First Baptist Church
Newton, IL

Commentary

September 1, 2020

Times of uncertainty and unrest often stay around longer than we would like. This certainly is the case with the struggles we are facing on account of COVID-19. When this first hit, you may have been like me and thought we would be facing a little time of precaution, and then things would "right themselves." Obviously, this isn't the case. As one person put it, "unsettled times have seemed to settle on us like a wet blanket, weighing us down and exposing us to every cold wind that blows." We would like things to return to normal - to be the way they were before we encountered this crisis.

The thing is, we don't know when that will be, and we don't know if things will ever be the same as they were. Now, in the normal course of life, we know that we will face events that are life-altering. We should expect them, and I have written many times before about "expecting the unexpected." The issue with our current experience is that it is something totally off of anyone's radar. It is something for which no end can be defined, and we have no idea the extent of the effect it will have on our lives before the end finally comes. In addition, it is truly a universal experience. Everyone is facing this all at the same time.

So, to help us come to a position of peace with our present reality, we need to quit longing for the days of the past. This may not be an easy attitude to adopt, but it is a step that needs to be taken on the path towards developing peace at heart. God calls us to look for His presence here and now. Remembering who He is and that we are His, that we are in His hands, helps to steady our hearts and transform our perspective. We are in the hands of God, and we can rest assured that His hands offer comfort and peace.

Christ gave these words of assurance, "I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father s hand." (John 10:28=29) This is our present reality, and focusing on this and what is, not on what might have been but is not, will give us a more stable perspective of life as it now is.

Proverbs 4:25-26 speaks to the advantage of maintaining focus on the positive path of life, "Let your eyes look directly ahead and let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you. Watch the path of your feet and all your ways will be established." To maintain perspective in the midst of our uncertain times, focus on the presence of God.

Pastor Steve Willis - First Baptist Church - Newton, IL

Devotionals

Pastor Steve Willis

Wednesday September 30, 2020

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
Tuesday September 29, 2020

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
Monday September 28, 2020

"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
Sunday September 27, 2020

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
Saturday September 26, 2020

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 er 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
Friday September 25, 2020

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
Thursday September 24, 2020

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
Wednesday September 23, 2020

"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
Tuesday September 22, 2020

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


Monday September 21, 2020

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 humans 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
Sunday September 20, 2020

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
Saturday September 19, 2020

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


Friday September 18, 2020

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
Thursday September 17, 2020

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 - someday you will be in command.

Pastor Steve
Wednesday September 16, 2020

As you are reading this, and as I wrote earlier, I am once again going under the knife. This time I am having surgery to replace my last remaining joint in my lower extremities - my left hip. I will now have metal hips and knees. Such is the nature of our earthly bodies. We sometimes need to continue to patch them up as best we can so that we can keep going as best we can.

Paul speaks over and over of the temporary nature of our earthly bodies. He tells us in II Corinthians 5:1-5, "Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come."

The constant failure of our earthly bodies serves as a reminder of what we have now, and what we have to come. We know what we experience now is not the best we have if we are children of God who have placed our faith in His Son. It's nice to know they can repair a job that was done to affect a repair. It is even better to know we have a life ahead of us where we will never need repairs.

Pastor Steve
Tueday September 15, 2020

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
Monday September 14, 2020

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
Sunday September 13, 2020

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
Saturday September 12, 2020

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
Friday September 11, 2020

Many of us know exactly where we were 19 years ago today when we first learned of the incredible events that were taking place in New York City and Washington, D.C. 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 don't wait until it's too late to do so. Your life is fragile - handle with prayer.

Pastor Steve
Thursday September 10, 2020

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
Wednesday September 09, 2020

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
Tuesday September 08, 2020

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
Monday September 07, 2020

Today is Labor Day, as you well know. Often, I have made 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
Sunday September 06, 2020

Complete this sentence, "I just can't seem to get interested in ________ ." I am going to go out on a limb here, but I venture to say whatever you put in the blank in this statement is something with which you have not spent much time. Sometimes adults never grow out of their short attention spans. We speak of not being interested in something, and yet, actually, we have not given much time to really experience that for which we have little interest.

This happens in our spiritual lives as well. In our spiritual life, this might be Bible study, or missions, or Church history, or studying spiritual gifts, or our prayer life. Some even go so far as to say, "I just can't seem to get interested in church." We say we can't get interested in these things, but what we are really saying is that we don't want to take the time to invest in these things. In order for us to honestly say we have no interest in something, we should make sure we have spent time in that pursuit. Our degree of interest in something is directly proportional to the amount of time we spend in that endeavor.

Let me give you an example. Now, this isn't a "spiritual" example, but it demonstrates my point. I enjoy sports of all kinds, but I must say there have been some about which I have said, "I just can't seem to get interested in this." Ice hockey is a good case in point here. For years, I said, "I just can't seem to get interested in hockey." Well, one day I came to the conclusion that making this assertion without actually trying to understand the game a little better and spending time with the game was not quite honest or fair. I had never watched a hockey game from start to finish.

Enter ESPN and their hockey coverage. I started watching hockey, learned more about the game, began to understand more of what was going on and more of the strategy, as well as being appreciative of what was being done on skates that I couldn't even do in sport shoes. I started to like hockey and started to follow the sport more. Now, I must say I am not and probably never will be as rabid a fan of hockey as I am of football, but now I truly enjoy watching hockey.

Before you claim you just can't get interested in something, especially something that has to do with the life of the church and your life as a follower of Christ, make a commitment to spend time with the concern. A cause-effect relationship can be seen in Psalm 1:2, "his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night." Some might argue, "Well, he spends that much time with God's law because he enjoys God's law." My question is: what led him to enjoy God's law to begin with? Could it be he spent some time with God's law? Hmmm? Spend some time with that thought!

Pastor Steve
Saturday September 05, 2020

Josh Ferrin had just purchased his first home for his family. After picking up the keys, he went by the house to start looking over what would need to be done before they could move in. He opened up the garage door and walked in. After moving a few things around, he pulled down the ladder stairway that led to the attic. Upon climbing the ladder, he found a small metal box that looked like a WWII ammunition case. He carried it down the steps and put it on the workbench. Opening the lid, he encountered a sight that almost made his eyes pop out of his head. In the case were several rolls of $100 bills. How many bills? Well, later that evening his family stopped counting when they got to $40,000.

As Ferrin was counting the money, he began to think of all the things he could do with this amount of cash. What did he do? Here are his own words: "I'm not perfect, and I wish I could say there was never any doubt in my mind. We knew we had to give it back, but it doesn't mean I didn't think about our car in need of repairs, how we would love to adopt a child and aren't able to do that right now, or fix up our outdated house that we just bought," Ferrin said. "But the money wasn't ours to keep and I don't believe you get a chance very often to do something radically honest, to do something ridiculously awesome for someone else and that is a lesson I hope to teach to my children."

Integrity is something we need to develop. It is a characteristic God honors. It is sorely lacking in so many facets of our society. Josh Ferrin called the children of the home's previous owner, Arnold Bangerter. He gave it back. In doing so he, well, listen to what one of the children, Kay Bangerter, said, "(This is) a story that will outlast our generation and probably yours as well." What a story Ferrin created.

Is this the kind of story you want to create? I hope it is. Proverbs 10:9 tells us, "The man of integrity walks securely, but he who takes crooked paths will be found out." Be a person who walks secure, who leaves behind a legacy of truthfulness and honesty, and who sets the bar high for others to follow.

Pastor Steve
Friday September 04, 2020

When I was in college, a professor made a mistake posting the final grade I received in his class. I went to speak with him about the mistake, and was assured that it would be changed. However, when I checked after a period of time, the grade had not been changed. I went to speak to the professor and was assured all would be well. To make a long story short, it took a couple more trips to the professor and even a trip to the dean of the college before action was taken to alleviate the situation. I remember the dean's comments, "Well, don't be too hard on the professor. He is a good teacher, but he sometimes isn't all that dependable." Ouch. And I found out later that the dean was a good friend of the professor. The dean was also honest.

Do people say that about you? One of the most important characteristics we should manifest as believers is faithfulness. People need to know they can depend on us. We should be faithful in our lives before others and before God. We should show our heavenly Father that we are someone on whom he can depend. Paul lists faithfulness as one of the fruits of the spirit that needs to be cultivated (Galatians 5:22). He also writes in I Corinthians 4:2, "Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful." Christ spoke of the need for faithfulness on many occasions, one being his parable of the faithful servants in Luke 12:35 - 46.

Be faithful! Show that you are a person upon whom others depend! I have not forgotten that professor. Can you guess why? Is this how you would like to be remembered?

Pastor Steve
Thursday September 03, 2020

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
Wednesday September 02, 2020

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
Tuesday September 01, 2020

My devotionals for the next several days will be reprints of some that I have written in the past as I will be more or less out of commission. I am heading for another surgery, this time to replace my left hip. With this surgery, I will have competed the circuit, more or less, as both of my knees are replacements and I have had my right hip replaced twice.

This past Sunday in church, I commented that some have said how I am going to be the "bionic man." I would rather not have that distinction, but, in one sense, I do. I am not really into heavy metal, but I guess another nickname that would fit would be "Metallica." I would imagine James Hetfield et al would take issue with this, so I will not try to promote its usage.

As I think about names, I am reminded that we can learn a great deal about the character and nature of God through a study of the names for God that we find in scripture. One that always speaks to me is Yahweh ji'reh God who provides. The primary passage where we find this name is Genesis 22 when Abraham tells his son, Isaac, "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering." (verse 8) At that point, Abraham was still thinking that the "lamb" would be Isaac, yet his statement shows his faith that God had something else in mind. Indeed, he did - a lamb was provided and God showed Himself to be one who does provide. We read in verse 14, "Abraham called the name of that place The Lord Will Provide, as it is said to this day, 'In the mount of the Lord it will be provided.'" Of course, this event foreshadowed His greatest Provision the provision of a Lamb that would take away the sin of the world. That event took place of the very mountain where Abraham had taken Isaac.

God does provide for us. He is providing for me what I need in these days leading up to my surgery. He is providing for us what we need in these days of turmoil. He is always there for us to bring to us what we need when we need it. As with Abraham, we often cannot see what He is doing "behind the scenes," but we know He is there and will not leave us alone at any time, especially in those times of struggle when we need Him most.

I know He provides because of the promise of scripture, and I know He provides because of my past experience. Even as He was with me before, He is with me now. He is with all of us. He is the God who Provides.

Pastor Steve
Monday August 31, 2020

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

An example from someone in Scripture who had created a dead zone was Eli. His sons were committing despicable acts in the performance of their priestly duties. Eli wasn't doing much to try to stop them, and even when he did, "His sons, however, did not listen to their father's rebuke." They created a dead zone and, as a result, God was going to take care of the problem. Because Eli had failed to follow God, and because of the disobedience of the sons, God told Eli, "I promised that your house and your father's house would minister before me forever.' But now the LORD declares: `Far be it from me! Those who honor me I will honor, but those who despise me will be disdained. The time is coming when I will cut short your strength and the strength of your father's house, so that there will not be an old man in your family line and you will see distress in my dwelling. Although good will be done to Israel, in your family line there will never be an old man. Every one of you that I do not cut off from my altar will be spared only to blind your eyes with tears and to grieve your heart, and all your descendants will die in the prime of life." (I Samuel 2:30-33)

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

Pastor Steve
Saturday August 29, 2020

I heard 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
Friday August 28, 2020

According to a study done some time back, if a 45 year-old man exercises every day for the rest of his life, he will add 10 months to his life. Doesn't sound like very much, does it? Of course, we would like to do all we can to prolong our lives, so, we should do the best we can. Right now, I am unable to do much in the way of exercise, so I guess I am up a creek without a paddle. However, as much as we want to add to our lives here and now, we know we can't add much. We need to concentrate on a life to which we can add much. According to scripture, making the right decision now will extend our life from here to eternity. So, it would be good to focus on making that correct decision.

We must realize our decisions do have eternal consequences. Our decision to follow Christ certainly does. How we live our lives before others encourages others to make life-altering decisions. My decisions do have consequences here and now, but I also need to remember that my decisions can have eternal implications as well.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us, "He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men."

We are eternal beings. Be good to yourself in this life; however, don't neglect the fact that you will live for an eternity. What are you doing to shape your life to come?

Pastor Steve
Thursday August 27, 2020

I just read that Phil Mickelson won in his debut event on the Senior PGA Tour. He won the Charles Schwab Series at Ozark National in record fashion, shooting the lowest score in a debut event. Hard to believe it is time for him to join the Senior Tour. I remember the splash he made with his first PGA win. He was still an amateur, and a college student, when he won the Northern Telecon Open in Tucson in January of 1991. Actually, he is the last amateur to win a PGA event. Only 5 other golfers have done so. Now, 44 victories and 5 major championships later, Phil is playing on the Senior Tour.

The Senior PGA Tour offers older golfers the unique opportunity to continue to compete 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. For many, it is truly a second chance.

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" (see Hebrews 11) 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. God is good at giving second chances! </p

Pastor Steve
Wednesday August 26, 2020

Scriptural inscriptions are found in a number of places. Direct quotes of scripture or allusions to scripture can be found on markers, on plaques, on pieces of art we hang in our homes, on jewelry, on clothing, and many other objects. That is a good thing - the statements of scripture are always appropriate and are reminders that God has spoken to us.

There is something better than having these outward reminders of the statements of God. And it is a scriptural statement that tells us what is better - Deuteronomy 6:6 tells us, "These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts." The words on the outside are important, but it is the words on the inside that reveal the true depth of our desire to be related to God. We are to treasure God's Word in our hearts; we are to allow the truth of God's Word inside in order to make an impact on our lives and in order to change us. This is not just memorizing scripture; it is taking the meaning of scripture to heart and allowing the meaning to have a profound affect on how you live.

The psalmist wrote about one application of this when he said, "Your words have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against you," (Psalm 119:11) Let the Word of God inside you, so that you can "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." (Deuteronomy 6:5)

Pastor Steve
Tuesday August 25, 2020

Many years ago, I had a little accident with my bass guitar. I had opened the latches on the case and was distracted before I could take out the guitar. Another person picked up the case, dropping the guitar on the hard floor and snapping the neck. I was stunned, and there was nothing to be said or done at that point. Later, I had the guitar repaired, and used it for several more years; however, it really was not the same instrument as it was before the accident.

This is our dilemma. Humankind was damaged by the fall and we are simply not what we would have been before the fall. The fall left a permanent mark on mankind, and we cannot overcome the effects of the fall on our own.

God took care of this problem by giving a special gift, his Son Jesus Christ. Unlike the fate of my bass guitar, we know we will become even better than we could have ever been, fall or not. We are new creatures in Christ, and will become like Christ when he appears to take us to live with him. I John 3:2 tells us, "Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is."

God will make us totally new, along with everything else, when we come into the eternal state. The effects of the fall will not be present in our eternal home. God says, "I am making everything new!" (Revelation 21:5) The only answer for my broken bass guitar was a new one. The only answer for us is to be made new. This is what God will do! Then, we will look, sound, and be better than we ever did before!

Pastor Steve
Monday August 24, 2020

A European family had saved for years for tickets to America. The father brought bread and cheese for them to eat on the passage. After some time, his young son said, "Father, I cannot eat just bread and cheese any longer!" His father gave him some money for some ice cream. After a while, the son returned. "Did you enjoy your ice cream?" his father asked. "Yes," said the boy, "and also the steak, potatoes, and vegetables." "How did you afford all that?" asked the dad. "We get food with the price of the ticket," said the son.

I have heard a number of variations of this story, but all with the same point. As followers of Christ, we often fail to take advantage of the provisions we have at our disposal. Paul encourages his readers: "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. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority." (Colossians 2:6-10)

Don't overlook what Christ has for you in your life as His follower! Call upon him and depend upon him as you develop in your faith and strengthen your resolve. You have the ticket, bought for you by your Savior, and you don't have to live on just bread and cheese!

Pastor Steve
Sunday August 23, 2020

It has been said that, during the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln was asked if God was on his side. He replied, "Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side, my greatest concern is to be on God's side, for God is always right." Whether Lincoln uttered these words or not, this is a true statement. There are many examples in history of people doing things "in the name of God" as they were convinced that God was "on their side." Many of these were blatantly wrongful acts done by people who claimed that God was on their side.

As followers of Christ, we must always do our best not to allow our zeal for a cause to go ahead of the desire of God. We must remember to not get the cart before the horse. God is on the side of those who know His heart and are concerned with His will. He is on the side of those who do all they can to represent His cause, not try to convince Him and others that their way is right.

God speaks directly to this in His Word. When Asa became king of Judah, the prophet Azariah told him, "Listen to me, Asa and all Judah and Benjamin. The Lord is with you when you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you." (II Chronicles 15:2) Now, Asa was a good king who brought about many reforms, but Azariah wanted to remind him that he needed to keep the correct frame of mind when it came to his service for God. God would not be on his side just because he was the king of the people of God; God would be on his side as long as he made sure that he was on God's side.

Be careful about jumping into a situation and presuming that God is on your side. Make sure that your "greatest concern is to be on God's side, for God is always right."

Pastor Steve
Saturday August 22, 2020

As I stand at my sink filling up a glass with water, it is hard to fathom that there are 800 million people in the world living where they do not have access to clean water. In some areas, people walk for miles in order to obtain water. We should never take for granted our ability to get a drink whenever we want. In addition, we need to support organizations that work to bring water to people that don't have water. There are many organizations that exist for this effort, agencies such as Lifewater International that was founded by William Ashe in 1962. I encourage you to consider support of one of these groups either through your church or individually.

Even more critical is the realization that there are many people who are in need of Living Water that can quench their spiritual thirst. We need to be involved in helping meet that need, either through our own efforts or the support of agencies who are committed to this ministry.

Christ told a lady he met at a well that "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life." (John 4:13-14) Do what you can to support the effort to provide water for every person on earth. And do what you can to support the effort to provide Living Water for every person on earth.

Pastor Steve
Friday August 21, 2020

You may have heard the story about a minister in a foreign country who was speaking through an interpreter. He told a rather lengthy joke that was going to be difficult to translate, so the interpreter simply said to the audience, "He told a joke, please laugh." Obviously, the interpreter was concerned about good communication. We all should be concerned about good communication.

Good communication is so important. We should want to communicate well with others. God is concerned with how he communicates with us. He goes to great lengths to make sure there is no way we can mistake what he is saying to us. Psalm 19:1-4, "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world." Pretty straightforward, isn't it? God wants everyone everywhere to know about Him. He makes sure knowledge of Him and who He is can be seen plainly through His creation. He gave us His Word so that we might know what He expects. Then, He came to live among us so we can know who He is.

Look around you - God has things he wants you to see. He is speaking plainly, and has no need for an interpreter. His voice is indeed going "out into all the earth." We just need to listen.

Pastor Steve
Thursday August 20, 2020

His friend had died and the family had already gone through the mourning and the burial. As he stood beside the tomb of his friend, Christ was told he could have made the outcome different had he arrived sooner. The comment from the dead man's sister was probably a veiled statement masking the underlying question, "Why did you wait?"

Christ had been informed of Lazarus' sickness days earlier, yet he delayed his arrival in Bethany until after his friend had died. The question in the mind of Martha was no doubt in the mind of others, "Why did he wait?"

The answer to this is that Christ wanted to deal with the situation on His terms. He had the power to take care of whatever came along. He knew that, and He was going to show others this truth. When he arrived and called for them to open the tomb, he demonstrated the fact that he had power over death, death did not have power over Him. Therefore, He faced death on his terms.

We as believers can have confidence in the face of death because we are trusting in One who can face death on His terms. He has power over death, not the other way around. We can have this confidence. Death looms as our enemy, but we do not have to cower in fear. We know that we will ultimately be victorious over death because Christ, the One who faces death on His terms, is on our side. His response to Martha was, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" (John 11:25-26) Martha said that she did. I hope you do as well.

Pastor Steve
Wednesday August 19, 2020

One of the ways we can look at our position as a disciple of Christ is that we are in an apprentice period. An apprentice is one who bonds themselves with someone else, or some group or organization, for the purpose of learning a trade or a skill.

As followers of Christ, we have bound ourselves with Christ and are learning what we need to do to be a sound follower of Christ. One of the struggles of an apprentice is accurate self-assessment. In order for the apprenticeship to be all is should be, the apprentice needs to be willing to look at himself or herself honestly and as accurately as possible. An apprentice needs to be willing to admit failures, take responsibility for mistakes, and learn from these experiences in order to grow. The apprentice needs to be willing to receive correction and instruction from his mentor in order to go forward. God is willing to give instruction, and will give correction; we need to be willing to listen.

Hebrews 12:6 tells us, "The Lord disciplines those he loves." As an apprentice, we need to be willing to respond positively to this discipline. Our willingness to respond positively to instruction and correction is a wise thing. Proverbs 9:9 tells us, "Instruct the wise, and they will be even wiser. Teach the righteous, and they will learn even more." Be willing to listen to God's voice. Acknowledge that his voice can come through the voice of others who can teach us. Learn from your mistakes. Be a good apprentice!

Pastor Steve
Tuesday August 18, 2020

The American Red Cross has really been working diligently to try to keep up blood supplies through the pandemic. On another note regarding blood and COVID-19, some research has shown that the virus affects people differently according to their blood type.

The rarest blood type is AB Negative. This blood type is found in only 0.6% of the population or 1 in every 167 people. However, a statement found on a card at a blood donor site gives a different perspective on the availability of blood. The card read, "The rarest blood type is the one that is not there when you need it."

A source of blood that we all need and will always be there when we need it is the blood of Christ. Christ's blood is always plentiful, always available, always able to cover our sin. I John 1:7 tells us, "the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin." We cannot deal with our sin problem on our own. We cannot do away with our sin. The intervention of Christ was necessary, and intervene he did. He provided a means whereby all who come to him can be cleansed. There is never a shortage of the right blood type because Christ's blood is the right type for everyone.

Ephesians 1:7 provides the assurance, "In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace." Not only does his blood cleanse us from our sin, it heals our conscience. Hebrews 9:14 says, "How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!" Christ is indeed the "Universal Donor!"

Pastor Steve
Monday August 17, 2020

James asks, "Who is wise and understanding among you?" (James 3:13) That is a good question and one might wonder how it is we can determine who it is that is wise and understanding. Well, according to another writer, one who has a little knowledge about wisdom, a good way to determine wisdom is how someone utilizes what many consider to be the strongest muscle in our bodies - the tongue.

What do you allow your tongue to do? Are you good at sarcasm, at criticism, at pointing out the mistakes of others, at cursing, or other negative activities? Rather than these, we are encouraged to allow our tongues to speak of righteousness (Psalms 35:28); we can speak of justice (Psalm 37:30); we can speak of truth (Psalm 15:2); and we can speak of love (I John 3:8).

Another good way to utilize our strongest muscle is to allow it to be an instrument of healing. According to Solomon, this is what demonstrates wisdom. Solomon wrote, "The tongue of the wise brings healing." (Proverbs 12:18). We bring healing with our tongues by providing words of encouragement to the discouraged, words of hope to those who struggle with life experiences, or words of forgiveness to those who have wronged you

Who is wise among you? The one who brings healing, not harm, with the exercise of their tongue. Show yourself to be wise - make your tongue an instrument of healing.

Pastor Steve
Sunday August 16, 2020

My four-year-old grandson, Cullen, has a fascination with the movie, "The Greatest Showman." He will grab his hat and his cane and transform himself into Hugh Jackman, singing and dancing and posturing. When we were together earlier this summer, he drafted his cousin, Sully, to perform with him. That was quite a treat!

Jackman's character in the movie is loosely based on P.T. Barnum, who created "The Greatest Show on Earth." Barnum was quite a showman and had a rather interesting life. He entertained Abraham Lincoln, Queen Victoria, and thousands of others, yet his greatest impact came in an indirect fashion.

In 1876, he let Dwight L. Moody use his Great Roman Hippodrome in New York City for evangelistic services. Barnum's show was closed on Sundays, so Moody was allowed to use the structure for a campaign. More than 25,000 people attended and there were scores of decisions. There was a 1,200-voice choir led by Ira Sankey. Moody went on to impact thousands of lives through his ministry, establishing a church and a school in Chicago.

p> Moody once said, "Moses spent 40 years thinking he was somebody; 40 years learning he was nobody; and 40 years discovering what God can do with a nobody." Moody's tremendous work was motivated by this thought. He never thought himself as a "somebody," just a "nobody" that God could use for His glory.

We need to align our thinking in this way. We should never think we are a "somebody" that God must use because of our great abilities. Also, we should never think we are a "nobody" that God could never use.

The Bible spends a lot of time informing people about their attitude towards themselves, especially their attitude towards God's use of them for His glory. Moses tried to use the excuse of saying he was a nobody, and it didn't get very far with God. When God told Moses of his plan to use him to lead his people out of Egypt, Moses said, "O Lord, please send someone else to do it. (Exodus 4:13) This was not a good idea on Moses' part. The Bible tells us that God became angry. Ouch. However, we also see God sending Moses with the help he needed to accomplish the task at hand.

Don't think of yourself as a "somebody" that God just has to use, but do not think of yourself as a "nobody" that God won't use. God can use a "nobody;" but that nobody needs to be willing to be used. Be a "nobody" for God and just watch Him work!

Pastor Steve
Saturday August 15, 2020

At times we find ourselves in situations where we feel there is little that we can do about the circumstance in which we find ourselves. Grief sometimes I do not know what to say about my syntax. Anyway, many of us have feelings of this nature right now as we find ourselves uprooted and in disarray because of the changes COVID-19 has brought about.

Of course, a pandemic is not the only life experience that can leave us in limbo. There are any number of experiences that place us where we struggle to see what we can do to make things better. Sometimes it is even a physical limitation that keeps us from being able to do all that we want in a given reality. I face this quite frequently now because of health issues that limit my ability to contribute. So, what do you do when you find yourself in a time where it seems you can't do much?

Paul gives us an example that we might do well to follow. Acts 27 28 records the story of Paul being transported by ship to Rome as a prisoner. While on the way, they experience a storm and are shipwrecked on the island of Malta. Now what do you do? One thing that was first on his agenda was to look to God whom he knew was with him. Then, he decided to put some action to his trust. He began to gather firewood.

Up against a circumstance over which he had little control and about which he really could do nothing, he did what he could. He didn't complain about what had taken place; he didn't rail about his inability to do anything; he didn't get angry and sulk; he did what he could - he picked up some wood for the fire.

This should give us something to think about when we find ourselves in situations where it seems we don't have a lot of options to do anything. We can follow the example of Paul - continue in our trust of God's provision, and do what we can. Sometimes there are a lot of sticks that need to be gathered.

Pastor Steve
Friday August 14, 2020

Yesterday, I wrote about blind spots. I would like to take the idea of blind spots in a different direction today. Whereas we struggle with blind spots and have to do what we can to deal with the problem of blind spots, there is Someone who doesn't have blind spots. God is always aware of everything all the time. This means he has no blind spots either with regard to himself, or to us.

As finite beings, we can't really understand how one could have the attribute of knowing all things at all times, and seeing all things at all times, and understanding all things at all times, but this describes God. In spite of our inability to understand, this brings us hope. Since God has no blind spots, he sees all that is going on with us. He is not surprised with anything that takes place. This means he cannot inadvertently do something to bring us harm. And he certainly would not intentionally do something to bring us harm. All that he does is intended for our best interests. It's good we remind ourselves of this at times.

Hebrews 4:13 tells us, "Nothing in all creation is hidden from God s sight." Now, this can have a sobering side as well, but let's focus on the positive today and leave that aspect for another discussion. David had a pretty good understanding of God's knowledge of his life. David's understanding is detailed in Psalm 139 where he writes, "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, Lord, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain." (vss. 2 6) God has no blind spots - He has you in His sight no matter where you are.

Pastor Steve
Thursday August 13, 2020

Last week, I was traveling west on I-70 when I saw something that could have been a lot worse than it was. After passing two semis, I glanced in my mirror just in time to see one of the semis pull into the passing lane and force a car off the road into the median. I was able to follow the action long enough to see the car swerving, but coming to a halt without incident. That was good. Obviously, the car had been in the "blind spot" of the truck. This was, of course, not an isolated occurrence. This happens all too frequently as vehicles have blind spots. That is why many newer vehicles have systems to warn operators of this issue.

Blind spots occur not just in vehicles. You can have a blind spot. I can have a blind spot. And I am not talking about one that occurs when you are in your vehicle. I am talking about blind spots in our lives where we have a flaw in our behavior that we do not see, or an issue in our interaction with others that we do not recognize, or a problem about which we seem not to have any insight. This happens all too frequently as well. Often, it is difficult to see flaws in our own lives.

This happens for a number of reasons we simply fail to see them, or we choose to focus on issues we see in others, or we simply deny what we see. Blind spots need to be addressed because they can cause negative consequences in our lives, as well as in the lives of others (think semi).

David acknowledged that he had this tendency. Psalm 19:12-13 says, "But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression." David speaks to the issue of "blind spots." He knew he had them, and he prayed for God's guidance as he dealt with his blind spots.

We have them. Sometimes we recognize that we have them. Sometimes we don't. Either way, the first step in dealing with blind spots is to acknowledge their presence. Secondly, pray for God's help in recognizing and dealing with them. Another action that can be helpful is to ask for eyes of others to help us see what we struggle to see for ourselves. Taking these steps will provide a "sensor system" to help us avoid blind spots. That is a good thing. It will keep us from running others off the road. About that blind spot in your vehicle, well, you are on your own there. I'm a pastor, not a driver's education instructor.

Pastor Steve
Wednesday August 12, 2020

When you are trying something new it is always good to have someone to follow who has tried it before and been successful, especially if it is something not commonly done. Take walking on water, for example. Not many people have been successful at this, so if you are going to attempt it, an experienced guide would be nice.

That is exactly what Peter had as he stepped out on the water of Galilee on a dark, storm-filled night. The waves were tossing the boat up and down like a feather. In spite of this, Peter made a conscious decision to trust in Christ rather than any man-made decision. This was not an easy thing to do, given the circumstances.

Peter had never seen someone walk on water. Obviously, he had never walked on water. But he was willing to allow his trust in Christ to overcome his terror, his confidence in Christ to give him courage, and the image of Christ to give him inspiration in an unusual way. As a result, he did what he and no one else had never done before or since; he walked on water. He accomplished this, even though it had never been done before, because his desire to be with Christ and to follow the example of Christ did away with any thoughts of not walking on water. We often focus on the fact that Peter sank, but as someone once said, he was at least willing to get out of the boat.

How is your focus on Christ changing how you think and live? How is it changing what you do? Are you trying things you haven't tried before? Are you finding strength in Him as you the storm that is all around you? Christ's words to Peter that night were, "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid." (Matthew 14:27) He says the same thing to us. Focus on Christ, get out of the boat, and you might be surprised at what you do!

Pastor Steve
Tuesday August 11, 2020

Ever had someone ask you to do something and you really didn't want to do it? That happens on occasion. At times God asks us to do things that we are not really anxious to do. We need to take a lesson from the Israelites about our attitude towards God's work.

We read in Exodus 35:29, "All the Israelite men and women who were willing brought to the LORD freewill offerings for all the work the LORD through Moses had commanded them to do." As a matter of fact, they were so willing that Moses had to say to them, "'No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.' And so the people were restrained from bringing more, because what they already had was more than enough to do all the work." (36:6)

What is your level of willingness to do God's work? God wants willing hands and willing hearts. He wants us to respond positively to the moving of the Spirit to serve him and do his bidding willingly. We should really be excited that God wants us to help him. We should look at his call as a privilege and an honor. This brings joy to God and will bring joy to us.

Pastor Steve
Monday August 10, 2020

When you look through a window, what do you see? Do you see just the wood, metal and glass of the window, or do you look through the window to see what lies beyond? Most likely, you are looking beyond the window to see what lies beyond. That is the purpose of the window - to allow you to see what lies outside or inside the window, to let light in, and to enhance the appearance and function of the structure where the window is found. A window is there not to call attention to itself but to enhance the experience of those who encounter the window. Now, folks do like to have attractive windows, and that is all well and good. But if a window doesn't do what a window is supposed to do (see above description), then the window isn't effective as a window.

As followers of Christ, we need to put ourselves in the place of a window. We must remember that we exist not to call attention to ourselves, but to enhance others' view of what lies beyond - our marvelous Savior and how a relationship with him should appear. We should point others to him and allow others to see him. If a window obstructs one's view of the marvelous vistas that lie outside, the window is not designed properly. When obstruct others' view of the Savior, we are not performing according to our design.

Galatians 2:20 says, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me." Since this is true, let's make sure we are a good window that allows others to see Christ, not us.

Pastor Steve
Sunday August 09, 2020

One of the rules of golf is that you can't "ground your club" in a hazard. This means you cannot allow the head of your club to come in contact with the ground in any way when you are in a hazard. One such hazard would be a bunker, an area usually lined with sand. This rule came into play during last round of the PGA Championship a few years back when Dustin Johnson, who was leading the tournament at the time, unwittingly grounded his club in an area designated as a hazard. It was hard to recognize the area as a hazard as it had been trampled by spectators.

Nonetheless, the rule was enforced. Johnson was assessed a two-stroke penalty which kept him out of a playoff, ending his chances of winning the PGA Championship. There was no recourse, no way of avoiding the penalty or changing the ruling.

This sounds a little harsh, doesn't it? Well, God's laws are just as strict. Christ said we are to "be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48)." James 2:10 tells us, "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it." The big difference with God, however, is grace. Yes, God demands perfection. Knowing that we cannot be perfect, his plan from eternity past was to allow his Son to come into the arena of human life to offer himself as a sacrifice for those of us who could not be perfect. Hebrews 10:14 says, "Because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy." This is grace.

There may be no grace in the PGA, but there is with God. Isn't that great? God is willing to "change the ruling" if we come to him through his Son. In this way, we can all be winners in spite of the fact that we have "grounded our club."

Pastor Steve
Saturday August 08, 2020

We have a wonderful promise in I John 1:9, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Isn't that great? It truly is, but don't abuse the privilege. God will forgive us for what we have done, but what he wants to see is a genuine change that indicates we are truly sorry and are serious when we repent.

We sometimes struggle with this. The nation Israel struggled with this. That is why God demonstrates his exasperation with them when he says, " What can I do with you, Ephraim? What can I do with you, Judah? Your love is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears (Hosea 6:4)." God tells them, "For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings (6:6)."

God wants to forgive us, he is ready to forgive us. But what he wants to see in us in genuine repentance that brings about change. Be grateful for the forgiveness of God, but don't take for granted the forgiveness of God.

Pastor Steve
Friday August 07, 2020

We all have habits - some good, some not so good. One habit I would like to encourage you to develop is a prayer habit. I realize there are pros and cons to prayer habits. Some feel that developing a prayer habit can lead to prayer being too ritualistic or mundane. However, this really does not have to be. You can keep your prayer fresh, and developing a prayer habit is a good way of having a reminder of your need to pray and your dependence upon God. Prayer before meals, before leaving in the car, when you first awaken, before you go to sleep, or other specific times and circumstances, can lead to positive exercises that bring us help us develop our relationship with God. We tend to become so busy that if we don't develop disciplines like this, we simply don't pray at all. That is not good.

We see "giants of the faith" in scripture that developed prayer habits. David speaks of praying "evening, morning and noon (Psalm 55:17)." Daniel prayed three times a day, even where there was a ban on prayer. We read in Daniel 6:10, "Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before."

Developing a prayer habit is one of the best habits you can develop. This helps us to keep in touch with God, and to help us remember his importance in our lives. Don't forget to pray!

Pastor Steve
Thursday August 06, 2020

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
Wednesday August 05, 2020

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
Tuesday August 04, 2020

Jesus said, "Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life (Matthew 6:27)? The question is rhetorical - no one adds time to his life by worry. However, we can certainly make our life shorter by worrying. Fretting about things wastes valuable time in our lives, and therefore shortens what is already a short life.

Joanie Yoder wrote, "There's no sadder example of wasted time than a life dominated by fretting. Take, for example, an American woman whose dream of riding a train through the English countryside came true. After boarding the train she kept fretting about the windows and the temperature, complaining about her seat assignment, rearranging her luggage, and so on. To her shock, she suddenly reached her journey's end. With deep regret she said to the person meeting her, 'If I'd known I was going to arrive so soon, I wouldn't have wasted my time fretting so much.'"

Don't waste your time fretting about the things you cannot change. We worry about finances, health issues, family issues, problems with neighbors, and many other concerns. Moses asks God to "teach us to number our days aright that we might gain a heart of wisdom (Psalm 90:12)." Instead of wasting time worrying, focus on God's Word. Gain perspective by thinking of what is positive and what is good in your life. Don't make life any shorter than it is by wasting time worrying on what can't be changed.

Pastor Steve
Monday August 03, 2020

Well, today is my birthday. I have always thought that 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 can make the claim that we are the reason for celebration in August, as there are no official holidays this month.

As you get a little older, birthdays also provide some other benefits. 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 usually 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 I 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


Sunday August 02, 2020

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

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

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

Pastor Steve
Saturday August 01, 2020

Today is the birthday of Victor Hugo, arguably the greatest poet France has ever produced. He wrote such works as "Cromwell," "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," and "L'es Miserables." Hugo was a person who seemed to have his priorities straight when you take into consideration such quotes as "Lastly, this threefold poetry flows from three great sources-The Bible, Homer, Shakespeare...The Bible before the Iliad, the Iliad before Shakespeare." He also said, "England has two books, the Bible and Shakespeare. England made Shakespeare, but the Bible made England."

Hugo wrote the following bit of advice. In 1827, in his preface to "Cromwell," he wrote: "Courage for the great sorrows of life, and patience for the small ones, and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake." Isn't that an encouraging thought? It is also a biblical thought.

Psalm 121:2-4, one of the "pilgrim psalms", tells us, "My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip--he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep." That is o comforting thought.

Now, most of us who go to bed at night don't go to bed with the same concern as did some of the folks who sang this song when they were traveling to Jerusalem for one of the festal observances. Their concern was for the dangers that lurked in the night - thieves, wild animals, and the like. However, we often go to bed with anxieties brought on by life circumstances and situations. We need to turn these over to the One who does not sleep so that we can get some sleep!

God is always awake and always alert. There is nothing hidden from Him, and we can trust Him with the details of our lives so that we can rest peacefully. He is always working on our behalf and will care for us. We need to rely on Him. Take the advice of the psalmist, and the advice of Hugo, and "go to sleep in peace. God is awake."

Pastor Steve

Our Pastor

Pastor Steve Willis

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 have one child, Sullivan. 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.

Invitation

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!

Activities

Weekly Schedule

Sun
AM Worship - 9:00 AM
Sun
Sunday School - 10:30 AM
Sun
PM Worship - 6:00 PM
Wed
Dinner - 5:45 PM
Wed
Cross Training - 6:30 PM
Sat
Prayer Time - 9:00 AM

September Schedule


Our Church

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.

Deacons

Tyler Ghast
David Stankus
Brad Tarr
Adam Wolf
John Dryden Jr.

First Baptist Church
Reopening

June 1, 2019

Folks -

What a great time we had together this past week in worship! We want to inform you of some changes that will take place for our worship this coming Sunday, June 7. In light of information from the Illinois Department of Public Health, we are planning on moving worship inside this week. While we are eager to do so, there are some guidelines we need to follow in order to provide a safe environment for us as we make this transition. Below you will find an outline of what our worship experience will be. Continue to pray in the midst of all that is taking place, and continue to pray for our church and our ministries. Here are some guidelines for our time together as we take this step forward:

We will have two worship times to ensure that we can remain under the suggested number of folks for a gathering. There is not a perfect way to make this division, but here is what we are going to do. Folks with last names from A - L will attend the 9 a.m. service. Folks with last names from M - Z will attend the 10:30 service. We do NOT want to split families, of course, so if this is the case because of our method, please decide as a family which service to attend. We have a little room to be flexible in this area, but we still need to be careful with numbers for reasons outlined below.

Please be patient with us in this arrangement; we know it is not ideal, but we are in an experience that has rendered many of our activities less than ideal. The services will be identical in format.

Please enter through the west doors. Your family will be seated by ushers as we will be working to maintain spacing.

We will use "wedding dismissal" procedure, and ask you to exit using the north doors - we also ask that there be no congregating as you exit, especially for the 9 a.m. service, as we will be needing as much time as possible to prepare the church for the 10:30 service. Pews will be wiped down between services. Those arriving for the second service, please wait until doors are opened.

We are forming teams to prepare the church before the second service - if you would be willing to help, please contact the church office.

We will observe communion on Sunday, June 7th. The deacons, wearing gloves, will pass out the elements individually. If you want, you can bring your own bread and juice for this.

We will continue to have services on the website, YouTube, and Facebook. Blessings to all of you as we continue to move forward as God's people!

Update effective Sunday 6/14.

We had marvelous worship services last week but thought we may want to "tweak" our experiences in some areas.

We think we can do better with our people division, so the groups will consist of folks from A - I in one group, and from J - Z in the second group.

This week, Sunday, June 14, folks in the group from J - Z, will meet at 9 a.m. for worship. Folks in the group from A - I will meet at 10:30. Once again - we do not want to split families, so decide which service to attend.

We will flip the groups from week to week - weekly emails, website news, and Facebook postings will help to keep you on top of your worship time from week to week.

Communion this week! Deacons will serve individually or bring your own elements!

Update effective Sunday 6/18.
Sunday - June 21st - Group A - I will attend the 9 am service and group J - Z will attend the 10:30 service.
Update - VBS 6/18.

Folks - as we announced earlier, we will not have a traditional VBS this year, but we can still have a VBS experience. Attached to this email you will find a letter that details all the information needed about BOLT VBS, which is available now to our church as the CE Board decided to go this route.

The attached letter should answer any questions you might have as to when, how, what, etc. Contact the church if you have something not covered. This is for anyone in the church, and grandparents, if you have grandkids who might enjoy this experience, pass along the contact information contained in the letter! This is VBS, so we can invite whom we wish! If any of you know of other kids who might like this - pass the info along! The website and the password for the information and all you need for the VBS is in the letter!

We hope you enjoy the VBS experience - Great Bible stories, crafts, games, and really good music!

FBC CE Board
Hi Folks!

BOLT VBS IS HERE! We previously sent you an announcement about our VBS this year - it will be an alternative to our traditional program since COVID-19 has led us to change our plans. Though it will be different - this looks like an exciting program that we are sending your way!

With minimal preparation, easy-to-follow instructions, and a video that leads you and your kids step-by-step through each of the 3 days, BOLT is designed for you to perform with your family at home. It's so simple!

We want to give you some more details to help you and your family have the best possible experience. Decide when you would like to have your BOLT VBS experience and then. ahead of time, go to https://www.gocurriculum.com/bolt-vbs - click on the "Family Portal:link, and then enter this password:

LETSBOLT (all caps).

Start by reading the "Parent and Leader Guide" ahead of time. (I've also attached the guide to this email for your convenience.) The guide will answer so many of your questions and give you simple step-by-step directions for using BOLT. There are a few materials you'll want to gather beforehand, but when BOLT begins, the videos will tell you what to do and when to do it. It really is easy!

The "Family Portal" also has all of the videos and documents you'll need for each day. Be sure to read the games document ahead of time so you can be prepared. Then, when you're ready to begin, simply go to the "Family Portal" and play the Day 1 video. The video will periodically tell you to pause in order to play a game, read from the Bible, or answer a question.

And remember, if you feel comfortable gathering with more people, you can invite as many neighbors, friends, and family to your house for BOLT as you would like. It's such an easy and fun way to share the good news of Jesus with our community.

Lastly, take lots of pictures! We'll give you some opportunities to share them with everyone. In the meantime, let me know how we can help you. You and your family are going to LOVE THIS! If you have any issues or questions, contact the church office at 618/783-2226, or call Pastor Steve at 618/553-4264.


Update effective Sunday 9/13.

Our worship this Sunday will be as follows: A - I will meet at 9 a.m., and J - Z will meet at 10:30 a.m. Join us as we meet to celebrate the Savior! The services will be on YouTube, Facebook, and our Webpage. God is good, and we want to celebrate the goodness of our Father!

Update effective Sunday 9/20.

Folks - Worship this Sunday! J - Z will have service at 9 a.m., and A - I will have worship at 10:30 a.m.! By the way - I am home now and thank you for your prayers - hope to see you soon!

Update effective Sunday 9/27.

Worship this Sunday! A - I will meet at 9 a.m. and J - Z will meet at 10:30 a.m. Join us in person, or worship with us as our worship time will be on Facebook, YouTube, and our web page!

ALSO - The churches of Jasper County are planning a prayer event for our nation this coming Saturday in the parking lot at Scott Avenue Christian Church, at 8:30 AM. This is in conjunction with a national prayer event to be held in Washington that day.


BLESSINGS TO ALL OF YOU!
Pastor Steve
Folks - Worship this Sunday! J - Z will have service at 9 a.m., and A - I will have worship at 10:30 a.m.! By the way - I am home now and thank you for your prayers - hope to see you soon!