weakness. A chain is only as strong as the weakest link. Know your "weak links," and take steps to make them strong.

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday August 23, 2016

We often labor under the mistaken assumption that if we live good, clean lives, nothing bad will ever happen to us. We often believe this so strongly that we are surprised, sometimes even angry, when we get hit with a bad circumstance when we don't feel we have done anything wrong. We feel that living a good life should be rewarded with a worry-free existence. Well, I guess my first question is: where in the world did you get that idea? I really don't mean to be so direct, but there really is no biblical or experiential evidence that would lead to this conclusion. This is an assumption we have that has its basis in our sense of justice, but it is a mistaken assumption.

You don't have to go far in the scripture to find a biblical example that counters this thought. Joseph was a person who did just about everything right. You really don't find too much "negative press" about Joseph, yet every time you see him doing a good thing, he gets slammed. Report his dreams without editing? Boom - he gets sold into slavery. Flee from Potiphar's wife? Bam - he gets put into jail. So, what did he do? He focused on what was important. He realized that "the Lord was with him." (Genesis 39:21) Regardless of what he went through, what he experienced, he knew that God was with him and he needed to continue to trust in Him.

When it seems everything turns out wrong even when you are doing things right, it does not mean that you are a bad person. It does not mean that God is out to get you, or has rejected you. It means you are living in a fallen world where things often don't go the way that would seem right. When this takes place, focus on the presence of God and his leadership. God will set things right. He did it for Joseph and he will do it for you.

Pastor Steve Willis
Monday August 22, 2016

Perhaps you have had the experience of enjoying a new dish at a friend's house after being invited to dinner. You enjoyed the new dish so much that you ask your friend for the recipe so that you can make the dish as well. Sometime later, you host a dinner party. You decide to try that delicious dish you had at your friend's home some time back. You break out the recipe and start the preparations. You begin to think, "You know, I bet if I added more of this it would improve the dish." As you continue to prepare the dish, you make some other alterations in the cooking process. "Whoops! I don't have this ingredient! Oh, well, I'll just leave it out. Who is going to know?" When you finish, much to your dismay, what you have bears little resemblance to what you had eaten when your friend prepared the meal. "What happened?" you say.

Well, what happened is you changed the dish when you tinkered with the recipe. Why are you surprised it doesn't taste like or look like what your friend served? Alterations in the preparation process are bound to change the result. Leaving out or substituting ingredients will certainly change the taste.

So it is with our lives. God has given us what we need to know in order to live to please him. He has given us a clear "recipe" to follow in his Word. For some reason, we like to change the recipe. We add things, do things differently, leave things out, and then we wonder why we get poor results. We wonder why things just don't seem to go right in our lives. Leviticus 18:5 gives us this advice, Keep my decrees and laws, for the person who obeys them will live by them. God is clear in what he expects. He has given us great instructions. Quit messing with the recipe!

Pastor Steve Willis
Sunday August 21, 2016

One of the most important pieces of advice I was ever given was "look both ways before crossing the road." This little gem has saved my skin on more than one occasion. It simply is really good, practical, and in many cases, life-saving advice. I don't mean to overstate a point here but one might live an entire lifetime and never receive any more important advice than to "look both ways before crossing the road." This advice helps you to make a good decision before embarking on what could be a perilous journey. When you look both ways, you can determine if any dangers lie ahead that could be a problem when you step out. Looking both ways helps you to decide the best time to make that first step across the road. When you look both ways, you can be confident that you can make the decision to forge ahead in relative safety.

Even as we should look both ways before crossing the road, it usually helps to "look both ways" before making an important decision. When we are faced with a situation where we need to decide what course of action is best, don't forget to look both ways before you decide. Look at the decision from both sides to see which way is the better of the two, or in some cases more than two. When you take the time to look at the options carefully and closely, you can be more confident with the choice. In many circumstances, this is even more helpful because both options have many attractive features.

A case in point of someone who didn't take the time to "look both ways" is Lot. We read in Genesis 13:8-11, " So Abram said to Lot, 'Let's not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herdsmen and mine, for we are brothers. Is not the whole land before you? Let's part company. If you go to the left, I'll go to the right; if you go to the right, I'll go to the left.' Lot looked up and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan was well watered, like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, toward Zoar. (This was before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east." What seemed to be a rather innocuous choice, and one that looked so good at face-value because of the beauty of the land, would prove to put Lot in a bad place. I would imagine you know the rest of the story. It has a rather salty ending.

An important tip: Look both ways before crossing the road. That is some of the most important advice you will ever receive.

Pastor Steve Willis
Saturday August 20, 2016

When I did my student teaching a gazillion years ago, I remember a sign on the wall in the classroom that read, "Be sure brain is engaged before mouth is in motion." This is good advice - we need to think before we speak. Often we are guilty of saying things we should not have said because we fail to think about the effect of what we are saying. In addition, we are prone to go about our daily routines without engaging our minds in what we are doing.

This happens in our relationship with God as well. We fail to think about what we should be doing for him, we fail to think about what we are doing for others, we fail to simply think about HIM. This is a shame, especially when you realize how much God thinks about us.

David reminds us in Psalm 139:1-4, "O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD." After reading this, I would say that God thinks about us, wouldn't you? So, how much do we think about Him?

When Christ was asked about the greatest commandment, he replied, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment (Matthew 22:37-38)." Our level of devotion to God can be measured by how much we think about Him and our relationship with Him. When it comes to your relationship with God, make sure your brain is engaged!

Pastor Steve Willis
Friday August 19, 2016

A minister speaking at a conference used a marker to make a black dot on a large sheet of paper. Holding up the paper in view of his audience, he asked, "What do you see?" "A black dot," someone replied. "Is that all you see?" he asked. After a brief pause, there were a number of affirmations that the only thing visible was the black mark. "Well, what about the most important thing - the sheet of paper?" asked the minister.

We often get locked on something so intently that we fail to see other important things. Sometimes we are staring so intently at a struggle, a problem, a hurt, a disappointment, that we fail to see our blessings. We can be so focused on our adversity that we don't see the abundance of good things and experiences which surround us. Try to focus on the blessings and good things that are present in our lives. Doing this can help us overcome and put in perspective the "dots" we experience.

In Psalm 68:19, David declares, "Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens." Psalm 103:2 tells us, "Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits--" God is there for us and provides us with many good things - don't miss them while staring at a spot!

Pastor Steve Willis
Thursday August 18, 2016

I attended Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia. Marshall was near our home, so I was able to commute. As is usually the case, there was more than one way to get from point A to point B; however, I typically followed a route using a road that connected two main state roads. This route was the shortest, but taking the "shortcut" connection meant traveling a narrow, hilly, winding road that was in bad shape. Although it was a paved road, there were actually more potholes than pavement. The worst parts of the road were the repaired potholes.

The road isn t like this now. It has been improved greatly. It is still hilly and winding, but the pavement is smooth, guardrails had been installed, dividing lines had been painted, and it has been widened. I occasionally travel this route when I am visiting and always am amazed at how different it is now than when I was in school. The improvements have made for a much safer, smoother, and swifter trip.

Improvements are good. This is something we need to take into consideration as we think about our relationships and particularly our relationship with God. We should always be looking for ways to improve our relationships with our family, our spouse, our children, our friends, and certainly with our Lord. Although the improvements to the road didn't make for a perfect ride, it is much more enjoyable. The road is still hilly, winding, and narrow, but traveling the road is so much less frustrating when you didn't have to dodge potholes and aren't worried about meeting a car in a blind curve. There is certainly a lot less wear and tear on your vehicle.

When we work to consistently improve our relationships, we find our enjoyment goes up and our frustration comes down. Colossians 3:15 encourages us to "Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace." When we apply this to our relationships, and we work to strengthen them, we experience a peace that is truly encouraging. So, work to rid yourself of those potholes - it makes for much less wear and tear on your "vehicle," and a much smoother ride!

Pastor Steve Willis
Wednesday August 17, 2016

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

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

Most of us need to slow down. I encourage you to introduce habits into your life that will help you do just that. Our fast-paced life may get us where we want to be more quickly, but does the speed really enhance our experience? I have always enjoyed what God says in Psalm 46:10, "Be still, and know that I am God." A literal translation of this is "stand still." That is exactly what we need to do in our lives at times. So, work to change your attitude about red lights. Use the literal ones you encounter as reminders that you need to slow down not only in your car, but in your life as well.

When you encounter a figurative "red light," be greatful for the circumstance that made you stop and think about what you are doing and where you are going. Someone once said "you need to stop and smell the roses along the way." I dont' know about smelling the roses, but I do know I need to slow down. What about you?

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday August 16, 2016

Why do we lie? This is a great question that we need to confront. Sometimes we can be really ridiculous in how we treat the truth. A good example of this comes from the scripture. In Exodus 32:22-24, we read this whopper from Moses's brother, Aaron: "Do not be angry, my lord," Aaron answered. "You know how prone these people are to evil. They said to me, `Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don't know what has happened to him.' So I told them, `Whoever has any gold jewelry, take it off.' Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!"

Wow. You can't find a better example of how much we can mess up the truth than this. Here you have an example of a person with great "credentials" lying to a person who probably knows him as well an anyone else about something he knows is absolutely critical, all because he wants to save face. The point is: we have the capacity to mess with the truth, so acknowledge this weakness we have and determine to take control of our weakness. Be truthful. Don't lie. This may be a tough command, but it is the way we please the Lord. Proverbs 6:19 tells us that the Lord hates "a false witness who pours out lies." Telling the truth helps us gain the respect of other people. Zechariah 8:16 tells us to "speak the truth to each other." It will also help you feel good about yourself.

In Shakespeare's "Hamlet," Polonius' last bit of advice to his son, Laertes, before Laertes leaves for Paris is "To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man." This is good advice for us as well. Tell the truth!

Pastor Steve Willis
Monday August 15, 2016

I have always been fascinated by the story of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. In 1803, they were commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson to find a route across the North American continent to the Pacific Ocean. I just cannot imagine the spirit and fortitude these men and those who were with them must have had. They had no idea where they were going, they weren't entirely sure what they would find when they got where they were going, and they really weren't quite sure what they would find along the way. Yet, they went.

One encounter they had on their journey proved to be rather helpful - they were joined by a French fur trader and his Native American wife, Sacajawea. If you know the story of Lewis and Clark, you know the incredible significance of this "chance" meeting. Sacajawea's help was invaluable - she was able to be a guide, a translator, a cook, and a tremendous ally. A further development was finding her brother, who was now the chief of their tribe. It is really hard to speculate how much different this expedition would have been had Lewis and Clark not met these people who became trusted advisors on their two-and-a-half-year journey. The meeting was unexpected, yet was certainly welcome and invaluable.

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis
Sunday August 14, 2016

What if everything you said was recorded for a single day? Yes, I know - I can hear you (pardon the pun). Not many of us would like to have this happen, would we? There would be the good statements - statements of praise, encouragement, making positive plans, prayers, things of this nature. However, there would also be the bad things - the complaining, the bitter remarks about someone, the. . .well, need I say more?

We would probably be surprised to see how much we complain during the course of a given day. For some reason, it seems so easy to fall into a pattern of negativity in our speech. We need to be aware of this and do what we can to be an example of godliness, and this is especially true concerning our speech. II Corinthians 8:7 says "But just as you excel in everything--in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us."

Let's make sure we excel in speech. We want to honor God with our lives, and the best way to do this is with our speech. We want to show we are God's children and our speech is what will give us away that we are God's children. Don't let your speech discourage others. Build them up through what you say. Excel in all things - especially your speech!

Pastor Steve Willis
Saturday August 13, 2016

Moses had a problem. He had too much to do and too little time to do it. He had too many people wanting too many things and they wanted them right now. From early morning until late at night, he would listen to people and their issues that needed solved.

When Moses' father-in-law, Jethro caught up with him and saw what was going on, he had a little "heart to heart" with him. We read about this in Exodus 18:14-18, "'What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?' Moses answered him, 'Because the people come to me to seek God's will. Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God's decrees and laws.' Moses' father-in-law replied, 'What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.'" Moses had become what Joanie Yoder calls an "exhausted martyr." These are folks who are over-responsible and over-committed. Taking on too much, they are well-meaning, but they are wearing themselves out. Maybe you are one of these folks.

Avoid "the perfectionist's myth," i.e. "I can do it better myself." Let others work with you. Teach others how to do what needs to be done. Don't feel as if you need to do it all, because if you do, all will not get done. Moses followed Jethro's advice and appointed others to listen and judge, while he focused on teaching and the administration duties that truly required his decision. This was better for him, and, frankly, better for others as well. Ask God for wisdom and help with what you have to do. Ask him for discernment to know what you can do on your own, and what you need to leave for others. Don't try to do it all alone!

Pastor Steve Willis
Friday August 12, 2016

All of us who have driven much on the interstate have encountered law enforcement agents patrolling the roads. What is your reaction when you are buzzing along and see an official vehicle parked in a median crossover or along the side of the road? Usually this will be determined by the speed you are traveling at the time. If you tend to have a leaden foot, you probably shoot a glance at the speedometer to see if an adjustment is in order. Sometimes this action might be too late. By the time you see the officer, I would imagine your speed is already registered on his radar. However, if you always make sure you are driving within legal limits, encountering an officer brings no fear. Why should it? You have the right to be traveling the speed at which you are going, and the representative of the state recognizes that right and has no problem with what you are doing. You may be clipping along at 80 miles an hour, but if the speed limit is 80, there is no problem. But if you are clipping along at 80 miles an hour and the speed limit is 65, that little response of fear you feel upon seeing a patrol car is probably warranted.

Those who break the law should fear those who enforce the law. The members of the law enforcement community are there for our protection. They are there to enforce the rules because the rules are put in place to bring about a safe environment for us. They are there for our good. The same is true with God's laws. They are for our benefit. When we follow those rules, there is no need to be afraid of God. However, when we don't follow those rules, you need to be afraid. The apostle Paul speaks of following rules in II Timothy 2:4-5, "No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs--he wants to please his commanding officer. Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor's crown unless he competes according to the rules."

Don't try to be a "non-conformist" with God. He has given us rules for a reason, and he wants us to obey him. And don't try to out-run God - he has a faster car.

Pastor Steve Willis
Thursday August 11, 2016

In 1990, Thomas J. Bouchard Jr. and Nancy L. Segal, both researchers at the University of Minnesota, published a study that showed identical twins reared apart were "eerily similar to identical twins reared together on various measures of personality, occupational and leisure-time interests, and social attitudes." Simply stated, this study showed the importance of genes in a person's make-up. Environment does contribute to how a person is and what they become, but this study showed that inherited traits play a strong role in the shaping of a person regardless of environmental input. In the case of these studies, separated twins showed remarkably similar likes and dislikes such as preferences for a certain type of candy or enjoying tennis, among many other things.

We need to allow our "genetic structure" play a great role in shaping who we are as followers of Christ. We are related to him through faith, and as brothers and sisters of Christ, we need to let our genes play a strong role in determining our personality, interests, and social attitudes. We live in an environment that will draw us away from being conformed to God's image, so let your genetics overcome your environment and make sure you are living for Christ. This is certainly God's will.

Paul tells us in Romans 8:29, "For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers." Since this is true of you as a believer, make sure you are cooperating with God in this action so that you will indeed be conformed to the likeness of Christ. We sometimes blame "outside influences" for our behavior. You have been given the resources to overcome influences that would lead you away from God. These resources are in your spiritual genetic make-up. Let your "genes" shape who you are!

Pastor Steve Willis
Wednesday August 10, 2016

I have been telling my family for some time now that it seems my hearing is getting worse. How else can you explain my ability to be setting right next to someone and not hear what they are saying to me? However, my family maintains that I have just developed "selective hearing." In other words, it is not that I don't hear what is being said to me, but I am so preoccupied with something else I don't fully process what is being said, so I don't "hear." What I should do is simply pay more attention to those wanting to communicate with me - it's an amazing thing called listening.

We need to listen to our family, our friends, our associates, our co-workers, and others who want to communicate with us. Listening involves focusing our attention on those who are speaking to us and not letting distractions keep us from hearing what they are saying. Not being heard is a frustrating experience. Listen to the words of a frustrated speaker, "If only you would be altogether silent! For you, that would be wisdom. Hear now my argument; listen to the plea of my lips (Job 13:5-6)." This is the complaint of Job to his "friends" who really were not paying attention to what he was saying.

Work on your listening skills and avoid "selective hearing." Relationships are strengthened by good communication, and being a good listener is a key to good communication.

Pastor Steve Willis
Thursday August 11, 2016

In 1990, Thomas J. Bouchard Jr. and Nancy L. Segal, both researchers at the University of Minnesota, published a study that showed identical twins reared apart were "eerily similar to identical twins reared together on various measures of personality, occupational and leisure-time interests, and social attitudes." Simply stated, this study showed the importance of genes in a person's make-up. Environment does contribute to how a person is and what they become, but this study showed that inherited traits play a strong role in the shaping of a person regardless of environmental input. In the case of these studies, separated twins showed remarkably similar likes and dislikes such as preferences for a certain type of candy or enjoying tennis, among many other things.

We need to allow our "genetic structure" play a great role in shaping who we are as followers of Christ. We are related to him through faith, and as brothers and sisters of Christ, we need to let our genes play a strong role in determining our personality, interests, and social attitudes. We live in an environment that will draw us away from being conformed to God's image, so let your genetics overcome your environment and make sure you are living for Christ. This is certainly God's will.

Paul tells us in Romans 8:29, "For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers." Since this is true of you as a believer, make sure you are cooperating with God in this action so that you will indeed be conformed to the likeness of Christ. We sometimes blame "outside influences" for our behavior. You have been given the resources to overcome influences that would lead you away from God. These resources are in your spiritual genetic make-up. Let your "genes" shape who you are!

Pastor Steve Willis
Wednesday August 10, 2016

I have been telling my family for some time now that it seems my hearing is getting worse. How else can you explain my ability to be setting right next to someone and not hear what they are saying to me? However, my family maintains that I have just developed "selective hearing." In other words, it is not that I don't hear what is being said to me, but I am so preoccupied with something else I don't fully process what is being said, so I don't "hear." What I should do is simply pay more attention to those wanting to communicate with me - it's an amazing thing called listening.

We need to listen to our family, our friends, our associates, our co-workers, and others who want to communicate with us. Listening involves focusing our attention on those who are speaking to us and not letting distractions keep us from hearing what they are saying. Not being heard is a frustrating experience. Listen to the words of a frustrated speaker, "If only you would be altogether silent! For you, that would be wisdom. Hear now my argument; listen to the plea of my lips (Job 13:5-6)." This is the complaint of Job to his "friends" who really were not paying attention to what he was saying.

Work on your listening skills and avoid "selective hearing." Relationships are strengthened by good communication, and being a good listener is a key to good communication.

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday August 09, 2016

We recently taught our little granddaughter how to play I Spy. When my girls were little, we used to play this game with them. I would imagine you have played it as well. You know how it goes. One person says, "I spy something that you don't see, and the color is . . ." The object is to guess what the person has "spied," given only the color as a clue. Our granddaughter, as did our girls, really enjoys playing this game.

Christ would often play a form of "I Spy" with his disciples. For example, listen to his statement to them after the feeding of the multitude: "Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, 'You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand? Don't you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? How is it you don't understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.' Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matthew 16:8-12)."

Sometimes Christ wants to teach us things, but we fail to see his hand at work. Don't overlook things he wants you to see! Ask God to give you eyes to "see" Christ's hand at work in both the extraordinary events and in the everyday events where he is at work. If you pay attention, you will see him working where others see nothing.

Pastor Steve Willis
Monday August 08, 2016

In generations past, something that would bring a good deal of excitement to a family was the arrival of a new catalog. Be it from Sears, J.C. Penney, or Montgomery Ward, a new "wish book" was highly anticipated as the pages were filled with items one could see and hope to obtain. I remember my great anticipation of the Christmas catalogs from Sears and Penney s. I would thumb through the toy sections, looking at various items which I thought would look great under the tree on Christmas morning. There were always so many items I hoped to see in real life.

The Bible is a book that brings great hope as well; however, the hope it brings is of a more lasting nature and of greater consequence than the items one would see in catalogs. The Bible describes man's need and God's provision. It outlines God's plan of redemption for mankind and the blessed hope that is ours when we come to God by faith. What is contained in the pages of scripture is hope. The hope that is presented in the scripture is certainly not like the pictures in a new catalog - objects that we may or may not obtain. What is described in the Bible is a hope that is ours when we follow our Lord.

Hebrews 6:18-19 describes this hope, "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 offered to us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure."

Don't wish for things that you may not have - put your hope in God and what he tells us is ours when we follow Him. The Bible is not a book of wishful thinking; it describes a reality that is ours when we place our faith in Christ's provision. Looking at the pages of a catalog and wishing for things we want and then don't receive brings disappointment. Reading the Bible and placing our hope in what it says will never disappoint. What God says is ours is really ours - and no one can change it!

Pastor Steve Willis
Sunday August 07, 2016

We have a large picture window in our living room. In the years we have lived here, I could not begin to tell you how many times we have had birds fly into the window. I was working on my devotional one morning when this happened again. The window reflects the sky, the bird is thinking he is flying into open air, and, wham, right into the window. Usually the bird is just addled a bit and is able to fly off after a while. However, there have been times when this mistake proved fatal. I have often wished for the ability to tell these poor creatures, "This is not the sky! It is only a reflection that looks like the sky. So, be careful flying here." I don't have the ability to communicate with birds, so I am unable to do this. This is the frustration. Of course, the birds would also need to be willing to listen to my advice. I think it would be more frustrating if I would have the ability to communicate with the birds and then have them ignore my advice.

This is probably the frustration God must feel at times. He has the ability to communicate with us and warn us about the "windows," but we often are inclined to ignore his warnings. Instead, we fly blindly along, being fooled by the reflections until we hit the window. Then, when we do hit the window, we are prone to blame God for our predicament. So many people ignore God's warnings and fail to heed his advice. Are you one of them? If you are, stop doing that! You are in danger of being fooled by the reflection of what seems to be, when in reality you are in danger. This could be a fatal mistake.

In Proverbs 4:11-13, God says to us, "I guide you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths. When you walk, your steps will not be hampered; when you run, you will not stumble. Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life." Listen to God! He will help you avoid the windows!

Pastor Steve Willis
Saturday August 06, 2016

I remember an incident when I was a young boy in school when two of my classmates got into a scuffle during recess. I knew that if they continued, they would get in real trouble, maybe even be expelled from school for a time. So, I intervened and broke up the fight. Another of our classmates said to me, "Why didn't you let them fight? It was fun watching them!" I disagreed and, for some reason, quoted Matthew 5:9 to him. I think I had just learned it in Sunday School or our youth group or something. This verse says, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." My classmate looked at me as if I had two heads or something and just walked away.

Those who seek peace in their lives, and do what they can to settle differences between others are truly blessed. Conflicts are inevitable, what we need are those with cool heads who can speak to situations where reason is needed to head off a problem. We have enough "hotheads" in the world. We need those who will keep calm when tempers flare.

Eric Liddell, after his Olympic championships, served as a missionary to China for 20 years. He died in a Japanese concentration camp during World War II. During his time there, he made a profound impression on those in the camp because of his efforts to preserve peace in stressful times. Even the guards noticed his penchant for conflict resolution. One guard upon his death commented, "He was a Christian, wasn't he?"

Are you known as a peacemaker or a trouble maker? You and only you can determine what you make.

Pastor Steve Willis
Friday August 05, 2016

I remember reading an interesting article about Albert Einstein. It seems that he was an accomplished violinist, but others had difficulty playing with him. Einstein, brilliant physicist and mathematician that he was, couldn't keep time. Can you believe that? He couldn't count! That is really hard to imagine. After playing chamber music with him once, violinist Jelly d Aranyi reportedly told him, "Your timing was relative once or twice."

We all have limitations. And sometimes we get so wrapped up in our limitations we fail to make strides in areas that are our strengths. Don't become so preoccupied with what you can't do that you hinder the development and exercise of your gifts! Don't use your limitations as an excuse not to do what you are able to do! An imminent philosopher (I'll let you guess who he was) once said, "A man's got to know his limitations." What he meant by this was that knowing your limitations allows you to focus on your strengths and not worry about what might hinder you.

Romans 12:6 says, "We have different gifts, according to the grace given us." Don't misappropriate your focus! Exercise your gifts, remember that everyone has limitations, and move on in the areas that need your expertise! This isn't nuclear physics - oh, sorry about that, I couldn't resist.

Pastor Steve Willis
Thursday August 04, 2016

On August 1, 2007, the I-35W bridge across the Mississippi River near Minneapolis, Minnesota, was not able to handle the additional stress of rush hour traffic and collapsed. Thirteen people were killed and several more were injured. The stress was just too much, and harmful consequences were the result.

Humans face additional stress at times as well. We are designed to handle stress, but sometimes we may feel that we are approaching the point where we are exceeding the load limit. When this is the case, make sure you are doing what you need to deal with the stress. Get your rest, seek help from others, break the problems down into manageable events, and, most importantly, seek God's provision. God will allow stress in our lives, but trust in him to not put more on us than we can handle. Trust in his provision, as did Paul. Paul referred to the promise of God, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness (II Corinthians 12:9)."

God will be there to provide strength when we face times of stress. Put the load on him. Let God help you with what you face. In this way, harmful consequences can be avoided.

Pastor Steve Willis
Wednesday August 03, 2016

Well, today is my birthday. Birthdays are interesting things. They provide you with a reason to celebrate and be the center of attention for a little while. Birthday parties are always nice and offer a chance for folks to get together. Those of us with birthdays this month can make the claim that we are the reason for celebrations in August, as there are no official holidays.

As you get a little older, birthdays also provide some other opportunities. Birthdays can serve as a reminder of how fast our lives are progressing. It can't be my birthday again, can it? Birthdays can offer us a time to reflect on what is going on in our lives, what has taken place, what we would like to see take place, and other considerations. Birthdays highlight relationships that we have. Our celebrations are with those with whom we have a relationship. Birthdays remind of our "links" with other people - people on whom we can rely and have a significant role in our lives.

As you think of this latter provision of birthdays, remember the "link" you have with God. David says in Psalm 22:10, "From birth I was cast upon you; from my mother's womb you have been my God." We can read later in Psalm 71:6, "From birth I have relied on you; you brought me forth from my mother's womb. I will ever praise you."

If I had one birthday wish it would be that everyone who reads this have that link with God and are relying upon him. Would you like to give me a birthday present? Well, the best one you could give would be for you to give your life to the Father. That would be a really great gift for me, but it would be a better gift for you.

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday August 02, 2016

Scherry and I lived in Dallas, Texas, during the early 80's. There was a bit of a building boom going on during those years in Dallas. As a matter of fact, I worked for a company that benefited from this building boom. My company, Design Resource Group, installed movable wall systems, reconfigured existing systems, and handled the installation of conventional office furniture. When we moved from Texas in 1983, there were about 25 buildings going up in downtown Dallas alone.

I was fascinated with the construction of those tall buildings. As I observed the work, one principle was evident: the taller the building was going to be, the deeper they went with the substructure. Tall buildings call for deep foundations.

This is a good principle for us to remember as we develop our spiritual lives: the higher we want to climb on the spiritual ladder, the deeper we need to sink our foundation.

Psalm 1 refers to the benefit of having a good foundation when it compares a spiritual person to a tree planted by streams of water. The righteous person "is like a tree planted by streams of water (Psalm 1:5)." These trees have roots that run deep and are nurtured by the water that is always present. They have a good foundation.

If we want to grow tall and strong, we need deep, well-planted roots. We need deep foundations if we want to have tall buildings. Dig deep!

Pastor Steve Willis
Monday August 01, 2016

I suppose one of the most exciting times in the life of a parent is when their little one learns to walk. I recall this experience with both of our daughters and our granddaughter. It was such a thrill watching them go from their first feeble attempts at this exercise called walking to being able to "toddle" all around the house. Of course, this brings new challenges for parents. This ability means they are more capable of "getting into things." However, the need for increased diligence is a worthwhile price to pay to watch them be able to move around freely. This was what they were supposed to do.

Our Heavenly Father is pleased when we "learn how to walk" spiritually. There are some allusions to this in God's Word. Hosea 11:3-4 says, "It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love; I lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed them." Here God refers to his role in Israel's development, but laments Israel's disobedience. God want his children to learn to walk spiritually, even though he knows at times this might mean disobedience. He wants us to have the ability to decide to follow him on our own. Giving us the ability to walk on our own puts us in the position where we choose dependence upon him as opposed to being in a position where our dependence is forced upon us, so to speak.

God wants to help us learn to walk, to be there for us when we fall, to encourage our steps and guide our ways. He wants us to be able to go "on our own," yet realize we have a bond with him that will never be broken and voluntarily depend on him for guidance. Don't be discouraged when you fall - he will help you back up. Don't stray too far from him, and if do, walk towards him, he is there for you. Walking in this way keeps us productive, and is pleasing to our Father.

Pastor Steve Willis
Sunday July 31, 2016

How do you respond when you receive criticism? If someone points out something wrong with one of your ideas or projects, or shows you what is flawed about something you are pursuing, what is your reaction? Most of us really don't like someone pointing out "the error of our ways," but there are many times where the error of our ways needs to be revealed. Professional athletes depend upon advice from coaches regarding their technique to keep them performing at their optimum level. Advice about a swing plane in golf, or arm movement in pitching or throwing a football, or footwork in defending in any number of sports, can be most helpful and can mean the difference between success or failure. We need to realize helpful criticism to correct a fault in our behavior or whatever is a good thing.

Solomon says the ability to accept criticism is the path of wisdom. Proverbs 9:8 says, "Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you; rebuke a wise man and he will love you." In essence he is saying that if you aren't willing to receive correction, you are a bozo. A wise man is appreciative of someone who corrects him, understanding the benefit that correction brings. He will love the person who is willing to help him.

Where do you fall? Are you willing to listen to correction, or are you a little stubborn in this area? Be wise! Listen to those who only want to help you do something better or be better or avoid a downfall because of a need to change. Show a little love to those who want to help!

Pastor Steve Willis
Saturday July 30, 2016

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

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis
Friday July 29, 2016

In his classic novel, "Moby Dick," Herman Melville chronicles the relentless pursuit of a great white whale by a maddened Captain Ahab. Ultimately, his quest led to his doom as the rope on the harpoon he throws at the whale entangles him and carries him to his death. His obsession with a fruitless quest led to his demise.

We must be careful with what we pursue. Going after the wrong things in life can lead to our entrapment and can cause our spiritual downfall. If we are pursuing earthly goals and quests seeking things that will not last, our search will ultimately become pointless and may bring harm.

Jesus gives an example of just such a pursuit in Luke 12. In this story, the owner of the ground thought he had a good life because of his abundance, but none of the abundance he possessed was worth anything to him when his life came to an end (Luke 12:14-21).

Christ encourages us to pursue that which will make us rich spiritually. He tells us, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:19-21)."

Be careful what you pursue. Don't go after "white whales" that will only bring you harm. Pursue the things of God and you will find that which will last.

Pastor Steve Willis
Thursday July 28, 2016

I know I have finished my series on "Lessons we can learn from 'The Wizard of Oz,'" but another idea came to me as I was thinking about today's article. Do you remember the problem with the Tin Man? He had been caught in a rain storm while he was chopping wood and, with his oil can out of reach, froze in position because of rust. He stayed that way until Dorothy and the Scarecrow came along and liberated him by oiling his joints.

We need people who are willing "oil other's joints." We need folks who are willing to apply oil in what could be "sticky" situations to help make the life of someone else a little smoother. Joannie Yoder tells of an eccentric man who carried an oil can with him wherever he went. When he encountered a squeaky hinge, he oiled it. If he had trouble with a lock, he took care of it. He wanted to make like a little easier for those who followed after him.

A biblical example of someone who was good at applying oil is Barnabas. Barnabas was the one who mentored Paul and stood up for him when everyone else was afraid of him (read Acts 9:26-30) Later, when Paul became a little disenchanted with John Mark, Barnabas stood up for him and took John Mark under his wing (Acts 15:36-39).

Howard Hendricks called Barnabas "The Man with the Oily Disposition." What he meant by this was Barnabas showed the ability to intervene in such a way as to defuse a controversial situation. He also seemed to possess the ability to help others develop spiritual traits that would allow them to grow in their faith. He understood that instead of being critical of John Mark and refusing to allow him to continue with a ministry opportunity, he needed encouragement. He took him down a path that had a positive outcome. Later Paul, at one time a critic of John Mark, said of him: "Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry (II Timothy 4:11)." And, of course, Mark authored one of the Gospel accounts of the life of Christ - all of this because Barnabas was willing to apply some oil.

Are you good at "oiling"? Do you do all you can when you see someone else who needs encouragement? What about intervening when you see a potentially problematic confrontation? We need more people with "oily dispositions." Do what you can to keep your oil can handy!

Pastor Steve Willis
Wednesday July 27, 2016

Intentions are a good thing. We need to have intentions to help others, to help ourselves, our family members, and to do something for God. However, good intentions need to be turned into action, or they are only so much mind clutter. We need to act on our ideas, to turn thoughts into realities. Saying "Well I intend to help you is really no help at all unless we pick up the other end of the table someone is trying to move.

Paul tells Timothy to instruct his people to "do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life." (I Timothy 6:18)

Are you rich in good deeds, or are you always saying, "Well, I wanted to do that. . ." Be a person of action. Let your intentions be demonstrated through your deeds. Good intentions need to become good actions.

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday July 26, 2016

This is our last installment of "Lessons from the Wizard of Oz." Once again, let me give credit where credit is due. I saw the list of lessons in an internet article from "BeliefNet" and I expanded on the principles, changing some along the way.

The ironic twist at the end of the "Wizard of Oz" is that the answer to Dorothy's problem was right under her nose, actually on her feet, all along - the ruby slippers. When we are faced with a problem that we just can't seem to solve, sometimes the answer is right there in front of us. What obscures solutions to problems is when you are in the throes of a dilemma, it is hard to be objective as to what is required to solve the issue. What helps is to take a step back and "clear our heads". This simple act can allow us the insight into the answer to our struggle.

This happens in our spiritual experience as well. God knows this, and we need to acknowledge this as well. We often see God giving his servants a "time out" so that they can begin to think more clearly about what lies in their path.

A good example is how God dealt with Elijah. After his great victory on Mt. Horeb, Elijah found himself fleeing for his life from Jezebel and her followers (I Kings 18). He couldn't quite see how things were going to work out. God put him in a cave so that he could take a step back and see the hand of God at work as well as the path he needed to follow to resolve his circumstance. Taking this time to collect his thoughts and interact with God, he was able to see that God would "reserve seven thousand in Israel--all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him (19:18).

When things seem to be closing in and you can't see a solution, take a step back. Spend some time with God, and spend some time just collecting your wits. Then see if your problem is resolved with the "click of your heels!"

Pastor Steve Willis
Monday July 25, 2016

Glinda said to Dorothy, "Don't give the ruby slippers to the wicked witch. Their magic must be very powerful or she wouldn't want them so much." So, Dorothy held on to them, hoping they would eventually help her find the way home.

Something we have that we may be asked to give up is our principles. Throughout our life experiences, there will be times when we will be tempted to compromise our beliefs. The point here is - don't. Had Dorothy given up her slippers, she may never have found the way home. When someone wants you to do something you know isn't right, stay true to your principles and do not compromise. When you give in to the temptation to compromise your beliefs, you may lose something you will never be able to regain. Paul encourages us to "put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand (Ephesians 6:13)."

Don't give up your principles. Stand firm on what you believe. There is power for living in that, and doing so will help us keep on the right path.

Pastor Steve Willis
Sunday July 24, 2016

Dorothy was sustained by the hope that all would work out. She chose to be positive in a very negative situation. Her hope and positive attitude sustained her throughout her experience. She faced a great deal of adversity, but was able to keep on the right path because she chose to believe all would be well.

As followers of Christ, we certainly have a realistic hope and can have a positive outlook in a negative world. We know we are "more than conquerors", as Paul said, and knowing we will be victorious over the things which can bring us down helps us to be positive people. Paul tells us in Romans 8:38-39, "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." If this doesn't foster some positive thinking for us, I don't know what will.

The hymn writer said, "My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus blood and righteousness." When you know this, then you have the resources to face whatever might come your way. We are able to keep on the right path because of our hope.

Pastor Steve Willis
Saturday July 23, 2016

Dorothy's problems began when she ran away from home. Mean Mrs. Gultch had come to take away Toto, her little dog, and she would have none of that. So, she ran away, and straight into the twister that "swept her off her feet," so to speak. A quick reminder - we are in the midst of looking at principles for life we can glean from "The Wizard of Oz."

When I was a boy, I would occasionally threaten to run away when things weren't going my way. Sometimes even adults feel like running away because of the problems in their path. Running away is not the right solution to problem solving. When we run away from one difficult situation, we run right into another, as did Dorothy. We need to face our problems and our difficulties and find solutions that will be more productive. Look for help from friends, family members, and, of course, God when faced with what seems to be an insurmountable issue.

We can look to scripture to find a number of examples of the negative consequences brought about by running from issues. The most famous example is Jonah. As a former professor of mine said, "This is indeed the tale of a whale, not a whale of a tale." The fish isn't the main character - Jonah is. The fish came to be because Jonah thought running would be a good solution to a situation he didn't like. Well, it wasn't. We need to learn this.

Jonah 1:3 says, "But Jonah ran away from the LORD and headed for Tarshish." Solving problems rather than running from problems will bring more peace to our experience and more stability to our lives. Running from a bad situation could lead you straight into a bad storm. It will lead you to a place of confusion and fear. Standing firm in a conflict will keep us from getting caught in a twister.

Pastor Steve Willis
Friday July 22, 2016

When you think of "The Wizard of Oz," what song comes to mind? This is a rhetorical question, of course. It really is hard to think of "The Wizard of Oz" without thinking of Dorothy singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." In the movie, the song is elicited by a circumstance that causes Dorothy to become a bit wistful and speak openly, well actually sing openly, of her dreams.

Dreams are a good thing. We need dreams to fuel new ideas, new thoughts, new plans, and new ways to serve God. Through dreams we can bring about plans to make our lives more of what they should be in God's eyes, and new thoughts about how to make our church ministry more effective. We need "future vision" when it comes to our service for God. We need to dream big, and do what we can to see these dreams become reality. Proverbs 29:18 says, "Where there is no vision, the people perish." We need vision, we need ideas, and we need dreams to fuel our efforts for God.

Somewhere over the rainbow there is a new idea, a new approach, a new thought that needs to be discovered and utilized. If we don't give ourselves time to dream, we can stagnate. So, give yourself time to think about what you can do to better serve God. Your idea doesn't need to come from "over the rainbow," but if you don't dream, your idea may not come at all.

Pastor Steve Willis
Thursday July 21, 2016

If you are familiar with "The Wizard of Oz," I know you remember the scene towards the end of the story where Dorothy misses her balloon flight home, starts to cry, and then finds out from Glinda that, because she was in possession of the ruby slippers, she had the power to return home at any time.

We need to remember "the power within us." So many times we shrink away from tasks, ministry opportunities, outreach possibilities, and service situations because we think we are "powerless." Not so. Job had listened to advice from his friends that was not really what he needed to hear. How could he respond to this? He was confused, grieved, and weak in the flesh, but he said, "For I am full of words, and the spirit within me compels me (Job 32:19)."

Don't forget the power you have within through the Spirit of God! He can strengthen, enable, encourage, and help you do what needs to be done. Don't stand there and cry because you think you have missed your ride, but depend upon the Spirit you have within to help you overcome the obstacles you face and do great things for God.

Pastor Steve Willis
Wednesday July 20, 2016

At the end of "The Wizard of Oz," Dorothy proclaims "There's no place like home." For her, this was a geographical location because of the people who were there. Many of us have more than one "home" from a geographical perspective because of the people who are there. Someone once said, "Home is where the heart is," and that is certainly true. Home is a place where we know we have people who love us, who want us to be there, and who wants to be with us. We have a place we call home because that is where our family lives. We may also have a place we call home because that is where we now live, and have many friends who have become family to us.

As a believer, one thing to keep in mind as we continue through life is that although we may have a number of places we call home here on earth, earth is not really our home. Yes, we enjoy the presence of others here, and we have many enjoyable experiences in this life, but we should not get too attached to the here and now as this is not our home. We need to have the attitude of Abraham that is revealed to us in Hebrews 11:9-10:"By faith 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."

We can make our home here for now, but we need to live "like a stranger in a foreign country." Our home is with God. Keeping this in mind helps us not have too strong a grip on what we experience now, as we must keep in mind the transitory nature of what we have now. Indeed, there is no place like home, and we know God awaits us and looks forward to our coming to the home he has prepared.

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday July 19, 2016

One of the more memorable scenes from "The Wizard of Oz" is when Toto "helps" reveal the Wizard's real identity. A reminder - we are looking at ten life lessons we can learn from "The Wizard of Oz." This is the third in the series. Anyway, when the screen hiding the wizard is brought down, Dorothy and her friends find he is nothing more than a man disguised to be something he is not - that is, a "great and powerful wizard."

We often hide behind screens in our lives. Often we are guilty of pretending we are something we are not. For some reason, we want others to think we are more than what we actually are, have more than what we actually have, have gone places we actually haven't, and on and on. Like the wizard, we want folks to think we are really powerful and in charge, when in reality we are not a "big shot" at all.

Don't try to be someone else. What will happen is that at some point, the screen will drop, and we will be seen for who we really are. That can be quite embarrassing, to say the least. People who really care for you will love you no matter what. Besides, you are certainly not fooling God. He is the one who matters most.

Revelation 2:2 gives a warning to those who would claim to be someone they aren't: "I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false." Be true to yourself, to others, and, most importantly, be true to God!

Pastor Steve Willis

Monday July 18, 2016

Dorothy was told by Glinda the Good Witch to "follow the yellow brick road." If she did, she would find what she wanted - the way home. Getting off the right path would keep her from finding the way home, and could prove to be dangerous. We need to remember God has a path for us to follow. Failing to follow the path God has for us can cause us real problems.

Psalm 16:10-11 tells us, "You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand." God has made known to us the path of life, and following his path will bring joy. Failing to follow him can cause trouble. We simply need to follow God. Choosing to go our own way is a really bad decision.

God's path may not be a yellow brick road, but it is just as obvious. Follow the path and you will find God s blessing!

Pastor Steve Willis

Sunday July 17, 2016

I have always been fascinated with "The Wizard of Oz." As a boy, I tried to watch the movie, but it was always on a Sunday night, and I never got to see the ending because we went to church. So, when cable TV came along and they showed "Wizard," I made sure I watched it. Of course, I was no longer a young boy. I was already an adult when cable came along; however, I had read the book a few times, so I did know the full story.

Some time back, I came across an article on an internet location entitled BeliefNet that spoke of 10 life lessons we can learn from the Wizard of Oz. We are going to look at these over the next few days. I have changed some of the lessons, and all the articles you read are originals I ve written. I hope you enjoy our little trip down Nostalgia Lane.

The first life lesson that can be learned from "The Wizard" is "Be willing to accept your friends in spite of their differences." The group of characters Dorothy comes across is, to say the least, diverse. Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion are quite a group with which to travel and pursue the quest of trying to find home. There are others, such as Glinda the Good Witch, who assist her on her way. One thing they all have in common: They want to help Dorothy find her way home.

A true friend will stay with you through good times and bad to help you on your life journey. Your friends may have some quirky characteristics, but, then, don't we all? What defines a friend is not the "perfectness" of their character, but the persistence of their support. We, in turn, should provide persistent help to others as we continue along our faith journey. Ecclesiastes 4:12 says, "If one falls down, his friend can help him up."

Never underestimate the importance of friends. Be willing to accept your friends for who they are, warts and all. Be a friend to others and be happy that others accept you for who you are. In this way, we can "follow the yellow brick road." Whoops! Don't want to give up too much of tomorrow!

Pastor Steve Willis

Saturday July 16, 2016

An evangelist went to a church in a rural area for a series of meetings. As he was talking with some of the people after the first night of the service, he met a lady who told him of her livestock. "How many pigs do you have?" he asked. "One hundred and ninety-two," she replied without hesitation. "Are you positive?" the minister asked. "Yes!" she replied incredulously, "I know the names of all one hundred ninety-two!" Sounds like she knew them pretty well, doesn't it? How in the world did she know the names of all 192? Well, knowing the names certainly demonstrates her concern.

God knows our name. Tommy Walker wrote a really nice chorus that goes:

He knows my name

He knows my every thought

He sees each tear that falls

And He hears me when I call

Isn't it marvelous to know that the God of the entire Universe knows your name? David said in Psalm 139:1-4, "O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD." Jesus said in Matthew 10:30, "And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered."

God knows how many hairs we have, and he knows our name. What a wonderful and comforting thought to realize how great his care is for us. God knows our name, and he never tires of us calling upon his name.

Pastor Steve Willis

Friday July 15, 2016

For whom do you pray? We usually pray for ourselves, which is reasonable. We pray for family and friends, folks at church, and others we hear about through church prayer chains or other means. We pray for our troops and our political leaders. This is as it should be. Colossians 1:9-10 speaks about intercessory prayer, "For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God."

I encourage you to develop a ministry of intercessory prayer. Include in your prayers those whom you know, and how about praying for those whom you don't know? What about praying for the person who waits on you in a restaurant when you are on vacation? How about the person who takes your ticket at a ball game or concert? What about praying for your mail delivery person when you see them? The reason I suggest this is praying for people we don't know all that well, or maybe not at all, and praying at times we might consider "non-prayer times" can deepen your commitment to prayer and enhance your prayer life. We sometimes get in such a rut with some of our spiritual routines, and prayer is one of them. Stepping "outside the box" can help us expand our thinking and enrich our experience.

Remember to pray, and pray at times you normally wouldn't think about praying. Pray for those for whom you normally might not think to pray. This will be good for you and for them and will help us to "please God in every way."

Pastor Steve Willis

Thursday July 14, 2016

I enjoyed watching the show "I've Got a Secret." Now, I know I am dating myself a little bit, but I prefer the original show hosted by Bill Cullen to the revivals that took place in the 70's and the 2000's. To those of you who are unfamiliar with the premise of "I've Got a Secret," a contestant with a "secret" was brought out before a panel of celebrities. The contestant would whisper his or her (or their) secret to the host and this was revealed to the studio and TV audience. A hint was given, and the panel would begin asking questions to try to determine the "secret." The deeper the questioning went without the secret being revealed, the more money the contestant would win.

Sometimes we feel as if God has a secret and that we are in a position where we are trying to determine just what his secret is. Indeed, there are things that God chooses not to reveal to us. We really know little about our future, even though we are aware that God has full understanding of what is going to take place in our lives. Sometimes things happen that make us ask why. For some, these can be a source of frustration.

We need to realize there is a point to this, and that we need to turn our lives into God's hands. Keep in mind that he knows what he is doing. Deuteronomy 29:29 says, "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law."

What we should do is focus on that which has been revealed to us, and leave what is unknown in God's hands. There are "secret things" that belong to God, because he alone knows what is best when it comes to those matters. We need to show more trust and faith in him. Job admitted, "Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know (Job 42:3)." Realize God does have secrets which will be revealed at just the right time. Don't get into a cosmic "I've Got a Secret" game with God. It will cost you too much.

Pastor Steve Willis

Wednesday July 13, 2016

Most of us would really 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! He was put in prison for his stand with God. 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 men, 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

Tuesday July 12, 2016

I really like the Senior Golf Tour. There are players on this tour that I followed years ago. Of course, it has been around long enough that many of the golfers I followed when I first started following golf are now off the tour. And when I see young bucks like John Daly now playing the tour, I begin to realize I am now in the senior category as well.

The Senior Tour offers older golfers the unique opportunity to continue making money in their sport long after athletes in others sports no longer are able to participate. Many golfers have had much greater success and made more money in their "senior" years than they did on the PGA tour.

Are you in need of a second chance? With God, we do have the unique opportunity to have a second chance. Most of God's "Hall of Famers" were people who needed a second chance. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, were all people who did something that for all intents and purposes should have "disqualified" them. However, because of God's great grace and patience, they were used mightily by God. He said of David, "I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do (Acts 13:22)." He said this in spite of David's sin.

God will give you a second chance. God is willing to forgive you and use you in spite of what might have happened in your life. Come to him, let him develop your character, let him put you where you are most useful. He can make you better than before!

Pastor Steve Willis

Monday July 11, 2016

Haddon Robinson once told a story about a young boy and his step-father who were having problems with communication. The man was out-going, the boy was quiet. The man loved the outdoors, the boy preferred reading and inside activities. The man thought a good thing to do would be to take the boy camping. They went, but the boy really didn't enjoy anything about the experience. He wasn't quite sure how to tell his step-father he wasn't enjoying himself, so he wrote a note to him saying that he wanted to go home. The man looked at the note and put it in his pocket. They stayed for four more days.

When they got back home, the boy's mother asked him about the trip. "It was awful," said the boy, "I wrote him a note to tell him that I wanted to go home, but he didn't pay any attention to me." "Son," the mother replied, "your father can't read."

Good communication not only depends upon our knowing what we want to say, but also knowing something about the person or people with whom we want to communicate. Good communication relies upon a number of things. We need to care about what we say and how we want to say it. We need to take into consideration those who are listening to what we have to say.

Ephesians 4:25, "Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body." We need to keep this in mind as we speak with each other. We need to treat each other with respect, especially in our communication. When we treat each other with kindness and demonstrate our care, this provides an atmosphere where good communication can thrive. So, go ahead, talk to each other!

Pastor Steve Willis

Sunday July 10, 2016

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, a great preacher from the 19th century, commented that we should begin each new day with this thought, "Let your thoughts be psalms, your prayers incense, and your breath praise." That sounds like a good way to start each day. Let's look at what Spurgeon was saying.

Let your thoughts be psalms. I encourage people to make a habit of reading the Psalms. The book of Psalms is a commentary on life. In the psalms we see expressions of joy, of sadness, of grief, of anger, and many other characteristics of life experiences. We see expressions of frustration, of elation, of dedication. Reading and meditating upon the psalms helps us gain perspective on what we are facing.

Let your prayers be incense. In the Jewish tabernacle, and later in the temple, incense was burned continuously as a perpetual symbol of prayers being lifted up to God (Exodus 30:7-10). It was a special type of incense, it was offered continually, and the aroma of the incense would fill the holy place with a tangible reminder of prayers being offered to God. We read the words of David in Psalm 141:2, "May my prayer be set before you like incense."

Let your breath be praise. The final statement of the book of Psalms is "Let everything that has breath praise the LORD (Psalm 150:6)." We shouldn't wait for Sunday to give praise to God. Just as our prayers go up continually, so should our praise be offered continually. David said in I Chronicles 16:25, "For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise." We should develop an attitude of praise.

This sounds to me as a good way to get our day started. We know it would please the Lord, and it would help us keep in mind just why we are here.

Pastor Steve Willis

Saturday July 09, 2016

There is a a story about Abraham Lincoln that he once walked several miles to return a few cents to a customer who had been overcharged. I wonder how many would do that? How many folks would return excess change they mistakenly had been given? What would you do if you were in a restaurant and were undercharged? What would you do with a wallet you found that contained a good deal of money?

Honesty is not one of the hallmarks of our society, but it certainly should be one of the hallmarks of the follower of Christ. I Peter 2:12 tells us to "Live such good lives among unbelievers that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us." Do folks see your honesty? Do you surprise sales clerks by returning excess change?

Let your good deeds speak for you. Honesty may be an unpopular character trait in the view of many, but it should never lose its popularity with those of us who follow Christ.

Pastor Steve Willis

Friday July 08, 2016

One of the things I learned from my mother was this, "Your actions speak so loud, I can scarcely hear what you are saying." Now, Mom said that to me over and over as I was growing up; and she reinforced the importance of this principle through how she lived before me.

Maxie Baughan was an NFL linebacker who played in the 60's and early 70's. He played for the Eagles, Rams, and the Redskins, and was voted All-Pro 9 times. He also played in 9 Pro Bowls. Once, while playing for Los Angeles, he came to the sidelines and slammed his helmet to the ground after a rather bone-headed play. TV cameras caught the action. Sometime later, he was watching his young son play Junior League football. After making a mistake on the field, his son came to the sidelines, took off his helmet and gave it a fling. Vaughn confronted his son about this after the game. "But Dad," the son replied, "I saw you do this on TV!" Vaughn's response was, well, actually, he had no response.

Make sure your actions back up what you say. It is so easy to talk one way while we are walking another way. You aren't fooling anyone but yourself when you do this. We need to "practice what we preach." James puts it this way, "What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?" (James 2:14) Mom was right. "Actions speak louder than words" goes a lot further than "Don't do as I do, do as I say."

Pastor Steve Willis

Thursday July 07, 2016

Many years ago, a charity fundraiser was held in Rochester, New York. Thirty people were involved in a "Touch-a-Thon." They were required to touch a red dot on a car. The person who kept "in touch" with the car the longest would win a new automobile. They could not break contact with the car at all, except during the 15 minute breaks they were given every four hours. After four days of competition, one woman and one man were left. The woman lost the competition when she reached into her purse to find a fingernail file. Once could say that she was "out of touch."

It is dangerous to become "out of touch" with God. Sometimes we let desires get in the way of our relationship with God. We let cares cause us to drift. We allow concern about trivial things to cause us to lose touch with God. Solomon warned against this in Ecclesiastes. There he writes of his own experience of losing touch with God because of his pursuit of all things worldly. We read in Ecclesiastes 2:10-11, "I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun."

Losing touch with God led Solomon on a pathway of discovering the meaningless. After a while of this pursuit, he realized that the most important path for a person is the one which keeps us in touch with God. He writes in Ecclesiastes 12:13, "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." In other words, the best thing a person can do with his or her life is to make sure to keep in touch with God. We often say to someone "keep in touch" just as a parting gesture. When God says "keep in touch," he really means it!

Pastor Steve Willis

Wednesday July 06, 2016

How many of you like to take out the trash? Do I see any hands? Most of us do not enjoy performing this nasty, yet necessary, task. If left undone, whoa, I really don't want to go to that picture. We need to remove the garbage, take it to dumpsters where it can be taken away by trucks. When the trash is removed, there is a nice relief that it is done and we enjoy freedom from the mess. At our house, this takes place every Friday morning, unless there has been a holiday that week, then it happens on Saturday morning.

This needs to happen in our spiritual lives as well. Stuff builds up. We do things that create trash. The trash needs to go. And it needs to stay gone. No rummaging through the bags looking for that old habit; that destructive fantasy; that desire to cling to an act of revenge; that bad thought about someone else. It needs to go. We need to ask the Savior to forgive us and help us eliminate the trash in our lives so that we may be pleasing to him and more pleasant to others. This needs to be done on a regular basis, and it needs to be done intentionally. If left undone, whoa, I really don't want to go to that picture.

I John 1:9 tells us, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Say, isn't Friday coming? Take out the trash!

Pastor Seve Willis

Monday June 20, 2016

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

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis

Sunday June 19, 2016

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

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis

Saturday June 18, 2016

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

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

We've got a great big wonderful God

A great big wonderful God

A God that loves every one of us

Done so much for all of us

A great big wonderful God!

Pastor Steve Willis

Friday June 17, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis

Thursday June 16, 2016

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis

Wednesday June 15, 2016

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

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis

Tuesday June 14, 2016

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis

Monday June 13, 2016

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

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis

Sunday June 12, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis

Saturday June 11, 2016

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

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis

Friday June 10, 2016

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

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis

Thursday June 09, 2016

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

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis

Wednesday June 08, 2016

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

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

Something beautiful, something good

All my confusion, He understood

All I had to offer Him was brokenness and strife

But He made something beautiful of my life.

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

Pastor Steve Willis

Tuesday June 07, 2016

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis

Monday June 06, 2016

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis

Sunday June 05, 2016

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis

Saturday June 04, 2016

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

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis

Friday June 03, 2016

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis

Thursday June 02, 2016

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis

Wednesday June 01, 2016

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

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis

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 October 22nd, 2016

2:00 PM
Sun. Oct 16th
SS Convention
5:45 PM
6:30 PM
Wed. Oct 26th
Cross Training
7:00 PM
Thur. Oct 27th
ABW @ Home of Jennifer Meinhart

Happy Birthday

Danny Quick
Tue. Oct 25th
Will May
Fri. Oct 28th

Happy Anniversary

Chad & Holly Farley
Mon. Oct 24th

Coming Events

Sing For Missions
Oct 30th
Revival - Glenn Matthews
Nov 13-16

October Ministry Schedule

Assisting in Worship
Brad Tarr
Sam White
John Dryden
Eric Schmidt
Rein Schmidt
Brad Tarr

Dave Thompson
Adam Wolf
Brad Davidson
Dylan Davidson

Special Music
Deborah Rosario
Kent Klier
Song Leader

JoLyn Bigard
Cheryl Earnest

Nursery Workers
M. Phillips/C. Earnest
Laural Ackerman
Brittany Weber
Poodie Zumbahlen
Lynn Wolf

Lawrence & Madonna Klier
Cleve & Gloria Bradley
Doug & Jamie Clark
Grant & Dawn White
Dave Stankus Family

Jr. Church
Adam, Brooke, Ross, Lynn
Ross, Jennifer, Jerod, Brooke
Tyler, Jacy, Jason, Michelle
Jamie, Gloria, Chris, LeAnn
Bridgett, Becky, Anthea, Sarah

Poodie Zumbahlen - Norma Swisher

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

October 1, 2016

October is a month for many things - harvest is going on here in the farm belt of America, leaves are changing colors, and Halloween is around the corner. Halloween is a "holiday" that generates quite a bit of debate in the church as to whether it should be observed by Christians. I have always felt that we should redeem Halloween and use it to our advantage. There are many ways this can be done - do some research and be creative.

Of course, one of the aspects of Halloween is the "scare factor." That is, the desire to be scary - either to scare others or be scared. What you do with this I will leave up to you.

What is scary to me is the approach some have towards life. So many forget that God should have a place in our lives, or simply don't acknowledge their accountability before God. The reasons for this range from simply having a laissez-faire attitude towards one's relationship with God to an outright antagonism towards spiritual matters and God himself. Whatever the reasoning, this is a very scary position.

One should be scared about neglecting a relationship with God because God is real, and he should not be ignored. There are consequences to ignoring God. You may choose to ignore God, whether blatantly or just as a matter of neglect, this is your prerogative. But if you do, rest assured that God will not ignore you. No one escapes the eye of the all-knowing God. Hebrews 4:12 tells us, "Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account."

Even those who say they have a relationship with God should not forget this verse. We should always remember that God is watching us - this means he see our needs and meets them, but it also means he sees our disobedience, and he will not ignore this.

Life is scary enough - don't try to live it without God!.

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