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

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

Our mission is to delight God by developing a church full of people whose integrity is beyond question, whose faith is beyond reason, and whose compassion is beyond compare.

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

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


Our Staff

Pastor
Dr. Steve Willis

Deacons

Sam White
John Dryden
Rein Schmidt
Eric Schmidt
Brad Tarr

My Favorite Bible Verse

Dr. Steve Willis

For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
Jeremiah 29:11

Sam & Karen White

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.
Psalm 19:14

 

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

Pastor Steve Willis

Wednesday March 29, 2017

Karl Barth was exiled to Switzerland during World War II. Upon his return to the University of Bonn when the war was over, he began his first lecture with the words, "I believe in God." This is a basic, but powerful, affirmation. These are the first words of the Apostle's Creed. As believers, it is an affirmation that is assumed, however we need to make sure we add clout to this affirmation.

First of all, we do need to make this affirmation, and make it loudly. I do believe in God. Secondly, we need to make sure we believe in the right God. That is, we need to make our concept of God is correct, and that we aren't conjuring up what we think God should be and using this as a basis for our belief. Study to know what God has said about himself in Scripture. Develop a correct view of God so that when you say, "I believe in God," you are making an accurate affirmation. Finally, let your actions back up your words. If you say you believe in God, this should show in how you live. It should show in how you relate to others. It should show in your character. Saying you believe in God should mean something, and the best way to make this affirmation meaningful is to live what you say.

God acknowledges those who believe in him, and ignore those who don't. Hebrews 11:6 says, "And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him." He doesn't need man's belief to confirm his existence, but he does reward those who truly believe.

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday March 28, 2017

All of our lives we have had to be ready for something. As kids we prepare for meals by washing our hands, prepare for bed by brushing our teeth, and prepare for school by getting homework done and laying our clothes. As adults, we prepare for work, meetings, appointments, arrival of guests, and many other things. Scherry and I just returned from a visit with family in Ohio. Knowing this was approaching, we prepared to leave. Then, as the time for our visit to end was drawing closer, we prepared for our return. Much of our lives is spent preparing for something that is going to happen.

As followers of Christ, we need to spend time preparing for his return. John writes, "we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure." (I John 3:2-3) One of the most important things we can do as followers of Christ is to prepare for his coming. Doing so has a purifying effect on our lives as we concentrate on him and his provision and what our lives should reflect as we think of our relationship with him. As we think about the possibility of his return, let us examine our lives and prepare for this event. Preparing for coming events is part of our everyday lifestyle. Don't you think we should be preparing for what will be the most important event to ever take place? Prepare well!

Pastor Steve Willis
Monday March 27, 2017

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis
Sunday March 26, 2017

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis
Saturday March 25, 2017

I have always been fascinated by the story of Christ's baptism. There are so many wonderful aspects to this story. Luke records the presence of all three persons of the Trinity at the time of the baptism: "When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: 'You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.'" (Luke 3:21-22) Can you imagine being present at that baptism? Can you imagine what must have gone through the mind of John as he performed the baptism?

Of all the aspects of the baptism, one that catches me is the "passing the torch" theme. John said himself that the one who would follow him would be greater than he. He told his listeners he wasn't even worthy to loose Christ's sandals. The baptism almost said, "I now relinquish my ministry to Jesus. He is now in charge." Then Christ took up the ministry and did what he came to do.

I think we should look at our baptism from this perspective. We should view our baptism as an act of "passing the torch." Christ intended for us to "take over" the ministry he began. The question is: How are we doing? Are we doing what we need to do to continue the ministry of Christ? When Christ was preparing to depart, he told his disciples, "You shall be my witnesses." (Acts 1:8) That responsibility has been passed down to us. We may be 2000 years removed from the command, but it is just as binding on us as it was for those first century followers. How are we doing?

Pastor Steve Willis
Saturday March 25, 2017

I have always been fascinated by the story of Christ's baptism. There are so many wonderful aspects to this story. Luke records the presence of all three persons of the Trinity at the time of the baptism: "When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: 'You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.'" (Luke 3:21-22) Can you imagine being present at that baptism? Can you imagine what must have gone through the mind of John as he performed the baptism?

Of all the aspects of the baptism, one that catches me is the "passing the torch" theme. John said himself that the one who would follow him would be greater than he. He told his listeners he wasn't even worthy to loose Christ's sandals. The baptism almost said, "I now relinquish my ministry to Jesus. He is now in charge." Then Christ took up the ministry and did what he came to do.

I think we should look at our baptism from this perspective. We should view our baptism as an act of "passing the torch." Christ intended for us to "take over" the ministry he began. The question is: How are we doing? Are we doing what we need to do to continue the ministry of Christ? When Christ was preparing to depart, he told his disciples, "You shall be my witnesses." (Acts 1:8) That responsibility has been passed down to us. We may be 2000 years removed from the command, but it is just as binding on us as it was for those first century followers. How are we doing?

Pastor Steve Willis
Friday March 24, 2017

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis
Thursday March 23, 2017

We have many questions about heaven - what will it be like? What will we do? What will we see and hear? Randy Alcorn in his book "Heaven" attempts to answer some of these questions and does a good job with remaining true to scriptural insight. Of course, we really will not know what it will be like until we experience heaven for ourselves.

Revelation 22 gives us some insight into what we will do. According to 22:3, we will serve the Lord in heaven, "The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him." We don't know in what capacity, or exactly where, but we will be involved in service to our King. It may be on some distant star, but it seems our ability to travel will not be limited as it is now. Revelation 22:4 says something about what we will see, "They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads." We will be able to see Christ and others, and we will know others and be known (read I Corinthians 13:12). There will be no strangers there. Finally, Revelation 22:5 says that we will reign with him forever. We will be involved in the decision making process in some way, and in the governing of the order that exists.

We don't know exactly how all this will be or how it all will work out, but it sounds like we will be busy! And we do know that whatever will be involved, we will enjoy what we do.

Pastor Steve Willis
Wednsday March 22, 2017

It has been said that there are three things people need to truly be happy - something to do, someone to love, and something to look forward to. When we apply these with a biblical perspective, we see how true this can be.

As believers, we certainly have something to do. There are always ways we can serve Christ and serve others. We have been given gifts to serve God and others and we should never forget the need of spreading the Word of God to others. We need to be telling others of God's great love. Besides, knowing what we should be doing and not doing it is a sin. "If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn't do it, it is sin for them." (James 4:17) As believers, we do have others to love, and are loved by others. We have our family, and God wants us to promote and strengthen our family relationships. We should love God, and we are certainly loved by God. I John 4:19 tells us that "We love because he first loved us." As believers, we certainly have something to look forward to. 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 Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is."

Yes, I would say that we do have all we need to make us truly happy.

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday March 21, 2017

In his book "Comeback," Dave Dravecky speaks of his struggle trying to find the higher purpose of God when he lost his left arm to cancer. Dravecky, a successful Major League pitcher, tells his story in this book of how he faced a diagnosis of cancer, underwent surgery and treatment, then returned to the game. The cancer came back and his arm was eventually amputated, thus ending his professional career.

Dravecky speaks to the idea that although it was a good thing that the pathologists had an arm with cancerous tissue to study after his loss, it would have been an ultimate cruelty for God to have intended for him to contract cancer just so he could provide an arm for study. His ultimate conclusion is that there are times we simply do not and cannot know the higher purposes of the God we serve, but we know we can continue to trust him through the circumstances that are bringing confusion to our lives.

Paul writes about the ways of God, "Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?" (Romans 11:33-34) We cannot know the mind of God, but we can know that God's mind is always on us. He does not lose his focus when it comes to dealing with his children, even though we, as his children, often struggle with our focus because of what we experience. We know that God does not do things to be cruel, and we need to leave our lives his hands.

Pastor Steve Willis
Monday March 20, 2017

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 somewhat less than complimentary about something. So, don't be reticent to give deserved compliments - you probably will help to make someone's day!

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis
Sunday March 19, 2017

Armand-Jean du Plessis, known better as Cardinal Richelieu, was the power behind the throne of King Louis XIII. He was a skilled political strategist that helped France become a major power in Europe. Some may consider him ruthless, he was nonetheless a powerful figure that did much good as well. According to some historians, one thing he did very well was express himself.

Richelieu could be quite gracious in his speech and had a way with words that allowed him to sound warm and accepting even when conveying bad news. According to one account, an individual sought a position from Richelieu knowing full well he would be told "no" simply to hear Richelieu's eloquent and gracious denial.

Something we need to consider is not just what we say but how we say it. It is possible to sound angry even when we are not. Our voice inflection can convey messages we really don't mean, but are communicated nonetheless because of how we speak.

Proverbs 15:1 reminds us, "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." We need to not only watch what we say, but how we say things. We may not be like Richelieu and cause people to want to hear us even when we are telling them "NO!", but we can still be gracious with our words.

Pastor Steve Willis
Saturday March 18, 2017

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

Sometimes we have a problem with being forgiven and accepting God's forgiveness. Even though we know God forgives, there are times we struggle with allowing God's forgiveness to infiltrate our being and rid us of the guilt we feel for the sins we commit. We cannot undo the past, but when we receive God's forgiveness, we need to present him with the consequences and give this to him.

Psalm 32:2 tells us, "Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit." When God forgives us, we can live as forgiven people. When we are forgiven by God, fellowship is restored, and we can know we are his "dear friends."

Pastor Steve Willis
Friday March 17, 2017

Are you wearing green today? If not, you are in danger of getting pinched. I am not sure where that custom entered into the things done on St. Patrick's Day, but it sits on the shelf all year, just waiting to be renewed on this day. It ranks right up there with turning the Chicago River green, or eating corned beef and cabbage, or drinking something green. I have heard that the "pinch" originated in America in the 1700's. Wearing green supposedly makes you invisible to leprechauns, who have a penchant for pinching people (pardon the pun). The pinch is supposed to remind people of this.

In the midst of doing whatever you are doing today to acknowledge all things green, don't forget the life of the person who got this day started. James Martin states that we most definitely need to remember the St. Patrick behind St. Patrick's Day. Martin writes, "Certainly a man worthy knowing about. For the Christian, Patrick poses an important question: would you be willing to serve a place where you had known heartache? And how much is the Gospel worth to you? For everyone, he offers a challenge: can you forgive the people who have wronged you? Could you even love them?"

These are pretty heavy ideals for a day usually marked with some lighter activity. St. Patrick manifested many godly traits in his life: forgiveness, love, patience, determination, singleness of purpose, and, above all else, a devotion to the Gospel. Sometimes it may not be easy to manifest these characteristics because of the difficulties we face on account of others. Perhaps we struggle with folks who make it difficult to display love, forgiveness, and patience. Go green when this is the case. Somehow Patrick found the strength to return to his captors and show them what they had not shown him. This was not easy, but Patrick understood, as should we, that the life to which Christ has called us has difficulties at times. Christ tells us, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)

Pinch yourself today even if you are wearing green. Let this pinch remind you to focus on the character traits you should display as a follower of Christ, even if you have a struggle with your display. Follow the example of Patrick and, more importantly, follow the example of Christ. Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Pastor Steve Willis
Thursday March 16, 2017

I was checking the weather on my computer yesterday and found this message on the weather site, Clouds are clearing today in Newton. Enjoy the sunshine! That is a great statement, isn t it? In fits and starts, the gray days of winter are giving over to the sunshine of spring. Yesterday was still pretty cold here, but the sunshine was great. Forecasters call the number of gray days a region can expect during the winter season "the gloom index." Some folks even experience seasonal affective disorder because of the gloomy days. What can we do when we experience a gloom index?

Consider the experiences of Paul and Silas in Philippi. You can read about this in Acts 16. They were roughed up when they healed a girl of a spirit that allowed her to see the future (vss.16-19); they were hauled before a court (vs. 20-21); they were stripped and beaten (vs. 22); they were thrown into prison and had their feet put in stocks (vss. 23-24). Any of these experiences could cause a significant "gloom index."; however, Paul and Silas didn't let these things put them "under the weather." After all of this, they sang!

Acts 16:25 25 tells us, "About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them." They were able to rise above their circumstances and change their environment. They were able to do this because when the times were gloomy, they looked at the sunshine beyond the gloom. They knew that the clouds covering the sun were only temporary - the sun was still there, and it would indeed reappear. And their actions had an effect on others who were in jail with them.

We can rise above our circumstances and overcome the gloom by remembering the presence of the Son. He is still there for us even though his presence may be obscured by the clouds of our circumstances. Rely on his presence, focus on his provision, remember his promise, "Never will I will leave you, never will I forsake you" (Hebrews 13:5). As you focus on God s love and God s presence, you can overcome "the gloom index."

In 1944, Hale Reeves wrote: As along life s way you go, clouds may hide the light of day. Have no fear for child you know. Love will roll the clouds away. God is watching over all, and he hears each time we pray. So lift your voice in happy song, love will roll the clouds away. Love will roll the clouds away. Turn the darkness into day. I m so glad I now can say. Love will roll the clouds away.

Pastor Steve Willis
Wednesday March 15, 2017

I really dislike stale vegetables - you know what I mean, vegetables that have been around a little too long and have lost their crispness, their flavor, and their freshness. Limp lettuce, celery, or carrots are just not good. They don't look good, taste good, or smell good. They have lost many of the characteristics that distinguish them as vegetables.

Unfortunately, this can happen in our spiritual lives. We can lose our crispness, our flavor, our freshness. We can lose many of the characteristics that distinguish us as Christians. When we allow bitterness, selfishness, or impatience to take over, or if we became critical of others, we obscure that which sets us apart as followers of Christ. Stale vegetables have little appeal. Stale Christians have little appeal as well.

We need to display the "fruits of the Spirit" in order to be appealing "vegetables." Paul speaks of these in Galatians 5:22-23, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law." As we focus on the fruit of the spirit, we find we can retain our freshness and appeal. In this way, we show the attractiveness of following Christ.

Shed your staleness - retain your appeal! We want to be fresh and appear fresh to show the fruit that comes from following Christ!

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday March 14, 2017

What kind of an impact are you making on your world? Now, I don't mean on the world at large, but your world, your "sphere of influence." Not many of us have the opportunity to do something that affects the world at large, but sometimes folks do. Take Billy Sunday, for example.

Billy Sunday was a professional baseball player in the 19th century, playing for the Chicago White Sox and the Philadelphia Phillies. He was converted after hearing some Gospel singers in Chicago and attending services at a local mission. He preached his first sermon on February 17, 1889. Following this, he began to preach to larger and larger crowds throughout his 46-year ministry. He made a great impact through the changed lives of others.

Another area where he made a great impact was in the use of radio, which was a fledgling industry during his ministry. His energetic application of this new technology was so flamboyant that the Federal Communications Commission was created in response. Today, the FCC still controls the airwaves in the United States. That is certainly making an impact.

We may not have the opportunity to make such an impact that a federal agency is created in response to our efforts, but we still can make a difference in the lives of people where we are. What can you do? Look around who needs some help because they are struggling financially? Who needs help fixing up a house? Is there someone that needs help with childcare? Is there someone who needs a listening ear? Who is it that needs to hear the message of God's grace?

Ask God for ideas and thoughts to help you make an impact for him. You have an opportunity to touch peoples' lives in strong ways. Making the most of these opportunities is up to you. Paul was aware of how his life could impact others and so he said, "even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ (I Corinthians 10:31-11:1)." Set a good example with your life and in this way make a positive impact on those around you.

Pastor Steve Willis
Monday March 13, 2017

A period of insanity is now being conducted by the National Football League. This is the Free Agent Signing period when good sense seems to leave the minds of adult people and money rules the day. A player in the NFL can become a free agent when he has completed his contractual obligation to the team for which he currently plays and wishes to "test the market" to see if there are other teams who may pay him more money for his services than the one for which he currently participates. This is true of all major sport leagues. The amount of money in some contracts rivals many countries GNP. I am sure these players develop a bit of swagger as they watch teams compete for their services.

Sometimes we live as if we are in the same position when it comes to our spiritual lives. We live with a bit of swagger as we contemplate how God might bid for us or how valuable we are to our church. When it comes to our spiritual position with God, we should never forget that God was indeed willing to pay a high price for our ransom, but that it is only through his grace that we have the opportunity to be ransomed.

As far as our attitude of our value to our church, we need to keep in mind the words of the Apostle Paul who wrote, "For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you." (Romans 12:3) We are where we are only through the grace of God, and we need to allow the graciousness of God to motivate us in our interaction with others. This results in true Free Agency.

Pastor Steve Willis
Sunday March 12, 2017

Do you enjoy brain-teasers? I came across this one recently:

Imagine that you are a school bus driver. A red-haired student gets on the bus and begins combing her hair with a green brush. At the next stop two more students get on and say in passing that they like the color of the driver s new blue cap. As they walk to the rear of the bus, the shorter of the two shouts back, I wouldn t let that red-head stay on the bus if I were you. Her brush clashes with your hair! What color is the bus driver s hair? (Hint: Remember that you are the bus driver!)

Nathan confronted King David with a brain teaser about a rich man who took the lamb of a poor man to feed a visitor who stopped by. David's response was "As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity." (II Samuel 12:5-6) Nathan's response to David after hearing this outburst was "You are the man!" (vs. 7)

We are prone not to see our own faults, even those we might consider "major". This is why we are encouraged to examine ourselves (I Corinthians 10:28 - "Everyone ought to examine themselves.") and not be judgmental of other's faults when we don't see our own (Matthew 7:3).

Don't leave yourself out of the picture when you wish to correct wrong-doing. Don't be overly critical of others while you ignore your own weak points. As Nathan said, "You are the man!" By the way, if you still did not get the opening brain teaser, check your own hair color.

Pastor Steve Willis
Saturday March 11, 2017

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

As I read about getting away from the "noise of the world," I wondered what a Kempis would think about the noise level of our current society (he died in 1471). Yet, the words he wrote are just as true today. We need to make "alone" time with God. There is no good reason to not do this. I have written before on the example of Christ in this regard. Luke 5:16 tells us, Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. We also have the example of Paul. In Galatians 1:15-16 we read, "But when God, who set me apart from my mother s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia."

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

Pastor Steve Willis
Friday March 10, 2017

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis
Thursday March 09, 2017

When our youngest daughter, Megan, was living in Scotland, we went to visit. It was a marvelous trip. While we were there we rented a car in Edinburgh and drove to the Isle of Mull, off the west coast of Scotland. As you know, driving in Great Britain is different from driving here as everything is opposite. You drive on the left side of the road, the steering wheel in the car is on the right, you shift with your left hand. What this requires is constant thought. You need to think about things that, for the most part, have become "second nature" in your usual experience. You have to look at things from a different perspective; you need to look at the driving experience from the point of view of the British people.

Looking at things from a different perspective often has positive benefits. Of course, when it comes to my example above, looking at things from a different perspective is absolutely crucial. If you try to drive the way you have always driven, you can cause big problems.

Looking at things from a different point of view can be a vital exercise in conflict resolution. If you are having a disagreement with someone over some issue, take some time to give the issue some thought from the point of view of the other person. To put it simply, put yourself "in their shoes." We sometimes resist doing this, stubbornly holding on to our ideas and thoughts while refusing to consider alternatives. In many instances, this can be as problematic as if we were to refuse to drive differently in Britain than we do here. It may be just as dangerous as well.

Are you having a disagreement with someone? Have you tried to look at the issue from their point of view? Doing so can help you go a long way towards resolving the conflict. Try driving "on the wrong side of the road." This may actually be the right thing to do.

Settling disputes is a good thing to do. Proverbs 18:19 speaks of the harm conflicts can cause, "An offended brother is more unyielding than a fortified city, and disputes are like the barred gates of a citadel." Do what you can to open the gates by giving some thought to the other side.

Pastor Steve Willis
Wednesday March 08, 2017

Often we mistreat others because we have been mistreated by someone else. We turn our anger on someone as a means of venting the anger we feel as a result of being the object of another person's wrath. One writer, using the analogy from the film "Pay It Forward", calls this paying pain forward. This is not a good behavior, and we need to learn to deal with these issues in more profitable ways.

Jonathan did. On more than one occasion, he found himself at the object of his father's anger. His father would often ignore him and not be aware of what was taking place in his life (read I Samuel 14:2-4). On one occasion, Saul was ready to put Jonathan to death for tasting some honey. "Saul said, 'May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if you do not die, Jonathan.'" (I Samuel 14:44) Even though he was the object of his father's misguided wrath and mistreatment, Jonathan chose not to pay this forward to others. We see this evident in his friendship with his father's self-chosen enemy, David. Instead, Jonathan chose to rely on God and trust him for the outcome of a very difficult circumstance. He declared, "Nothing can hinder the Lord." (I Samuel 14:8)

Let's follow this example and choose not to take out on others what we have experienced ourselves. Avoid the "kick the cat" syndrome, and put into God's hands our feelings and our future. Paying pain forward does nothing for anybody, including you. Put your pain in the hands of God.

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday March 07, 2017

Light can do two things. Light can expose problems by illuminating areas that need attention. A flashlight is an invaluable tool to workers in a variety of jobs. Cracks in housing walls that may remain undetected, frayed cables, worn insulators - there are a myriad of examples where light is beneficial by bringing attention to things that need repaired or replaced.

Light also can be used to enhance appearances to make things look better. The magic of the right lighting can make something that is not so attractive rather appealing. In other words, light can be used to cover up problems.

For many of us, this is what we actually want in our relationship with Christ. We want Christ to act as a light to cover up our problems rather than allow him to be the Light that exposes our problem and restores us. We want just enough Christ to make us feel fine, but we don't really want him to be in charge of our lives.

A relationship with Christ does not work that way. Christ came as the Light of the World to expose the problem and offer a solution; he did not come to provide special effects to make us look good and feel better. John writes, "The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God." (1:9-12) Let Christ be the true Light in your life, not just light up your life. That he will not do.

Pastor Steve Willis
Monday March 06, 2017

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

Paul acknowledged this and tells us, "To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh. . .three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness'" Paul concludes, "For when I am weak, then I am strong (II Corinthians 12:7-10)."

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

Pastor Steve Willis
Sunday March 05, 2017

Jean-Paul Sartre died in 1980. During his life, Sartre was an avowed atheist. His humanistic writings and teachings permeated 20th century thought in a way that should not be underestimated. Yet, when he came to the end of his life, he expressed thoughts that demonstrated he was less than enamored with his life and his hope, or to be more precise, his lack of hope. Concerning humanism Sartre, in his final interview before his death said, "I hated in humanism the certain way man has of admiring himself." Arnold Jacob Wolf commenting on Sartre's statement said, "Sartre found humanity less than admirable." Sartre said, ""hope is necessarily disappointed."

Hope is indeed disappointed when there is no foundation for hope. Even Sartre agreed with this. However, for those of us who trust in the Lord, we know we have a foundation for hope. Isaiah 40:31 reminds us, "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.

Sartre's final interview gives the impression of a disappointed, perhaps even disillusioned man. However, it does not have to be like this. Having a hope in something that is real and is powerful fends off disappointment and disillusionment. Paul tells us in Romans 5:5, "And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us."

We are all going to go "the way of all flesh." The question is when we do, have we followed the path that brings hope, or are we hopeless before the specter of death that has come to claim us?

Pastor Steve Willis
Saturday March 04, 2017

In 1996, three-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 Bobby Unser and a friend, Robert Gayton, almost lost their lives after their snowmobiles broke down in a blizzard in Colorado. The incident became infamous because Unser and Gayton were later charged with improper usage of a motor vehicle on wilderness land, a federal charge. This led to a protracted effort to reform the rules of enforcement of such laws.

Their experience in the blizzard was harrowing, to say the least, as they had to spend one night in a snow cave and finally found a barn where they could call for help. Commenting later on the experience, Unser said, "We had to do everything right" in their struggle to survive against the elements. One wrong decision could have led to their deaths.

We face a struggle against hostile elements in our spiritual lives. Some come from within - our impure thoughts, selfish desires, and wrong motives bring problems if we don't get control of those issues through the power of God. There are forces from without that can cause hard times for us. Media influences, acquaintances who don't support our lifestyle, and problems in life are all examples of the elements that can cause bad times for us and influence us to make wrong decisions.

We need to depend on Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit each step of the way to prevent us from getting trapped in a blizzard. Colossians 3:17 tells us, "And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." This is the information we need to help us make good decisions.

Pastor Steve Willis
Friday March 03, 2017

I am sure you have heard the familiar adage "what goes around comes around." This refers to the idea that a person's actions, whether good or bad, will often have consequences for that person. Lee Atwater, a former Republican National Party Chairman and chief strategist for George H. W. Bush's successful presidential bid in 1988, found this out the hard way.

In 1980, while devising campaign strategy for a congressional candidate in South Carolina, Atwater learned that the opposing candidate had once been treated for depression with electro-shock therapy. He published this information and did a great deal of damage to the image of the candidate. When the candidate tried to contact him, he rebuffed his attempt by saying that he had no intention of communicating with a man who had been "hooked up to a jumper cable."

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

This reminds us of how we must be careful with our actions and our words. Statements made today or actions pursued today in the "heat of the moment" can cause us pain at some point down the road. Think carefully before you use those choice words or inflammatory actions against someone else. Your words and/or your actions could come back upon you. Proverbs 26:27 tells us, "Whoever digs a pit will fall into it; if someone rolls a stone, it will roll back on them." Indeed, "what goes around comes around."

Pastor Steve Willis
Thursday March 02, 2017

A pastor was asking for prayer requests at a service of the church. After a request was made, the pastor would say, "Lord, in your mercy", to which the congregation would respond "Lord, hear our prayer." A 4-year-old boy became more increasingly more intense in his response with each request until finally he shouted out, "Lord, hear our prayer!"

The little boy probably expressed what many in the church were feeling, and what many of us feel at times. We want to shout out at God, "Lord, hear our prayer!"

Now, we know we don't need to shout at God for him to hear us. At least, I hope you know that you don't actually need to shout at God. God hears our prayers not because we are loud or we deserve to be heard, but because Christ has opened up our way to be heard by God by offering his life on our behalf. Hebrews 4:14 & 16 tells us, Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God. . .Let us then approach God s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. We offer our prayers in confidence knowing God hears us and will respond.

Our prayers are statements of praise, expressions of hope, and often pleas for intervention at times when we experience circumstances that bring anguish and duress. David called out to God at a time of great stress and pain, and he expressed his faith in God's answer, "The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer." (Psalm 6:9) We know this to be true, so we can pray with great confidence. We know that God hears our prayers, and we don't have to shout at him!

Pastor Steve Willis
Wednesday March 01, 2017

God's timing is always perfect. Usually when we say this, we are referring to an incident or a situation where we have experienced God moving in our lives in a unique way for our benefit. However, it could also describe a circumstance where you are the benefactor rather than the beneficiary. Consider a situation where you learn of someone's financial need "by chance." Perhaps you have received this information for a reason. Sometimes a phone call to a colleague, friend, or family member can turn out to be God's sovereign timing when you learn through the call about a problem they are facing. As you hear about the circumstance, you may learn you have the means to help with the problem, or maybe they just need a willing listener.

These ministry opportunities are often the work of a wonderful Heavenly Father who places you in the right place at the right time. Look for these opportunities and seize them in order to be a willing instrument in the hands of God in someone else's life. You will reap a blessing as well. Indeed, you may be on the receiving end of one of these "chance" ministry opportunities at some point.

Paul tells Timothy to "be prepared in season and out of season." (II Timothy 4:2) We need to be prepared for these times of ministry when we can be used as God's hands, or God's ears, or God's eyes, or God's feet. Let your love for God extend to others when others need His touch.

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday February 28, 2017

The story of the prodigal son is a story about two sons with some issues. One had a desire to go on his own and live the way he wanted. He wanted to pursue a riotous lifestyle free from the oversight of his father. The other had a problem with forgiveness and had not experienced the wonder of grace. He was not pleased with his life of his brother and showed anger at the decision of his father to accept his brother back into the good graces of the family.

We are capable of either response to our Father. We can demonstrate open rebellion and show that we wish to be "in control of our own destiny," or we can act as if we are in agreement with the Father but inwardly are angry because we do not see him doing what we think is the right path. We need to avoid either extreme in our relationship with our Father. We need to realize we cannot go it on our own and so we need to avoid this mentality. We also need to avoid becoming angry at God because we do not agree with the path we see before us. Both attitudes are conquered by acknowledging God's grace and by demonstrating faith and trust in him through living obedient lives.

God pursues us and deals with us, and for this we should be glad. As the father demonstrated love for both of his sons in spite of their shortcomings, God demonstrates love towards his wayward children. The father ran out to meet the son who was returning, and pleaded with the son who acted in anger. God's love for us is mirrored in the statements of the father, "'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'" (Luke 15:31) Be thankful for God's patience and for God's grace. Without these, we would not have hope.

Pastor Steve Willis
Monday February 27, 2017

Oral contracts aren't what they used to be, given our proclivity to dishonesty in our society. Still, written contracts have always carried more weight and are more binding. When something is written down, it is right before us in print that is harder to alter and to forget than spoken words. We even say "put it in writing" when we want a firm guarantee of a contract or promise. God's Word is binding whether it is spoken or written, but there are times when God specifically directed for something to be written to demonstrate the force of what was being said.

When God gave the commandments to Moses the second time, he said, "Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones, and I will write on them the words that were on the first tablets (Exodus 34:7)." Many times in Deuteronomy God tells Moses and to write down the words of the Law. He tells the people to "Write (the commandments) on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates (6:9)." He told the prophet Jeremiah to write down what has been revealed to him for others to see (Jeremiah 36:2). In Revelation, John is commanded to write down what he sees, and he is specifically instructed to write down the description of the results of God's New Order. We read in Revelation 21:5, "He who was seated on the throne said, 'I am making everything new!' Then he said, 'Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.'"

God wanted to put in writing all that he has for us and all that he wants from us. Someday all of this will be written on our hearts so that we will no longer forget anything that God has promised for us. Jeremiah 31:33-34 says, ""I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, `Know the LORD,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest," declares the LORD. "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." Aren't you glad God put that in writing?

Pastor Steve Willis
Sunday February 26, 2017

In July of 2014, a 20-year-old mother exited a subway stop in Columbus Circle in New York pushing her 7-month-old child in a red and white stroller. Then, she left the stroller on the platform, re-entered the train through the still opened doors, and left. I don't know the complete ending to the story, but I do know the baby was rescued. The mother was spotted 12 hours later getting a latte at a Starbucks and was detained by authorities.

Stories like this just bring chills to me. How could you abandon your child? I cannot imagine what it would be like to be abandoned. I don't know how this child will react when she grows up and learns she was left behind by her mother. It would be a frightful feeling to feel not wanted and being left somewhere.

God promises us that he will never abandon us. Deuteronomy 31:8 gives this promise, "The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged." What a statement of affirmation and assurance! Christ told his followers just before he returned to the Father, "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:20) Others may abandon you, leave you stranded, but that will never happen with God. God will never leave you alone.

Pastor Steve Willis
Saturday February 25, 2017

Wings is one of my all-time favorite TV comedies. Recently I caught a rerun of an episode entitled "Return to Nantucket, part 1". Brian goes flying off in a dense fog to Boston in an attempt to liaison with a former girlfriend. This is a doomed attempt from the start. Brian's flying in fog is simply a metaphor for the situation involving his relationship with the girl he is chasing - he's in a fog there as well.

This is sort of like many of us when it comes to our relationship with the Lord - we are in a fog. We don't have a clue what we should be doing because we are not pursuing the right paths to discover what is expected of us. That is a shame. In Mark 12:24, Christ confronted the Pharisees with these words, "Jesus replied, 'Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God?'" Although this was regarding a specific incident, it could also be applied to this group generally - they didn't know what God wanted because they were more concerned about their own agenda.

We should not let our own desires and concerns get in the way of what God wants for our lives. If we do, we will find ourselves in a fog. Make a genuine effort to seek God s desire for you by spending time with him and yielding to his will for you. This will help you to see clearly and avoid the fog.

Pastor Steve Willis
Friday February 24, 2017

There is a business in a nearby town named "Honest Abe's Roofing." They have TV ads featuring a Lincoln impersonator in a variety of circumstances that all play off the well-known honesty of our 16th president. I am not sure about how I feel about the TV ads, but indeed there are many anecdotes about Lincoln's honesty. Two of my favorites come from the days when Lincoln was a clerk in a store in New Salem, Illinois. One story tells how he walked to a customer's home after closing the store to return a few cents in change that he had held out inadvertently. Another involved Lincoln taking tea to a customer when he found he had weighed her request incorrectly.

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis
Thursday February 23, 2017

I recently replaced my cell phone for a number of reasons - I had fulfilled my contract, the memory on the old one wasn't adequate, the battery was wearing out on the old one, and, the coup de grace, I lost my old one. Actually I did recover it after I thought I had lost it, but that story is too long for me to tell. Anyway, ever since I had this experience, I have been trying to find an old article I wrote years ago about cell phones. I found it yesterday and thought I would share it with you. Keep in mind this article is ten years old, so it may sound a bit dated, but the point is still relevant. Here it is:

I have been a little bit aggravated with my cell phone lately. I have had it just a year, and the battery is already shot. I have had several phones, and this is the first time I have had this problem. Then, I heard a story last night from a singer we had at church. It hit me right between the eyes. I did a web search and found the story - you may have already seen it but it is worth repeating:

I wonder what would happen if we treated our Bible like we treat our cell phone?

What if we carried it around in our purses or pockets?

What if we flipped through it several time a day?

What if we turned back to go get it if we forgot it?

What if we used it to receive messages from the text?

What if we treated it like we couldn't live without it?

What if we gave it to Kids as gifts?

What if we used it when we traveled?

What if we used it in case of emergency?

This is something to make you go ... hmm, where is my Bible?

Oh, and one more thing. Unlike our cell phone, we don't have to worry about our Bible being disconnected because Jesus already paid the bill.

Makes you stop and think "where are my priorities?"

And no dropped calls!

And I would add - no defective batteries - the power is always on (see Romans 1:16)!

"Your word is a lamp for my feet,a light on my path." (Psalm 119:105)

Pastor Steve Willis
Wednesday February 22, 2017

John Ortberg writes, "Imagine picking your car up from the shop after a routine tune-up and the technician says, 'This car is in great shape. Clearly you have an automotive genius to take great care of your car.' Later that day, your brakes don't work. You find out you were out of brake fluid. You could have died. You go back to the shop, and you say, 'Why didn't you tell me?' The technician replies, 'Well, I didn't want you to feel bad. Plus, to be honest, I was afraid you might get upset with me. I want this to be a safe place where you feel loved and accepted.' You'd be furious! You'd say, 'I didn't come here for a little fantasy-based ego boost! When it comes to my car, I want the truth.'"

There are times we need to be truthful for the benefit of others, even if the truth is hard. There are times when being a good friend means confronting another because something needs to be addressed and a change needs to be made. This, of course, is not the easiest thing to do, but is necessary for the physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being of someone we love. Paul says in Ephesians 4:15, "Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ." There are times when we need to "speak the truth in love."

Speaking the truth in love first requires a situation where it is very obvious that an intervention is necessary. Is there really a problem that needs to be addressed? Speaking to others about their behavior or some other issue also requires self-examination. We need to look at our motives to make certain we are doing this as a genuine effort to help someone and because of our love for someone, not to put them down or to make ourselves look better. We don't go around looking for "problems" where we might "help." We are speaking of circumstances where the need to reach out to someone else almost grabs you by the neck and says "Do something." We also should seek spiritual discernment through prayer regarding what needs to be said and how we need to speak. Make sure you let God be your guide when you seek to help.

An intervention of this type is a difficult thing. However, when you face a circumstance where the consequence described by Ortberg is a reality, truth is what is needed. When this is the case, speak the truth in love.

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday February 21, 2017

You perhaps have heard the statement, "Don't force it, just use a bigger hammer." No irony in that statement, is there? When you have a job to do, using the right tool is helpful. You don't need a screwdriver to loosen a nut. Using a hammer to driver a screw is usually not the best course of action. Sometimes using the wrong tool can prove a little dangerous. I found that out when I used a sharp knife to try to separate frozen meat patties. Running the knife through my hand showed me that I used the wrong tool.

God uses the "right tools" to accomplish his purposes. Consider the life and ministry of the Apostle Paul. He became the prominent evangelist in the early church because God used him and his abilities. God said, "This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel." (Acts 9:15) Paul was a Jew and trained as a "Pharisee of the Pharisees", but was also very well acquainted with Gentile customs and philosophies. He was fluent in a number of languages. He was both a Jew and a Roman citizen. He was indeed the right person for the ministry.

As one of his people, God has called you for ministry. Too many times we question our role because we sell short our abilities and our position. Remember that God is the one who has put you where you are. He is the Master Craftsman who never uses the wrong tool. Don't hinder his efforts by making excuses.

Paul tells us, "For we are God s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." (Ephesians 2:10) God always uses the right tool - be willing to be used.

Pastor Steve Willis
Monday February 20, 2017

Corrie ten Boom lost a great deal. She lost her family, her possessions, and many years of her life to people who were motivated by hatred. When the Nazis occupied the Netherlands, she and her family were taken captive as they had been helping Jews escape the terror being spread by Hitler's followers. She was eventually placed in a concentration camp and subjected to inhumane treatment. Her sister, Betsie, and her father died during the detention. Although she lost what many would consider all she had, she later wrote, "I have held many things in my hands and I have lost them all; but whatever I placed in God's hands, that, I still possess."

We need to pray for the same attitude towards that which we have and realize we should put all we have in God's hands. We may suffer loss of a number of things during our lives, but God knows what we really need and will not let these essentials escape our possession.

Christ had an encounter with a person who had a problem with entrusting what he had to God. Christ told him, "'One thing you lack, Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.' At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth." (Mark 10:21)b

Don't confuse what you have with what you really need. Entrust what you have to God and allow him to do with what you have that which needs to be done. He will ensure you get to keep that which is truly valuable.

Pastor Steve Willis
Sunday February 19, 2017

Much is written about how to deal with times when we feel overwhelmed. This happens frequently to many of us - we are intimidated by the tasks at hand. But what about the times when we feel "underwhelmed?" That is, what about the times when we feel that what we have to do really isn't all that demanding, arduous, or important? There are times when many may wonder if what they are doing is really relevant. To these folks I say - don't kid yourself, there is no such thing as a task being unimportant or irrelevant. Our efforts, whether they are at work, in our families, in our organizations, and certainly in our churches, are important and significant in spite of what we might think to the contrary. So, you think what you do is not all that important? Well, what if what you do does not get done for a bit? Those little things can have some big consequences if they don t get done.

Let s take a look at some biblical examples of folks who did some little things that had some big results. Have you ever stopped to think about what might have happened had the little boy not brought his lunch to the gathering (John 6:1-14)? What would have happened to Naaman had his maid not said, "If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria (II Kings 5:1-16)?" What if Rhoda had not answered the door (Acts 12:13-14)? We might describe all of these incidents as "little things," but they each had great significance.

Don't feel "underwhelmed." Regardless of how small you might think it is, your contribution is important. There may be those who attract more attention because they "command the stage," but someone has to set the stage. We cannot get along without those who are "underwhelmed."

Pastor Steve Willis
Saturday February 18, 2017

One of my favorite movies is the Coen brothers' "Oh Brother Where Art Thou?" The storyline is loosely based upon Homer's epic poem "The Odyssey." In one scene of the movie, the 3 main characters are enticed by 3 young ladies who are washing clothes in a stream. This harkens to the event in the Odyssey where Odysseus knows his ship is going to pass by some coastal waters inhabited by "sirens." Sirens were mythical creatures that enticed sailors with their alluring songs, causing them to jump overboard and drown. To keep his men from being affected by the "Sirens' Song," Odysseus commands his men to tie him to the mast, and then stuff wax in their ears. The ship passes by safely as the sailors are oblivious to the song of enticement. In "Oh Brother," the characters are not so fortunate as they hear the songs of the "sirens" and find themselves in quite a predicament.

We are constantly being enticed by the "songs of sirens" meant to tempt us to follow our desires and disobey God. Temptation is always there. However, Paul assures us that "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it (I Corinthians 10:13)."

Do you feel the allure to follow a path you know you shouldn t? Are you facing some temptation which seems to be constantly wooing you to do something you know you shouldn't? Tie yourself to the mast! Put wax in your ears! In other words, do what you know you should to avoid the temptation. Remember the words of the scripture - God has provided a way out. Find the way out and stick to it! Follow the example of Odysseus, not the one of Ulysses S. McGill, and avoid the trap!

Pastor Steve Willis
Friday February 17, 2017

When I was about 13, my uncle tried to teach me how to back a trailer. I found it to be a little difficult. Now, he had taught me to drive a couple of years earlier, but this idea of getting the trailer going in the right direction proved to be a little different. I was amazed when I watched him effortlessly put the trailer where it needed to be. I just didn t seem to be able to accomplish the same thing. After many unsuccessful attempts, he said to me, You just don t get it.

Have you ever known someone that meets this description? Have you ever known someone about whom it might be said, "They just don't get it?" They seem to struggle and are constantly making bad decisions when it comes to life choices. They just don't get it.

Saul was one of these people. We read of a confrontation he had with Samuel in I Samuel 15:17-23: "Samuel said, 'Although you were once small in your own eyes, did you not become the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel. And he sent you on a mission. . .Why did you not obey the Lord? Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the Lord?' 'But I did obey the Lord,' Saul said. 'I went on the mission the Lord assigned me. But Samuel replied: 'Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the L0rd? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. . .Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.'"

Saul never seemed to quite get it, and he lost out. We need to avoid the same predicament. We need to pay attention to God and heed his will. We need to get it when it comes to making decisions that are in line with God's desire and are beneficial to us.

You know, I found out that careful attention and a little bit of practice has helped me to "get it" when it comes to being able to back a trailer successfully. I think the same might be a good idea when it comes to following God successfully.

Pastor Steve Willis
Thursday February 16, 2017

Sometime back our dryer quit working. I knew what was wrong - it wouldn't heat and it wouldn't come on when you set the timer. I did not know what to do to fix it. So, I had to call an expert and let him take care of it. Our van is in the shop right now because some warning lights came on. I knew that was wrong, but I did not know what to do to make it right, so I took the van to an expert. Sometimes I know I have something wrong with me physically, a pain or some other malady. I know what is wrong, but I don't know how to make it right. Know what I do? Yep - go to my doctor who is an expert at this. At times my computer does wacky things. I know what is wrong and sometimes I know how to make it right. Often I don't, but I know someone who is an expert (as a matter of fact, the person who takes care of our website is the expert to whom I would take my computer). I can tell him what is wrong, and since he knows a lot more about computers than I do, he knows how to make it right.

There are many situations where we find this scenario - we know what is wrong, but we don't know how to make it right. This is often the case is our relationships and our personal lives. We know what is wrong, but we don't have a clue how to make it right. So, we would do well to go to someone who can.

We find this situation in our spiritual lives. We know what is wrong, but how can I make it right? Do the same thing as in all the other circumstances described above - go to the Expert. God is the one who can help us with our most pressing problems. He is the One who can help with our greatest problem - our struggle with sin. He is the one who knows how to make things right, and when it comes to our spiritual need, he is the only one who has the ability to make things right. Psalm 46:1 tells us, "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble." When we know what is wrong, but not how to make it right, go to the Expert!

Pastor Steve Willis
Wednesday February 15, 2017

I remember reading an article one time that talked about Singapore. Singapore is a small, densely populated island just north of the equator at the southernmost tip of continental Asia. It is so densely populated that the article cited a letter written by a man to his fiancé: "Space is limited. Therefore . . . you must always have that sense of space around you. You should always step aside to ensure you are not blocking anyone. The key is to be considerate."

Having consideration for others is always a good thing. We should have consideration for others in general, and this is certainly a good thing with it comes to our life in the church. As followers of Christ, we should always have thoughts for others. How can we be of help to someone else? Is there someone who is struggling? What can I do to be of service to someone else?

Thom Rainer writes in his excellent book "Autopsy of a Deceased Church" that one of the characteristics of a declining church is a failure to eliminate "me first" thinking. When we think that the church is about us and our preferences, we are heading in the wrong direction. He writes, "When a church moves from (the focus from others to themselves), it is headed for decline then death. . .A church cannot survive long-term where members are focused on their own preferences."

Christ told us the kind of thinking we should have when he said that the second greatest commandment is to "love your neighbor as yourself." (Matthew 22:39) Paul told Timothy to "Remind the people. . .to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone." (Titus 3:1-2) We need to focus on others, not ourselves. Christ showed us how to do this. Remember, "The key is to be considerate."

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday February 14, 2017

Ah, yes, Valentine s Day! Have you told someone you love them today? Actually, the idea of telling someone Be My Valentine is a good thing.

Fred Bauer wrote about a United Nations medical team that was summoned to an orphanage in South America to investigate the deaths of some of the babies. Their conclusion was that the children died of marasmus caused by a lack of physical contact and displays of affection. The children were given all the nutrition necessary to sustain them, but were never touched, cuddled or rocked. As a result, they wasted away, dying from a lack of love. The prescription was to hold, cuddle, and play with the babies for at least ten minutes each day. The deaths abated and the little ones began to thrive.

The lack of love in one's life can have a profound impact, especially on the very young and the very old. We need to be sure that our little ones are getting the attention they need. We also need to make sure that those who are older and live alone are given the attention they need. Of course, a lack of love has an effect upon all age groups. We need to be aware of this, and make sure that we show love for others and demonstrate our care for others in tangible ways.

Paul didn't write "but the greatest of these is love (I Corinthians 13:13)" just to create some nice poetry. He knew our greatest need is love, and one of the greatest things you can do is to show love to someone else. Isaiah 1:17 tells us to "learn to do right! . . .encourage the oppressed."

Do you know someone who is in need of love and encouragement? Reach out to them! A little love can go a long way.

Pastor Steve Willis
Monday February 13, 2017

Our choir and drama team are hard at work on our Easter musical. The choir is busy learning the music learning where to vocalize notes, and where to rest. A very important part of music is the rest. The rests help define the music, and make the piece what it is. You must observe the rests, or the music will lose its identity. The rests help the music tell the story, and qualify the drama.

Rest is important to the rhythm of music, and rest is important to the rhythm of life. Rest is important for someone who has been working without letup, someone recuperating from an illness, or someone who has been "burning the candle at both ends." Don't underestimate the importance of rest.

John Ruskin wrote about the spiritual implications of rests: "There is no music in a 'rest', but there is a making of music in it. In our whole life-melody, the music is broken off here and there by 'rests' and we foolishly think we have come to the end of the tune. . .Not without design does God write the music of our lives. But be it ours to learn the time and not be dismayed at the 'rests.' They are not to be slurred over, not to be omitted, nor to destroy the melody, nor to change the keynote. If we look up, God Himself will beat the time for us. With the eye on Him, we shall strike the next note full and clear."

God at times places a rest in our lives. A time when we may not quite know what is taking place, but know that he is still in control and he is both the writer of the music and the director. Don't miss the music being made by God during the times when he interjects a rest in your life. God tells us that we should always remember to "Be still, and know that (He is) God (Psalm 46:10)."

Pastor Steve Willis
Sunday February 12, 2017

There is a scene in Charles Dickens' 1838 novel "Oliver Twist" where Oliver, at a meal, tells the overseer of the workhouse where he lives: "Please, sir, I want more!" This is a really moving part of the story and is actually a very sad scene. Of course, Oliver really needed more!

Asking for more food when you are hungry is a legitimate request. However, we are often guilty of wanting "more" because we are greedy. We can get in a pattern where we want more money, more recognition, more achievement, more stuff. This can lead to frustration when we aren't able to get what we want, and many times when we do get what we want, we find out it is not all that satisfying. Actually, this is the key thought here: Having more does not lead to satisfaction.

How many times have you found yourself wishing for something, and then when you get the something, you feel a little let down? The thing is, you are trying to satisfy a hunger for "meat and potatoes" by eating "cotton candy". It just doesn't work.

We do have a hunger for "more," but get the right "more" to take care of that hunger. Matthew 5:6 tells us " Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Go ahead - stuff yourself, but make sure you are getting the right stuff!

Pastor Steve Willis
Saturday February 11, 2017

The driver of one of the vehicles involved in an accident grabbed his first aid kit and ran to the other vehicle to see if he could be of any assistance. When he got to the other car, he saw that the driver had a cut on his forehead; however, he wasn't going to be of much help. When he opened the first aid kit, most of what he needed was not there - he had failed to maintain the contents of the kit. He was grateful that the emergency personnel arrived quickly to render aid.

Too many of us treat our faith like a first aid kit - we only pull it out when we think we need it and when we do we find it inadequate because we have failed to maintain it properly. Faith is built through daily exercise. We spend time with God each day, and our faith is built through our time with him. Our faith should not be treated like a first aid kit to be used only when needed. Our faith is more important than that.

If we wish to "move mountains" as Christ said we could, we need to allow our faith to grow. Hebrews 11:1 defines faith: "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." This type of faith is developed through a daily walk with the Faith - Builder, Jesus. If your first aid kit needs some attention, take care of it! And it is certain our faith needs attention - so take care of this as well!

Pastor Steve Willis
Friday February 10, 2017

In their 1997 hit A Promise Ain t Enough, Hall and Oates sing Promises, promises, promises . Of course, a little sarcasm is involved in this proclamation. The musical duo is expressing the idea that there is a feeling of unbelief in the promiser actually making good on what is being promised. They express the idea that there are times when a promise ain t enough.

Sometimes we find ourselves in a position where we express a lack of faith in what is being said to us. That may be all well and good when it comes to people as we know people can let us down, but we need to be careful about allowing this sarcasm to infiltrate our relationship with God. At times, we let circumstances affect how we feel about God s provision in our lives. Doubt about his promises finds its way into our thinking.

Normally we consider Abraham a man of great faith, and he was, but there were times in his life when it was evident he was struggling with the promises God made to him. In Genesis 12:2, we read that God promised Abraham, "I will make you a great nation;" however, more than 25 years would lapse before a son was born. In those 25 years, there were some lapses of faith on Abraham s part: lying to Pharaoh about Sarah (Genesis 12); lying to Abimilech about Sarah (Genesis 19); questioning God about his promise ("O Sovereign Lord, what good are all your blessings when I don t even have a son?" Genesis 15:2); and even fathering a son through his handmaid (Genesis 16). All of these events showed a lack of faith in God's promise and all of these events brought trouble for Abraham. God reminded Abraham to remain faithful and trust him - "Serve me faithfully and live a blameless life. I will make a covenant with you, by which I will guarantee to give you countless descendants. (Genesis 17:2)

As we look at God's promises for our lives, we need to continue to have faith that he will do as he says. At times, we are tempted to go our own way and leave his promises in the wake of our unbelief; however, continued faith in him is always the best option. With apologies to Fleetwood Mac, you can go your own way (please forgive my pop music bent today), but don t. Trust in the promises of God. People may let you down; God never will.

Pastor Steve Willis
Wednesday February 08, 2017

As a young boy my mother's medicines of choice when I would scrape my knee or cut my finger were either mercurochrome or Merthiolate. These are no longer available in the United States because they both contain mercury. Back then I didn't so much think about the mercury content in the medicines as I did the pain they caused when they were applied to wounds. I didn't like the pain, but I knew the medicines could help me get better quicker. The medicine prevented infection and promoted healing.

We often face circumstances in our lives that bring pain. We don't enjoy those times and we would rather not have to face the pain. However, that which causes pain can be used by God to bring about healing and promote development of our character. The confidence we have as God s children is that God has good planned for us and has our best interests at heart. Suffering was not part of God's original plan but serves to remind us that we live in a broken world where God's order has been disobeyed. This should also remind us that our present experience is temporary. We need to spread the word that God has something better and that our present pain will be healed. Our pain reminds us that God is at work in us and that we need to trust him.

I didn't like the pain I felt because of the medicine, but I trusted my Mom. I knew she wouldn't do something to cause me more pain if it wasn't going to be alright. God will make everything alright. We should have the confidence expressed in the words of the song sung by pilgrims making their way to Jerusalem for the feasts, "The Lord himself watches over you! The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade. The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon at night." (Psalm 121:5-6) We need to trust him.

Pastor Steve Willis
Wednesday February 08, 2017

As a young boy my mother's medicines of choice when I would scrape my knee or cut my finger were either mercurochrome or Merthiolate. These are no longer available in the United States because they both contain mercury. Back then I didn't so much think about the mercury content in the medicines as I did the pain they caused when they were applied to wounds. I didn't like the pain, but I knew the medicines could help me get better quicker. The medicine prevented infection and promoted healing.

We often face circumstances in our lives that bring pain. We don't enjoy those times and we would rather not have to face the pain. However, that which causes pain can be used by God to bring about healing and promote development of our character. The confidence we have as God s children is that God has good planned for us and has our best interests at heart. Suffering was not part of God's original plan but serves to remind us that we live in a broken world where God's order has been disobeyed. This should also remind us that our present experience is temporary. We need to spread the word that God has something better and that our present pain will be healed. Our pain reminds us that God is at work in us and that we need to trust him.

I didn't like the pain I felt because of the medicine, but I trusted my Mom. I knew she wouldn't do something to cause me more pain if it wasn't going to be alright. God will make everything alright. We should have the confidence expressed in the words of the song sung by pilgrims making their way to Jerusalem for the feasts, "The Lord himself watches over you! The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade. The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon at night." (Psalm 121:5-6) We need to trust him.

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday February 07, 2017

There has always been a little bit of mystery surrounding the Ark of the Covenant. The ark was a wooden chest overlaid with gold that was about four feet long, two feet wide, and two feet high. It had gold rings so that wooden poles overlaid with gold could be inserted for carrying the chest (Exodus 25:10-22). It was placed inside the inner sanctuary of the tabernacle after it was constructed, and later in the inner sanctuary of the temple in Jerusalem. Inside this golden box were the stone tablets of the ten commandments, Aaron's rod that budded, and a jar of manna (Hebrews 9:4). The mystery of the ark has even captured the imaginations of secular study, media, and entertainment. The existence and location of the ark were at the center of the 1981 film "Raiders of the Lost Ark." What happened to the ark, where it might be, or even if it still exists, is certainly an enigma.

The purpose of the ark was to be a symbol of the presence of God. Once a year the high priest would meet with God before the ark on the Day of Atonement. This was the only time anyone could enter in the inner sanctuary of the tabernacle (and later the temple) called the Most Holy Place. It was a symbol of the fact that God wanted to have a relationship with people.

To me, this is an even bigger mystery than the existence of the ark - that God would want to have a relationship with us. Why? We turn aside from his ways, we spurn his advice, many even deny God's very existence. Still, he pursues us. He wants to be among us. He wants us to live with him and enjoy him. This is a big mystery which I know I will not understand on this side of eternity.

God is working within us for the conclusion described in Ezekiel 11:19-20, "I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God." This is God's desire. It is his promise to those who follow him. It is a mystery to me why God relentlessly pursues us in light of our rebellion. I am glad he doesn't ask me to understand this great love, but he does ask me to accept this great love.

It is a mystery to me why God loves me the way he does, but I have always enjoyed a little bit of mystery. What I do know is that he does love me, and I love him back. I hope you do as well. I'll leave the mystery for later.

Pastor Steve Willis
Monday February 06, 2017

Super Bowl LI is history and history was made in the playing of Super Bowl LI. It was the first Super Bowl to go to overtime. The Patriots mounted the largest comeback victory in a Super Bowl. A few thoughts came to mind after the game. I thought of how I had just watched Atlanta snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and the game certainly was proof that Yogi was right when he said, It ain t over til it s over.

Amidst all of the hoopla created by the playing of Super Bowl LI and what took place, the news of the selection of the NFL Hall of Fame Class for 2017 is almost lost. Let me turn to that in my comments today. As I think about the current list of inductees, I recall a story from 2010. Jerry Rice, arguably the greatest wide receiver ever to play in the NFL, was inducted that year. He asked Eddie DeBartolo, the former owner of the San Francisco 49ers, to be his presenter at the induction ceremony. What is noteworthy about this is Rice originally had asked DeBartolo ten years before his election to be his presenter. Now, that may appear to be a bit presumptuous. How could Rice have known ten years before his selection he would even make the Hall of Fame? Well, even ten years before he would be eligible, it was a foregone conclusion that Rice would make it to Canton. So, at the wedding of DeBartolo s youngest daughter, Rice asked him to be his presenter.

When the announcement came out in 2010 that Rice had been selected, he made good on his commitment by calling Mr. DeBartolo and reminding him he had a job to do. In an interview, DeBartolo remarked that he was "floored" by Rice's original invitation and amazed that he remembered his request. That Rice remembered his commitment is a testimony to his character.

Are you known as a person who keeps their commitments? When you tell someone you are going to do something for them or with them, do you follow through? When you have a job to do or a responsibility that needs to be taken care of, how is your track record on these things? This is a very desirable character trait, and something that should mark our lives.

We have many role models of commitment in the scripture. One is Joseph. In Genesis 47:29-30, we read this interchange between Jacob and Joseph, "When the time drew near for Israel to die, he called for his son Joseph and said to him, 'If I have found favor in your eyes, put your hand under my thigh and promise that you will show me kindness and faithfulness. Do not bury me in Egypt, but when I rest with my fathers, carry me out of Egypt and bury me where they are buried.' 'I will do as you say,' he said." Indeed, when Jacob died, Joseph fulfilled his commitment to his father.

Be a person that is known for honoring your commitments. This honors God, and allows us to be looked upon with favor by others.

Pastor Steve Willis
Sunday February 05, 2017

It won t be long and we will be working in our gardens! Now, that s an optimistic statement, isn t it? Well, it s true! Oh, don t we miss those fresh tomatoes, green beans, zucchini, peppers, corn, and so much more. I don't know what I miss the most, but I would imagine it might be corn on the cob. Oh, my, fresh corn is hard to beat. The only thing about corn that is somewhat of a detriment is the silks. If you don't take care when you husk and clean the ears of corn before you eat them, you get to put up with the silks. The get between your teeth, they get stuck in your mouth, and can be a little irritating. So, what should I think about the silks?

Well, I need to be glad for the silks. If it weren't for the silks, those tasty kernels we love to eat would not be there. The pollination would not take place to make them appear, they wouldn't get the air and the sun they need to develop, as it is the silks that transmit these needed elements to the kernels. In other words, without the silks, you do not get corn.

Sometimes that is the way of life - the irritants that sometimes frustrate us are actually beneficial and helpful and are supplying us with what we need in order that we may develop into what we should be. Those irritants can help develop our character and help us to develop traits such as patience, perseverance and inner strength that are important. Paul spoke to this when he discussed his "thorn" that he had asked the Lord to remove. We read in I Corinthians 12:7-10, "To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong."

Paul acknowledges that he didn't want this source of irritation in his life, and wanted it gone. Then, he talks about what was provided to him through its presence. He spoke of understanding of God's grace, an ability to recognize and deal with his own weaknesses, and knowledge of God's power that came through the presence of the "thorn."

We all have our "silks." Remember their importance in the development of the kernel. Keep Paul's perspective in mind as you deal with their presence. Without the silks, you won't get corn.

Pastor Steve Willis
Saturday February 04, 2017

I have always enjoyed watching The Andy Griffith Show. I enjoyed it as a boy, and I love watching reruns now. I remember one episode where a Hollywood producer visited Mayberry and expressed a desire to make a movie there. At first, the mayor and the town council were reluctant. But, Andy stepped in and showed them the movie could be a good thing. What happened next was rather interesting. The town caught "movie fever." Store owners began to modify their store fronts. Residents started dressing a little fancier. Plans were made for a big welcome for the Hollywood crew that included cutting down a big oak tree in the middle of town that was deemed "unsightly."

When the crew arrived and saw the changes, they were aghast. The producer made it plain that it was the charm of the people that attracted his attention, and he wished for them to return to how they were. The fancy clothes, the sparkling store fronts, the removal of the oak tree, was not their genuine state. What the producer wanted was the town as it was, not "gussied up."

We too need to avoid the temptation of putting on airs just to impress others. We should strive to be genuine and honest. We need to realize God sees us as we are anyway, and we can't impress him by being something we are not. We need to be honest with others and not try to be what we are not in an attempt to impress them. Our lives should model the principle found in Proverbs 12:7, "A truthful witness gives honest testimony, but a false witness tells lies." Don't be something that you aren't. Be honest and genuine before God and others. This makes the best impression.

Pastor Steve Willis
Friday February 03, 2017

The question is not why we should obey God, but why should we disobey? If we really believe that God is who he says he is, then what would be the point of disobedience? True belief makes it illogical to disobey.

People such as Noah and Abraham recognized this, and trusted God even in the face of incredible odds and seemingly unbelievable circumstances. Noah began to build a large boat - a boat so big that it would not fit in any nearby body of water. Why should he build it? Abraham was called to leave his home and go where? What in the world was so good about the land to the west? What was wrong with where I am living? And what is this about my wife having a child as old as she is? These seemed to be illogical circumstances, but for both Noah and Abraham, following God was the only path that made sense to them.

The only logical course of action was to obey God completely even if obeying him looked as if an illogical course of action was being pursued. This is why we read about these men, "By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith." (Hebrews 11:7-8) Both of these fellows may have had their hiccups, but they never stopped trusting God. At times following God looks as if you are defying logic, but in reality the only logical path to follow is God's.

Pastor Steve Willis
Thursday February 02, 2017

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

The origins of the day go back into Europe insofar as the belief that the weather on February 2 is a predictor of the ending of winter. An old Scottish poem says, "If Candlemas Day is bright and clear, There'll be two winters in the year. If Candlemas be fair and bright, Winter has another flight. If Candlemas brings clouds and rain, Winter will not come again." The first reference to "Groundhog Day" in America is found in a diary entry from 1841: "Last Tuesday, the 2nd, was Candlemas day, the day on which, according to the Germans, the Groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and if he sees his shadow he pops back for another six weeks nap, but if the day be cloudy he remains out, as the weather is to be moderate." Regardless of what happens today with the groundhog, we do know that winter will end and spring will come.

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

The writer to the Hebrews reminds us, "'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.' So we say with confidence, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?'" (Hebrews 13:5-6) Shadow or not, God will not fail us.

Pastor Steve Willis
Wednesday February 01, 2017

Over the years, I have been blessed to visit some of the beautiful places that God has created on planet Earth. There are many I would still like to see, but I am grateful for the sights I have witnessed - rainforests in Costa Rica, sand dunes in Peru, mountains in the U.S., and other marvelous scenes.

Have you ever wondered what God looks at when he observes his creation? Have you ever wondered what he thinks about when he looks at what he has set in motion on Earth? What is it that draws his attention? The writer of Psalm 33 gives us an idea, "The Lord watches from heaven; he sees all people. From the place where he lives he looks carefully at all the earth s inhabitants. He is the one who forms every human heart, and takes note of all their actions. Look, the Lord takes notice of his loyal followers, those who wait for him to demonstrate his faithfulness." (vss. 13-15; 18)

God doesn't look so much on the wonders of nature as he does people - us. What does he see? What kind of view greets him? As he looks at his children, does what he observes please him or does he wince at the sight of what is before his eyes? He looks at us with a heart of love and longs for us to trust him. He wants to help those whose hope is in him. He wants to deliver us and provide for us. Let's show him we appreciate what he does for us by giving him something really special to see!

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday January 31, 2017

Jesus was a people person. Jesus still is a people person. Now you might reply to my statement by saying, "Of course he was a people person - look at all the people he healed during his ministry, and he died for the entire world." I certainly would not take exception to your reply. You are absolutely correct. However, Christ showed he was a people person in more than just his supernatural ministry for others.

Do you remember how he responded when his disciples were holding off some children who wanted to see him? Christ said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them (Matthew 19:14)." Think about his implied comparison of himself to a shepherd in Luke 15:1-7. He, like the shepherd, is concerned about the "sheep" who is lost. We see his concern for people in his prayer for his disciples, both present and future, found in John 17.

Since Christ was, and is, a "people person," I should be a people person as well. Often, we let projects, things, tasks, deadlines, and other considerations come between us and doing what is necessary to develop relationships with others. We become "task oriented" instead of "people oriented." Use Christ's example as a model for us to follow when it comes to being a people person. Focus on others more than things or tasks - you will be doing what Christ did and what he wants us to do.

Pastor Steve Willis
Monday January 30, 2017

One of the keys of parenting is realizing that your children are different. For example, they have different likes and dislikes, they respond differently to things, and they may require different disciplinary techniques. I have two daughters who were born two and a half years apart, yet were sometimes mistaken for twins, especially as they grew older. Despite their similarities, there were obvious differences, at least obvious to me as a parent. For one thing, they had markedly different personalities which meant they responded differently to given situations. As they were growing up, I had to keep this in mind as I dealt with them in various circumstances. This was helpful and necessary for them and for me.

God does the same thing with his children. We may ask why we see God working in someone else's life in a different way than he is working in our own. We need only look as far as our own child-rearing for the answer. If we as earthly parents have the wisdom to know we should deal differently with our children, don't you think God realizes this as well?

God's knowledge of this showed up in how he dealt with Peter after Peter's denial. Christ confronted Peter on the shore of the Galilee in a unique way (see John 21). And when Peter questioned Christ about what would happen with John, Christ responded by saying, If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me (vs. 22)."

God places us in different situations for different reasons. We need to acknowledge that he knows best and does this for our best interests. We need to quit comparing ourselves with others and let God be the parent he wants to be.

Pastor Steve Willis
Sunday January 29, 2017

Regular dental check-ups should be part of our routine. Dental check-ups are important not just because of the need to maintain good dental hygiene, but because other problems not related to our teeth can be discovered through a dental check-up. What goes on in our mouth can reveal what is going on elsewhere in our body.

Christ said that what comes out of our mouths reveals our inner character. He told the Pharisees, "Listen and understand. What goes into someone's mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them." (Matthew 15:10-11) What comes out of our mouths reveals our inner character and indicates our true nature.

What comes out of your mouth? Is it wholesome speech, celebratory language, words of encouragement to others, words of blessing? Or are you prone to use offensive language, negative speech, gossip, and hurtful comments to others?

A dentist can see that there may be a problem elsewhere through examination of our mouth. Others can see what goes on inside of us by listening to what comes out of our mouths. How's your mouth?

Pastor Steve Willis
Saturday January 28, 2017

Dave Branon writes about a mission trip he led in the summer of 2005. On this trip, a group of high school students traveled to Jamaica to build a playground at a school for the deaf. Many of the students had visited the school before. However, on this trip there was one student who developed a special bond with the children at the school. Chelsea had been deaf until the age of 11 when she received a cochlear implant that allowed her to hear about 30% of the sounds around her. Because of her experience, she could understand the deaf children in ways others could not. She had true empathy.

Empathy is a strong emotion that can drive us along in our relationships with others and in our ministry to others. The increased insight and understanding help us to serve others in ways that might not be possible otherwise. Empathy helps us to have a different level of care and concern for those with whom we share a particular circumstance.

Christ is able to share with profound empathy because of his visit with us. John 1:14 tells us that he became one of us, "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us." He experienced our pain, our grief, our trials, yet lived without sin so that he could become our sacrifice. Hebrews 4:15 tells us, "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet was without sin."

When you are facing a struggle, a temptation, a problem of some sort, realize you have someone who has been there and is alongside of you to provide you with the resources and the help you need to face your situation. Christ relates to us with the highest degree of empathy. In addition, experiencing his grace in our time of need can help us have more empathy for others so that we can stand alongside them in their time of need. Paul writes in II Corinthians 1:4 “(Christ) comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” This is empathy in action.

Pastor Steve Willis
Friday January 27, 2017

In the early days of smartphones, there was a commercial where a little girl is sitting in bed with a menacing monster standing right in front of her. The girl consults the phone and then calmly says to the monster, "It says you're not real." The monster's shoulders slump in frustration as he lets out a mournful moan.

Sometimes we need this phone. We need to be reminded that many of the "monsters" that are menacing our lives aren't real. We can be so good at inventing fearful things, worrying about things over which we have no control, and fretting over things that are really insignificant. Usually it is not what we see but how we see it that is the issue. When we look at things from the perspective of our great and powerful Heavenly Father, they take on a different perspective.

This is why Christ spoke about worry. In Matthew 6:26-27 we read, "Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?"

God's information for us is much more valuable than a smartphone. He put our lives in a different perspective than we do ourselves. We need to look at so many things in our lives and say, "He says you're not real." When we look at things from God's point of view, the monsters just seem to melt away with a slump and a groan.

Pastor Steve Willis
Thursday January 26, 2017

Francis Chan once wrote, "Our greatest fear in life should not be of failure but at succeeding in life at things that don't really matter." We place emphasis on many things that are ultimately inconsequential. One of our greatest emphases in prayer should be to ask for a discerning heart so that we may know what is truly important and be able to let go of things that do not really matter. So often we get this turned around.

Jesus met several people like this when he was on earth. Once he encountered a man who asked him to solve a dispute between his brother and him over an inheritance. Christ said, "'Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?' Then he said to them, 'Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.'" (Luke 12:14-15) Christ then told the story of a man who built more barns to contain all that he had while he ignored tending to his own soul. Christ concluded this story by saying, "This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God." (Luke 12:21)

Often we are guilty of following the example of the barn builder. In so doing we are succeeding in life at things that don't really matter. Success in life does not depend on what we own, our accomplishments, or our status. We achieve true success when we live to please God. Are you succeeding in life at things that don t really matter?

Pastor Steve Willis
Wednesday January 25, 2017

I used to do a little exercise with youth groups (although adults can benefit from this as well) called "Pass the Picture." The group would sit on the floor in a straight line, everyone facing one direction. I would give a simple drawing to the person at the back of the line. This person would look at the drawing and then, as best as they could, draw the picture with their finger on the back of the person in front of them. This person would then draw what had been passed to them on the back of the person in front of them. This would continue until it reached the person at the head of the line. That person would draw the picture on a piece of paper.

This drawing would be compared to the original drawing in view of all the participants, enabling them to see how well, or how badly, they had been able to "pass the picture." You can imagine the result. I have done this dozens of times over the years, and have yet to see a group replicate the drawing even remotely.

No doubt the purpose of this little exercise is obvious to you - it shows what can happen to an idea as it gets passed along from person to person. A story is shared and by the time it runs its course through usual channels ends up quite different from the original.

Garbled communication is not all that unique in our lives. It happens far too frequently and is the cause of many hurt feelings, misunderstandings, and damaged relationships. Even in our churches, this phenomenon occurs. It fuels the fires of gossip that can lead to many unwanted consequences. We need to follow the advice of the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:15 where he says, "Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ."

Watch how you "draw your stories." Remember the importance of truth and the destructiveness of falsehood. Be careful what you share and how your share it!

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday January 24, 2017

Dr. Paul E. McGhee wrote, "Your sense of humor is one of the most powerful tools you have to make certain that your daily mood and emotional state support good health." Laughter is one of the best ways to promote health and well-being. The effects of laughter are well-documented. Laughter helps lower stress levels and blood pressure as it relaxes the whole body for up to 45 minutes. When you laugh, endorphins are released that bring about a sense of well-being and contentment. Laughter strengthens the immune system and also helps with strengthening the heart by improving blood flow.

God created us this way, so why don't we try to enjoy a good laugh more? Ecclesiastes 3:4 says that there is "a time to weep and a time to laugh." God does have a sense of humor - remember the story of Balaam talking to a donkey in Numbers 22? How about his sarcastic confrontation of Job in Job 38? How we function has been determined through the creative work of God, so the idea that laughter is good for us should not be too surprising.

Now, of course, there are times when laughter is inappropriate. We should not laugh at others' calamity or at others' expense. We also need to avoid the wrong kind of humor in invoking laughter. However, situations of joy and comedy of an appropriate nature need to be enjoyed. Times with friends that evoke laughter need to take place on a regular basis.

Proverbs 15:13 says, "A happy heart makes the face cheerful," Go ahead - laugh out loud!

Pastor Steve Willis
Monday January 23, 2017

Have you ever been in a position where you feel that you just can't do anything right? That is probably how the lady in the story found in Matthew 26 felt as she faced criticism for anointing Jesus. "While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table." (Matthew 26:6-7) As a consequence of her actions, she was soundly criticized by the disciples who wondered why she didn't sell the expensive contents of the bottle and give the money to the poor.

The response of Christ is mildly surprising, as we know he indeed is a champion of the poor. Instead of joining in the criticism, he defends her actions and said, "When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her." (vss. 12-13)

Among other lessons he wanted to teach from the actions of the lady is the idea of taking advantage of the living while we still have them with us. The disciples needed to become aware of the fact that they were not always going to have Christ with them. Not long from that very moment, Christ would start the events that would lead to his departure. They needed to take advantage of his presence while he was still with them.

As we think about the application of this for us, we should not only be thinking of the great gift we have through the continued presence of the Spirit in our lives, but we need to take advantage of the people whom God has placed in our lives while we have the opportunity to do so. As we think about these people - a family member, a friend, a teacher, a co-worker, or perhaps a mentor, are there things we need to say to them? Are there expressions of appreciation we need to show them while we have the chance? Take advantage of their presence and make sure we learn what we can. Say what we should, and demonstrate our care while we still have the time. Life is too short and too uncertain to live any other way.

Pastor Steve Willis
Sunday January 22, 2017

Have you ever felt alone? Have you ever been in a situation where you were truly alone? In the 2013 movie "Gravity" Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) finds herself alone in space after the shuttle on which she is traveling is destroyed. Her partner on the mission, Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), plummets into space when the ship breaks up. Because of the effects and cinematography of the film, you are made to feel the "aloneness" of Dr. Stone - the inky blackness, the silence, the absence of oxygen, the sense of hopelessness. Since she is the only person left in the film after the loss of her partner, you pretty much know that somehow, she is going to survive, or there wouldn't be a movie. Still, the film succeeds at making you experience her fear and her isolation.

David was a person who experienced isolation. He spent nights alone with his father's sheep as he was growing up. He felt the loneliness of remote caves during the time when he was fleeing Saul. He experienced abandonment by colleagues, yet he knew he was never truly alone. He wrote, "Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me." (Psalm 139:7-10)

David knew he was never truly alone. Neither are you. No matter how lonely it may seem, or how abandoned you feel, God will never desert you. He will always be there and promises, "never will I leave you, never will I forsake you." (Hebrews 13:5) When you understand and accept God s promise, the darkness of loneliness can be replaced by the light of God's presence.

Pastor Steve Willis
Saturday January 21, 2017

As most of you know, we now have a new president. Yesterday, Donald Trump took the oath of office and became our 45th president. I came across an interesting bit of trivia with regard to the oath. Did you know that President Obama had to take the oath twice when he was first elected president? Chief Justice John Roberts slipped up on the wording during the inaugural, thus necessitating a private ceremony the next day.

Our 32nd president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, took the oath four times but not because of mistakes; he was elected president four times. Roosevelt was president during two of the most significant events in United States history - the Great Depression and World War II. In one of his inaugural addresses, he stated: "We cannot read the history of our rise and development as a nation, without reckoning with the place the Bible has occupied in shaping the advances of the Republic...Where we have been the truest and most consistent in obeying its precepts, we have attained the greatest measure of contentment and prosperity."

Did you notice the cause-effect principle stated by Roosevelt in the last sentence above? Obeying the precepts of the Bible leads to contentment and prosperity. We receive blessings from God when we obey him. When we don't obey him, we hinder what he wants to do in our lives. Consider the example of the children of Israel in this regard. In Exodus 33:1-3 we read God's words to Moses, "Leave this place, you and the people you brought up out of Egypt, and go up to the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying, `I will give it to your descendants.' I will send an angel before you and drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way."

God tells the people it is time to leave Mt. Sinai and go to the land that will be their home. He tells them he will send some help for them, but he is not going to go with them. Why? Because of their sin and disobedience. There are consequences to disobedience, and one of the greatest is missing the blessing of the continued presence of God. God has promised to never leave us, but when we walk away from him, we diminish his effectiveness in our lives. Have you noticed that the Israelites always seemed to be a group of malcontents? FDR stated that when you obey God's Word, you attain "the greatest measure of contentment." Hmmm. Wonder if there is a correlation here?

Realize the truth in Roosevelt’s words, "Where we have been the truest and most consistent in obeying (God's Word), we have attained the greatest measure of contentment and prosperity." God wants to walk with you. Do you want to walk with him?

Pastor Steve Willis
Saturday January 21, 2017

There is a difference between knowing and doing. Sometimes ignoring the difference can be a real problem. My wife knows there are things she needs to avoid in her diet that may cause problems. She knows she needs to limit her intake of carbs, trans-fat, and sodium. Actually, we both need to avoid sodium because of health issues. Just knowing what needs to be avoided is not enough. We can recite all the problems with various diet items including what foods have elevated carbohydrates or sodium or whatever, but we will not benefit from this knowledge unless we actually avoid the foods. One source said that more than $1.8 billion in medical bills could be avoided annually if doing followed from knowing.

In so many circumstances, it is not what we know that is important, but what we do. Christ spoke a great deal about service, which is simply translating knowing into doing. Christ told his disciples on the night he was betrayed and arrested, "I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them." (John 13:15-17) Let's make sure that we are translating knowing into doing in our lives. "Knowledge is power" is a quote attributed to Sir Francis Bacon. The power is actually when what we know affects what we do.

Pastor Steve Willis
Friday January 20, 2017

All of our lives we have had to be ready for something. As kids we prepare for meals by washing our hands, prepare for bed by brushing our teeth, and prepare for school by getting homework done and laying our clothes. As adults, we prepare for work, meetings, appointments, arrival of guests, and many other things. Scherry and I just returned from a visit with family in Ohio. Knowing this was approaching, we prepared to leave. Then, as the time for our visit to end was drawing closer, we prepared for our return. Much of our lives is spent preparing for something that is going to happen.

As followers of Christ, we need to spend time preparing for his return. John writes, "we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure." (I John 3:2-3) One of the most important things we can do as followers of Christ is to prepare for his coming. Doing so has a purifying effect on our lives as we concentrate on him and his provision and what our lives should reflect as we think of our relationship with him. As we think about the possibility of his return, let us examine our lives and prepare for this event. Preparing for coming events is part of our everyday lifestyle. Don't you think we should be preparing for what will be the most important event to ever take place? Prepare well!

Pastor Steve Willis
Thursday January 19, 2017

In his book "Well Done", the founder of "Wendy's", Dave Thomas said, "Roll-up-your-shirtsleeves Christians see Christianity as faith and action. They still make the time to talk with God through prayer, study Scripture with devotion, be super-active in their church and take their ministry to others to spread the Good Word." He went on to say they are "anonymous people who are doing good for Christ may be doing even more good than all the well-known Christians in the world."

We probably do not need to worry about whether we are doing more good than "well-known Christians", but we should worry that we are doing good. James says, "If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and does't do it, it is sin for them." (James 4:17) Dave Thomas seemed to have it right. We need to do good, but we shouldn't worry about who knows what we are doing and why we are doing it. We simply should be concerned that we are doing good for God. If we do something just for the attention, we might as well not do it. So, we need to make sure we are doing good, and that we are doing good in the right way. Be a "do-gooder" and do your best to do it quietly!

Pastor Steve Willis
Wednesday January 18, 2017

There is a difference between knowing and doing. Sometimes ignoring the difference can be a real problem. My wife knows there are things she needs to avoid in her diet that may cause problems. She knows she needs to limit her intake of carbs, trans-fat, and sodium. Actually, we both need to avoid sodium because of health issues. Just knowing what needs to be avoided is not enough. We can recite all the problems with various diet items including what foods have elevated carbohydrates or sodium or whatever, but we will not benefit from this knowledge unless we actually avoid the foods. One source said that more than $1.8 billion in medical bills could be avoided annually if doing followed from knowing.

In so many circumstances, it is not what we know that is important, but what we do. Christ spoke a great deal about service, which is simply translating knowing into doing. Christ told his disciples on the night he was betrayed and arrested, "I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them." (John 13:15-17) Let's make sure that we are translating knowing into doing in our lives. "Knowledge is power" is a quote attributed to Sir Francis Bacon. The power is actually when what we know affects what we do.

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday January 17, 2017

Recently I read of a centenarian who had a practice of telling his age in terms of days. At the age of 100 years, he was 36,525 days old. What was the purpose of this practice? He based it on Psalm 90:12, "Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom." The gentleman simply wanted to remind himself that he needed to live each day wisely.

Do you give this much thought? Do you remind yourself on a regular basis how important it is to live each day carefully and with some thought as to how you want to spend that day? Each day we live should be viewed as a gift. None of us are promised the next day. So, maybe we should adopt the practice of the aforementioned person who gave his age in terms of days. Right now, I am 21,371 days old. I have 15,154 days to go to make it to 100 years. I want to number each of those days correctly. How are you at numbering your days?

Pastor Steve Willis
Monday January 16, 2017

Memory is a funny thing. We all struggle with remembering things. According to Karen Bolla, a psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins, these are the things we forget the most: Names (83%); where something is (60%); telephone numbers (57%); words (53%); what was said (49%); faces (42%). and whether you've just done something (38%).

Followers of Jesus Christ often have a problem of forgetting. We forget what he has done for us. We forget the power he has for us. We try to deal with temptation in our own power. We forget what we should be doing for him. We forget our responsibility to others. We forget what our lives should be as believers in Christ.

We need to turn our lives into his hands and allow his power to guide us so that we can be solid followers of him. Don't forget to walk in the power of Christ! David wrote, "Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God." There are times we cannot trust our memory because we are forgetful. There are times we cannot trust our own abilities because we are unable to stand on our own. We need to trust "in the name of the Lord our God." Don't forget!

Pastor Steve Willis
Sunday January 15, 2017

We who follow Christ must do so by faith. It is a step-by-step process that requires us to rely on him even when, actually especially when, we cannot see what lies ahead. When I think of our journey of faith, I often think of Charles Lindbergh's trans-Atlantic flight that took place in May of 1927. In order to have enough fuel for the flight, the wings were modified to hold more.. The retooling meant that Lindbergh was unable to see forward in "The Spirit of St. Louis." He had to "fly blind" and depend upon his instruments. Through trusting his gauges, he was able to navigate safely the flight path from New York to Paris.

As we move through life, we need to trust Christ in order to navigate safely the path we need to follow. There are so many times we will not be able to see the way clearly and there are times when we encounter obstacles. Therefore, we need to trust blindly in Christ - we must have faith. This is the essence of our relationship with Christ. This is the nature of the Christian life.

Hebrews 11:1 tells us "Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see." We read in II Corinthians 5:7, "For we live by faith, not by sight." If we truly live by faith, we are not actually "flying blind." We have the best eyes in the universe looking out for our way. Trust them.

Pastor Steve Willis
Saturday January 14, 2017

Albert Einstein was an intelligent man. He was also a wise man. His wisdom is reflected in this advice he gave his son Eduard: "Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving."

Whether you face times of success or failure, you must keep moving. We should not be willing to rest on our laurels when we experience success of some type in our lives, we should be willing to move forward to attain other success. When we fail in some way, we should not let that failure be an excuse to not move forward to try other ideas. If our failure is a matter of morality, we should not retreat in shame or fear, but we should repent of our error and make positive steps to correct our ways. Move forward!

Paul writes in Philippians 3:13-14, "But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." I can think of many biblical examples of people who experienced personal failure yet continued to move forward in their trust in God: Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and David are all examples of people God used in spite of their failure because then continued to move forward in their relationship with God. We should do the same. Don't let failure cause you to fall off your bike. Don't let personal struggle be a reason to quit peddling. To keep your balance you must keep moving.

Pastor Steve Willis
Friday January 13, 2017

The Israelites were finally leaving Egypt. Four hundred years earlier, their patriarch Jacob had entered the land along with his family. They were now leaving as a nation over a million strong. God saw to it that they were not going to leave empty-handed for all the work they had supplied over the 400 years they had been there. He directed the people to seek compensation from the Egyptians: "The Israelites did as Moses instructed and asked the Egyptians for articles of silver and gold and for clothing. The Lord had made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people, and they gave them what they asked for; so they plundered the Egyptians." (Exodus 12:35-36)

God provided for their future by giving them good things. However, it was not long before they abused the gift they were given. We read in Exodus 32 how they took the gold and jewelry that God had provided and they made a golden calf which they worshipped. How sad.

We need to be careful that we are not guilty of the same thing. "Wait a minute," you say, "I don't have a golden calf sitting around my house." This is no doubt true, but we need to be careful that we don't abuse the good things God has given us and use them for us rather than for the sake of God. God does give us good things, and we are often guilty of misuse of the blessings he gives us. He gives us good things so that we might bless others and glorify him, but often we use our abundance for our own pleasure. Make sure that you use what God has given you wisely and in accordance with his desire. You do not need a golden calf!

Pastor Steve Willis
Thursday January 12, 2017

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis
Wednesday January 11, 2017

There is a difference between knowing and doing. Sometimes ignoring the difference can be a real problem. My wife knows there are things she needs to avoid in her diet that may cause problems. She knows she needs to limit her intake of carbs, trans-fat, and sodium. Actually, we both need to avoid sodium because of health issues.

Just knowing what needs to be avoided is not enough. We can recite all the problems with various diet items including what foods have elevated carbohydrates or sodium or whatever, but we will not benefit from this knowledge unless we actually avoid the foods. One source said that more than $1.8 billion in medical bills could be avoided annually if doing followed from knowing.

In so many circumstances, it is not what we know that is important, but what we do. Christ spoke a great deal about service, which is simply translating knowing into doing. Christ told his disciples on the night he was betrayed and arrested, "I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them." (John 13:15-17)

Let's make sure that we are translating knowing into doing in our lives. "Knowledge is power" is a quote attributed to Sir Francis Bacon. Knowledge becomes power when what we know affects what we do.

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday January 10, 2017

The month January is named after a god in the Roman pantheon named Janus. Janus was depicted as a being with two faces - one to look ahead, one to look back. Janus was the god of beginnings.

Looking ahead to new beginnings and new possibilities is a good thing. Being two-faced is not. Folks that speak one way and act another and cannot be trusted because you really don't know what "side" they represent are frustrating. James reflects the attitude of God about two-faced folks, "Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do." (James 1:8)

We have no control over others who manifest this undesirable characteristic; however, we do have control over our own behavior. We must make every effort to present ourselves as someone who can be trusted and is not two-faced. We want others to know that we don't speak out of both sides of our mouth.

Proverbs 19:3 says, "Better is a poor person who walks in his integrity than one who is crooked in speech and is a fool." One face is enough - don't try to keep up two at the same time. You don t want to look like Janus.

Pastor Steve Willis
Monday January 09, 2017

One of the things I am not too fond of are automated answering services. I was not fond of them when they were first introduced, and I still don't care for them. Most businesses have them now. Many of you who have them at your business can perhaps speak long and eloquently about all the benefits. I find them very impersonal, and often frustrating when you are calling for a simple bit of information such as an appointment time and can't seem to get a response. Well, perhaps I simply need to chalk this up to "progress" and go on. I am certain that I need to adjust my attitude because my lack of affection for this "technology" will do little to change the way things are.

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis
Sunday January 08, 2017

Fred Bauer, former editor of Guideposts , told the story about a store owner on the western frontier in earlier days of our country. Travelers would pass by on their way west to get supplies and often ask about what to expect on the trail ahead. Sometimes they would ask about the people they might encounter, What kind of folks are up ahead? The wise store owner would reply, What kind of folks did you have at the place you left? If they said, ornery, he would tell them to expect ornery folks up ahead. If they said good and kind, he would tell them to expect good and kind folks up ahead. It was said he was rarely wrong.

Often our perceptions of others and our perceptions of circumstances are what determine our assessment of others or of the circumstances. If we enter into a venture thinking we will fail, we likely will fail. If we believe we are going to encounter success and have a positive outlook, we more than likely will succeed.

The same is true of our expectations of people. We are often treated the way we treat others. If you want to be treated well, then treat others well!

Christ takes this a bit further in Luke 6:27-31, "But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

This may be a difficult principle, but it has great returns. What kind of people are up ahead in your life? Listen to the wise shop keeper! Better yet, listen to Christ!

Pastor Steve Willis
Saturday January 07, 2017

Water is something we take for granted until there isn t any. We go to the tap or reach for a bottle, there it is. Have you ever been in a situation where there wasn t any and you didn t know when you might get some again? I don t mean times when the water is off because of repairs or something, I mean a situation where there simply wasn t any and you were not sure when you might find some. Many of us cannot relate to this because we have never had it happen and, hopefully, never will. But most of us have been in a situation where we were really thirsty remember how that felt?

The closest I have ever been to a water emergency was an experience I had during my Scouting days. I was maybe 13 or 14 and we were hiking the Vesuvius Trail in Wayne National Forest in southern Ohio. It isn t exactly a forbidden wilderness , but we were in the middle of acres and acres of nothing but forest. It was a really hot summer day and our water ran out. We had brought what we thought was plenty, but the hotter than expected temps had taken their toll. We were miles from the nearest known water source, and we started getting really thirsty. I mean really thirsty. We knew we were not in a life-threatening situation, but we were getting dehydrated. It was a little scary. Water was all we could think about. Then, we came across a little stream oh, I have never seen anything look so good. Something that we probably would not have noticed at any other time now had our undivided attention. And did that water ever taste good!

My undivided attention to the need for water in my hiking experience is how I should feel about my relationship with God at all times. Psalm 42:1-2 says, "As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?" Do you thirst for God? You should! Even more than you need water you need God! Let him quench your thirst!

Pastor Steve Willis
Friday January 06, 2017

Discouragement is often one of our greatest adversaries. Sometimes it is hard to stave off discouragement when we are facing setbacks because of our job, financial struggles, health problems, or other personal issues. In the midst of times that bring discouragement, we need to look for positive news. Christ said our journey would be hard at times. He tells us to continue to trust when we are discouraged. We should not be surprised by circumstances that bring discouragement and we should focus on that which can help us when we are discouraged - our relationship with Christ.

One of Job's "friends" said, "But now trouble comes to you, and you are discouraged; it strikes you, and you are dismayed. Should not your piety be your confidence and your blameless ways your hope?" (Job 4:5-6) When we struggle with discouragement, it is our place in God's plan that can be of great help. Reminding ourselves that we are still in God's eyes and still in his care can help us face and overcome those times when we feel discouraged. Remember you will have times when you will be discouraged, but remember also that you will never be absent from God's presence. This will give you a positive outlook in a time of struggle.

Another source of inspiration is realizing that we can be of help to others when they see us stand firm in the face of discouragement. Remembering that we can have a positive impact for God through our continued faithfulness especially in the face of discouragement is a means of overcoming our discouragement. II Corinthians 1:4 tells us, "God comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God." As the song says, "Be not dismayed what'er betide, God will take care of you." Indeed he will.

Pastor Steve Willis
Thursday January 05, 2017

Did you ever have a Jack in the Box when you were a kid? I must confess, I still like playing with a Jack in the Box. I love to get scared. They are fun little toys to play with.

Having Jack in the Box is one thing, but often we want to have a "God in the Box." That is, we want to put God in a box with our preconceived ideas and thoughts of how God should act and what he should do in various circumstances. The trouble is, we don't spend the time to really get to know God and understand more about him. Since the idea of God is such a universal concept, sometimes our familiarity with the existence of God gets in the way of allowing him to work in our lives the way he wants. We think we know what is best for God as opposed to remembering that God knows what is best for us.

Be careful about thinking things like,"Well, God should do this. . ." or "God is like this. . ." We really need to be in awe when we think of God and not presume that we know what he should or shouldn't do. We should remember that our finite minds truly cannot grasp that which is infinite. God tells us in Isaiah 55:8-9: "'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' declares the LORD. 'As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.'"

Let God inform and educate you. Don't try to inform and educate God. Don't put God "in a box." His creative prowess is probably a little better than yours! It's OK to have a Jack in the Box, but don't think you can have God in a Box.

Pastor Steve Willis
Wednesday January 04, 2017

I was raised in the hills of southern Ohio. We didn't have mountains, but there are some formidable hills. My wife and I moved to Dallas, Texas to attend seminary. One day not long after we arrived in Dallas, we were talking with another couple who had moved there. Our conversation was about our first impressions of the area. One comment was, "The sky is so big here!" Of course, what made the sky seem so big was the absence of hills or mountains which tend to obscure one's view of the sky, unless you are way up on top. It was a matter of perspective.

Sometimes our view of God is a little obscured. At times, we let the hills and the mountains that seem to close in on us block our view of God and his power. We fail to see our potential that is a result of putting our lives into our big God's hands. We need to be able to say, "God is so big here!" And he is!

Don't let troubles and problems keep you from seeing his greatness and his grandeur. As a song says, we serve a "great big wonderful God". He reminds Job of his greatness and power in Job 38:3-5, "Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it?"

Don't get confused about God's size or his power because you have a hill obstructing your view. God is big here! He is big everywhere! Give thanks for our "great big wonderful God!"

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday January 03, 2017

As a youngster, one of my favorite things to do was to skip stones on bodies of water. There was a creek near my grandparents' home where water would pool in a number of areas that made great places for this purpose. When I skipped stones, I had two goals: First, I wanted to get the rock all the way to the other side. Secondly, I wanted the ripples to spread out to all the land areas around the water. I would imagine that I was changing the shorelines with the ripples I created.

Although my efforts in my youth probably didn't have any effect on the shorelines, our lives do produce ripples that have an effect on us and on others. We always need to remember this as we make decisions and interact with others. Who we really are and who we are becoming show up in the choices we make, and our choices have consequences for us and for those in our lives.

Paul encouraged believers to make good choices. He wrote, "And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ," (Philippians 1:9-10) He knew their decisions would create ripples that would affect others. We will make ripples make sure they are good ones.

Pastor Steve Willis
Monday January 02, 2017

Populus tremuloides is the most widely distributed tree in North America. You can find this tree from Canada to central Mexico. Commonly known as the Quaking Aspen, this tree is defined by the characteristic "quaking" of the leaves. The leaves of the tree are disturbed by even the slightest of breezes so that even when other trees give no indication of wind, the aspen will look to be bothered as indicated by the fluttering leaves.

There are other "quaking aspens" that are widely distributed. These are folks that are bothered by the slightest of disturbances. Theirs is a life of turbulence because even the most inconsequential concerns create a great response. Where others are able to go with the flow and adapt to changing circumstances, "quaking aspens" find it hard to cope.

Are you in this boat? Do you feel like your life is full of turbulence while those around you appear to be grounded and secure? The scriptures remind us that genuine steadying calm can be found in the presence of God. When we focus on his resources, we can experience peace because of the confidence he gives us.

Paul wrote, "Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace always in every way. The Lord be with you all." (II Thessalonians 3:16) This is what the Lord will do for those who trust in him. The promise to those who follow God is this, "Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever." (Psalm 125:1) Even though we may feel like the Quaking Aspen, we are as solid as Mount Zion if we fix our eyes on our immoveable God.

Pastor Steve Willis
Sunday January 01, 2017

Here we are another New Year! What are you going to do with this New Year? I read an interesting statement recently. "No one can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending."

The scripture is full of stories of the lives of people who made new endings - some of them positive, some of them not so good. It would definitely have been better for Saul, Ahab, and Judas to have started at some point to make a new ending. However, they did not and they experienced the consequences. David made a bad decision but repented and the Lord was able to continue to use him (read Psalm 51). Paul was definitely headed in the wrong direction, but repented and became a powerful force in the hands of God (see Acts 9).

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

Happy New Year!

Pastor Steve Willis
Saturday December 31, 2016

What does the future hold? Every generation has asked that question, and every generation has the same answer, "We don't know." "US News and World Report" published an article in 1983 entitled "What the Next 50 Years Will Bring." Items such as the increased usage of computers, business trends, fashion trends and other things were discussed. For a very good reason, none of the predictions were really specific. The reason is that no one knows for sure what will actually happen in the future.

A case in point is a show I just watched recently on ESPN. The commentators were reviewing their preseason predictions to see how well they had done. A more appropriate statement is to see how poorly they had done. .

We need to realize we can't be too certain about prognostications. There is an exception, of course. When we read a prediction about the future in the scripture, we can rest assured it will take place as it was written. Almost 25% of the scripture is prophetic in nature. About 75% of that 25% has taken place just as it was written. For Old Testament prophets, the test of their authenticity was that they were 100% accurate. Any less was a demonstration that they were fake.

We can trust what the Scripture says. We may not know exactly what is going to take place in the future, but we know our Father does. Psalm 139:16 tells us, all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. God is not in the business of prognostication he has proven over and over that he knows what lies ahead. He indeed knows what the future holds so the best thing to do is trust him with our future.

Pastor Steve Willis
Friday December 30, 2016

About 45 years ago, my brothers, a friend of ours, and I were singing at a New Year s Eve service at a church in southern Ohio. My mother was playing the piano for us. We were singing "Til the Storm Passes By" when suddenly my mother stopped playing. She looked at us for a few seconds, and then resumed right where she had stopped. Later she told us she really couldn't explain why she stopped. She said, "Something just came over me and I had to stop to see that all was well."

When we are following Jesus, we can be confident that all is well, even when we are in the midst of a raging storm. All around us may be turmoil and uncertainty, but as we walk the path with the Lord, we know that our steps are secure. As we approach another year, we have no idea what lies ahead of us. That is the nature of our lives - we have no idea what tomorrow may bring. However, we know that as we continue to trust the one who gave us life and the reality of eternal life, we know that all will work out the way God intends. Paul told us, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28) We are not promised a life with no storms, but we are promised sustaining grace during our experience with storms. In the hands of our loving Lord we know we will be safe "til the storm passes by."

Pastor Steve Willis
Thursday December 29, 2016

In the final scene of "The Lord of The Rings: The Return of the King," Frodo and his friends are gathered to watch Bilbo and Gandalf prepare to sail to a place that has been accorded to them by the elves, their "eternal home," so to speak. Then, just before the boat sails, Gandalf turns to Frodo and says, "It's time, Frodo." Frodo's hobbit friends learn that he, too, will be leaving for his final home. They are distressed by this, but realize it is what has to be. Frodo hands a leather-bound book to his closest friend, Samwise Gamgee; a book that was started by Frodo's uncle, Bilbo, and then continued by Frodo. Frodo says, "The last pages are for you, Sam. What will you write and how well will you write, Sam?"

The same question may be asked of us. We have been given pages to write - what will we write and how well will we write? There is always the need for times of evaluation in our lives, times when we take stock as to what we are doing and how well we are doing. As we start a New Year, this would be a good time to do just this.

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

Pastor Steve Willis
Wednesday December 28, 2016

Are you aware that this is National Regifting Week? Well, at least it is in Canada. Ebay has declared this to be so because the practice of re-gifting is usually proliferous just following Christmas as Boxing Day is December 26, a time when gifts are also exchanged. The idea of regifting is not just limited to Canada. We here in the U.S. also regift. Folks who received two of the same thing, something they did not really need, or simply something they did not like, can use what they received as a gift for someone else. The practice has even been taken to greater heights through exercises such as White Elephant Gift Exchanges where items can be regifted from year to year. Ah, now I know what I can do with that fruitcake!

All kidding aside, I do know a gift that needs to be regifted with pleasure and with regularity the Gift of Christ. Those who have received this Gift should not be content with their possession, the Gift needs to be shared. We should do so with great joy and with great fervency. We don t do so for the reasons listed above, but we do so because we know how important and how precious is the Gift.

John writes of the priority of the Gift, All who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:12) We have been given a great Gift a great gift that we should not keep to ourselves. Share the Gift you have received with others!

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday December 27, 2016

Haddon Robinson tells the story about a pioneer traveling westward. The traveler comes to an abrupt halt at the edge of the Grand Canyon. He stares at the abyss - eighteen miles across, one mile deep, stretching on for miles and miles. He looked at the sight and said, "My! Something must have happened here!"

I share this story for those of you who feel we need to throw out Christmas. We sometimes get upset over the secularization of Christmas and what has happened to the celebration. Because of this, many believe we should simply distance ourselves from the holiday and leave it to the commercial world. Well, I think this is "throwing the baby out with the bathwater." We certainly need to have the right idea about our celebration. We should also realize that looking at tinsel, the displays, the gifts and all the celebrations, some folks will stop and say, "Something must have happened here."

Something did happen here. John tells us what happened in 1:14 of his gospel, "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." We need to do all we can to let folks know about this. Celebrating Christmas can do that - help us to let folks know something did happen. And when they get the message - this will truly stop them in their tracks!

Pastor Steve Willis
Monday December 26, 2016

"It is the day after Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring not even a mouse. The stockings that hung by the chimney with care are all empty now - we had nothing to wear! So off to the mall we went quick as a flash to shop 'til we drop and spend our Christmas cash!" This may be the experience of many - is it yours? Oh, those after holiday sales! Aren t they wonderful? What bargains!

Many of us might be looking for bargains when it comes to our relationship with Christ. We look for shortcuts and just enough worship so that our consciences are appeased and we feel we have done what we should for God. Well, don t be looking for any after holiday sales when it comes to your walk with God! He deserves and wants our best.

In the scripture, we read how a time when some folks were looking for bargains and took shortcuts in their worship. God said to them "'My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the nations,' says the LORD Almighty. 'But you profane it by saying of the Lord's table, `It is defiled,' and of its food, `It is contemptible.' And you say, `What a burden!' and you sniff at it contemptuously,' says the LORD Almighty. 'When you bring injured, crippled or diseased animals and offer them as sacrifices, should I accept them from your hands?' says the LORD." Later God scolds them by saying, "'Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, 'How do we rob you?' In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse--the whole nation of you--because you are robbing me.'" (Malachi 1:11-13 and 3:8-9)

Don't try to short-change God! Don't look for bargains in your worship of Him! He has seen this before and recognizes our poor efforts. God gave us his best gift - what are we giving Him in return?

Pastor Steve Willis
Sunday December 25, 2016

One of my favorite Christmas movies is "A Christmas Story." You are probably familiar with this movie because, thanks to TNT, you have multiple opportunities to watch it today. In this story a little boy named Ralphie is fervently wishing for what he would consider to be the ultimate gift - "An Official Red Ryder Carbine Action 200 Shot Range Model Air Rifle." Ralphie is told by more than one person (even Santa Claus) that "you'll shoot your eye out," which leaves him a little discouraged, but still hopeful he will get what he wants. Ralphie does receive what he wants, but not without a good deal of anxious anticipation before his father hands it to him on Christmas morning.

As you celebrate the birth of Christ on this special day, enjoy the hope that you have because of the Gift you have received. You perhaps got a few gifts today, but maybe you didn't. Whether you did or didn't really is of little consequence when you have your focus upon the Eternal Gift we celebrate on this day.

Some of the gifts given today were thought about long before they were given, some may have been last-minute frantic purchases. The Gift God has prepared for us was planned long before the creation of the universe. God knew exactly what we would need, when we would need it, and what he would need to do to provide this Gift. I Peter 1:20 tells us Jesus is the Gift that "was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake."

I hope you are celebrating your Gift today. If you aren't, the Gift is there for you - right there - can't you see it? All you need do is reach out and take it. Unlike Ralphie who didn't know if he was going to get what he wanted until the "big day," we can know about our Gift. We don't have to fret anxiously about whether we are going to receive our Gift or not. Our Father doesn't keep us worrying about whether what we want is "under the tree" or not. God's Gift is there for us.

Merry Christmas!

Pastor Steve Willis
Saturday December 24, 2016

I love poinsettias I think they are really pretty. Poinsettias are native to Central America and southern Mexico. The plant was introduced to the United States in 1828 by John Roberts Poinsett, He was the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico and an amateur botanist. He was captivated by their appearance and brought some back to his native South Carolina for propagation. They have become welcome adornments of our surroundings during our Christmas celebration.

There is a legend telling about the gift of a young Mexican girl to Christ that explains how poinsettias first came to be part of the Christmas celebration. You can look this up on the internet sorry I don t have the space to include it here.

There are many ways in which the poinsettia is an appropriate plant to use as a Christmas symbol. Their green and red color, their heart-shaped leaves, and their star-shaped blooms are just a few of the poinsettia's characteristics that have given rise to observations of symbolism with respect to Christ and Christmas. I should not fail to mention the symbolism of the red representing the blood of Christ.

Another symbolic characteristic has to do with what is necessary to get the plant to "bloom." As you perhaps know, the red parts of the poinsettia are not actually the blooms, but are specialized leaves. They become red when the plant is deprived of light over a period of time, a process known as photoperiodism. In other words, the plant has to partially "die" in order for the red to appear. Of all the symbolism of the plant s association with Christmas, to me this is the most powerful.

Even as the poinsettia has to be "buried" to produce its vivid red color that makes it so appealing, the Savior whom we celebrate at Christmas had to die and be buried in order to accomplish what he wanted for you and for me. The poinsettia is brought into the light after the "burial" to thrill us with its resplendent appearance. Our Savior was brought back into the light to transform us with his redemptive atonement. Paul wrote, "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, he was buried, (and) he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures," (I Corinthians 15:3-4) With the poinsettia, this may be just a matter of symbolism, but with Christ it is a matter of salvation.

Pastor Steve Willis
Friday December 23, 2016

How would you describe the Christmas spirit? Is it a friendly exchange between friends or family that takes place at this time of year? Is it caroling with a church group at the local nursing home? Is it Christmas dinners, parties and gift exchanges? Is it going to special Christmas services? What about that good feeling that we get when we help others? These might all be a part of the Christmas spirit, but I am not sure they truly define what the Christmas spirit actually is.

In his book Knowing God, J. I. Packer writes, We talk glibly of the Christmas spirit, rarely meaning more by this than sentimental jollity . . . . It ought to mean the reproducing in human lives of the [temperament] of Him who for our sakes became poor, . . . the spirit of those who, like their Master, live their whole lives on the principle of making themselves poor - spending and being spent - to enrich their fellowmen, giving time, thought, care, and concern to do good to others . . . in whatever way there seems need.

My definition of what Packer is saying is that we should strive to be a Philippians 2 Christian. You need to read the entire chapter, but here is an excerpt to give you the idea of what I am saying, "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!"

This is the real Christmas spirit. If you want to cultivate the Christmas spirit, follow Paul's advice. This is the heart of Christ - this is the heart of Christmas!

Pastor Steve Willis
Thursday December 22, 2016

Have you ever thought about the similarities between the cradle and the tomb? We associate the cradle with the beginning of Christ's earthly existence and the tomb with the end of his earthly existence (plus a few days after his resurrection).

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

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

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

The cradle and the tomb we benefit from both because of the love of the Savior!

Pastor Steve Willis
Wednesday December 21, 2016

John Newton died on December 21, 1807. Many of you know that Newton was the one who penned the great hymn "Amazing Grace." We may not consider Amazing Grace a Christmas carol, but I don't think it would be inappropriate to use it as one. What a marvelous message this song has for us - "Amazing Grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost but now I am found, was blind but now I see."

Newton became a minister and was an influence upon William Wilberforce, the member of Parliament who led the fight to abolish slavery in England. Newton lived the words of the hymn he wrote At one point in his life, he was an immoral slaver. He had been a slave himself, and had given his life to debauchery when the Spirit of God moved upon him. After reading Thomas a Kempis "Imitation of Christ," he realized he needed to allow Christ to transform him from what he was into what he needed to be.

This should be the message at the center of our celebration of Christ's birth - Christ came to change lives. Christ states his purpose for coming into the world in Luke 19:10, "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."

Why did Christ come into the world? Why is there a story of his birth to celebrate? Luke 19:10 gives us the answer. Newton celebrated this and so should we. Christ came for Newton - he came for us! This Christmas, don't forget to celebrate the Amazing Grace of our loving Lord!

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday December 20, 2016

I don't know if you have ever read O. Henry's classic Christmas short story, "The Gift of the Magi." If you haven't, you need to make a point to find a copy and read it. The story is about a struggling young couple that frets over how to go about obtaining the perfect Christmas gift for each other on their limited budget. The man wants to buy his wife gold hair combs for her long, radiant hair. The wife wants to buy the husband a platinum fob chain for his gold heirloom pocket watch. Neither can afford these expensive gifts.

Independently of each other they make ironic decisions. The wife sells her hair to buy the watch chain, and the husband sells his watch to buy the gold combs. The moment of discovery is priceless as they realize the sacrifice they have made for each other.

A priceless moment of discovery for us is when we come to grips with the great sacrifice Christ made for us. He gave his life for us, and the appropriate response for us is to give our lives to him. Christ exchanged his throne for a manger and a cross. This certainly does not seem be a fair exchange, but it is an exchange he chose for us. Romans 6:23 reminds us, "The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life though Jesus Christ, our Lord." What a gift exchange!

Pastor Steve Willis
Monday December 19, 2016

Nicholas, bishop of Myra, is an interesting figure. He was the original Santa Claus, according to some historians. Born into a fairly well-to-do family, he had a penchant for generosity. One tale speaks of his saving the daughters of a local merchant who had fallen on hard times. Before they could be sold as slaves, Nicholas slipped to their house one night and threw money in a window. This gave them a dowry, and allowed for their marriage. After his death on December 6, 343, people began the practice of secret gift-giving on this date to commemorate his life. Hmmm, gift exchange? Where have we heard of this before?

Nicholas was a godly man who was part of the Council of Nicaea that formulated the Nicene Creed. He had been imprisoned during the Diocletian Persecution and was freed by Emperor Constantine. In 1087, when the Turks invaded the land where he was buried, his bones were shipped to Italy to prevent them from being desecrated. Along with the bones went the story of his generosity and the practice of celebrating on the anniversary of his death. Thus the custom of gift-giving was introduced to Western Europe.

Obviously, his story has become intertwined with the celebration of the birth of Christ. Considering who he was and what he did, this is not such a bad thing. The secularization of the Christmas holiday has diluted the story of Christ's gift and also the story of a marvelous person who was devoted to Christ and to glorifying God.

,p> Let's make sure we don't forget the character of St. Nicholas in the midst of our current idea of Santa Claus.. Psalms 112:5-6 says, "Good will come to him who is generous and lends freely, who conducts his affairs with justice. Surely he will never be shaken; a righteous man will be remembered forever."

The example of Nicholas of Myra is misconstrued and misapplied in our current day, but the spirit of generosity that was manifest in the life of Nicholas of Myra still exists. We need to make sure our lives are characterized by the same spirit of generosity.

Pastor Steve Willis
Sunday December 18, 2016

I watched a Christmas special recently where a family had a Christmas tradition of playing a game that featured each person writing something positive or encouraging about all the other folks in the room. The thoughts were written on individual slips of paper and each family member would read out loud all the statements that were made about him or her. They would then try to guess who wrote each one. The game was incidental to the plot line that was being followed in the show, but I found it quite interesting. It looked to be a great exercise, especially for a holiday tradition.

As I watched the game unfold, one thought that came to me was that this little exercise should take place all throughout the year, not just at Christmas. This should be a feature of all families, and I think it should be a feature of the family that is the church. We should make it a point to lift up and encourage each other through words, notes, or other means of communication.

Do you have someone you need to encourage? Is there someone in your family who could benefit from a kind word from you? Proverbs 16:24 tells us, "Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones." This is true at Christmas and all the year through. Share gracious words with others - they can be a precious gift.

Pastor Steve Willis
Saturday December 17, 2016

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis
Friday December 16, 2016

In his Christmas address in 1942, Franklin Roosevelt said, "I say that loving our neighbor as we love ourselves is not enough-that we as a Nation and as individuals will please God best by showing regard for the laws of God. There is no better way of fostering good will toward man than by first fostering good will toward God. If we love Him we will keep His Commandments."

Christmas sometimes causes us to think about our response to God in a way that no other holiday does. If you find yourselves contemplating what you might do to please God more with your life, the advice of a former president sounds like a good place to start. What Roosevelt says is so true. In order for us to have a good relationship with others, we need to first have a good relationship with God. As we cultivate our relationship with the Father, we will relate to others in the way he wants.

The angels declared to the shepherds, "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will toward men (Luke 2:14)." When we have peace with God, when we have a good relationship with Him, we will want to spread his love to others. We will want to love others the way he loves us. We will want to do good things for others because of what we know God has done for us. Loving God, and realizing how much he loves us, reminds us of how much we should love others. In this way, we will have "good will toward men."

Pastor Steve Willis
Thursday December 15, 2016

As a young boy one of my favorite TV programs was "Superman." The progam would start with the announcer saying, "Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, it's Superman!" Another slogan that arose from this show was "Look, up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! No, it's Superman!"

The Superman character was created by Jerry Siegle and Joe Shuster in 1932. He made his first comic book appearance in 1938. I don't know this to be certain, but my guess has been that Superman was created as a response to the Great Depression. Folks were looking for a hero - someone who could take care of the problems they were facing. They were looking for someone to save the world.

Whether or not this idea about Superman's creation is accurate, we do know that Someone has come to save the world. He is not fictional, he is not a comic book character, he is real. John writes about his coming in the first chapter of his Gospel. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. . .The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. . .The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-4; 6; 14)." Christ came into the world to provide the light that was necessary to save those who were in the world. The first chapter tells us that "as many as received him he gave the right to become children of God ( v. 12). He had the power to save the world as the Creator of the world.

As we celebrate this season, remember that the Savior of the world has come. He is real, he is alive, he is here. He is "faster than a speeding bullet. . ." and so much more. Celebrate our Savior!

Pastor Steve Willis
Wednesday December 14, 2016

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday December 13, 2016

"Silent Night" is one of my favorite Christmas carols. Well, it's my favorite and about a gazillion other folk's. I appreciate the carol for many reasons, and one is the situation which brought us the song. Perhaps you are familiar with the story behind the composition of "Silent Night." Let me share it with you in case you aren't.

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

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

Many mistakenly think that the Christmas Story is about God's last minute changes that were necessitated because his original design didn't work. This is not the case. What took place in Bethlehem, and all that took place with regard to the life of Christ, was part of God's plan all along.

Ephesians 1:9-10 says, "He made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ." The event we are celebrating did not come about because God had to make a last-minute switch from the organ to the guitar. He intended to play the guitar all along.

Pastor Steve Willis
Monday December 12, 2016

Elvis Presley had a big hit in 1957 with the song "Blue Christmas." This song was written by Billy Hays and Jay Johnson in the '40's. It was first recorded by Earnest Tubb in 1948. The song is about an unrequited love that is causing a person to be low emotionally around the holiday season.

Now, the intent of the song may be a little "light hearted," but there are a number of folks who are experiencing a blue Christmas. The holiday season triggers some depression caused by a recent loss, or maybe a loss that took place close to the holidays, or some other circumstance that brings pain. Remember to pray for these folks who may be struggling at this time of year. A visit, a kind word, a card might be appropriate to help them know they have folks thinking of them.

We need to remember the hope that we have because of what God gave to us. Focus on his promise, focus on his provision, focus on the hope he gives to us and the help he provides for us. Romans 5:15 & 17 speaks of the gift he has given to us, "But the gift is not like the trespass. . .For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ."

Allowing ourselves to focus on the Gift helps us to remember why this time of year brings us joy. God has given to us something we could never provide for ourselves. To those of you who are struggling emotionally, know our prayers are with you, and know that the Savior loves you and is there for you. Remember His Gift.

Pastor Steve Willis
Sunday December 11, 2016

Maybe you have or maybe you haven't, but I have thought a great deal about the significance of God sending angels to shepherds rather than religious or political pooh-bahs. The significance of this was the insignificance of the shepherds. Who were they? They were men in a job that was necessary but not necessarily desirable. Their work demanded their undivided attention, yet others paid little attention to them. The animals they kept were important to their society for many reasons, but not many in their society would think of any reason to consider a shepherd as a person of importance. But God spoke to them, these outcasts of the synagogue, and invited them to share in perhaps the most intimate of moments when divinity and humanity met.

God spoke to them because these shepherds, like so many who appear indifferent to spiritual things, were quietly longing for God. This was not the only reason they received the privilege of visiting the newly-born God-Man, but it is so blessedly significant to see God reaching for those in the community that the community would choose to reject. There is a great deal of symbolism at work when we see shepherds holding a crucial role in the drama of the nativity. The shepherd is an important figure throughout the scripture for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the picture we see of a loving God providing for struggling, hopeless, lost humanity what was needed to bring freedom from the struggle.

The angels' appearance to the shepherds shows us how much we need a Shepherd. It also shows us how much God wants to be our Shepherd. It is an expression of God s heart for us that is revealed in Ezekiel 34:31, "You are my flock, the sheep of my pasture. You are my people, and I am your God. I, the Sovereign LORD, have spoken!"

Pastor Steve Willis
Saturday December 10, 2016

At this time of year, there are many articles that appear in magazines, on TV talk shows, radio shows, and on the internet about how to handle the stress of the holidays. Advice such as do your Christmas shopping early, how to do baking, dealing with parties, and other tips, is given freely.

Christmas is to be a time to enjoy and to celebrate, yet because of what we have done with the holiday, it often becomes something else - a stress inducer. This, of course, is just wrong. The idea that the celebration has become so stressful is wrong, and most of the advice on how to handle the stress is wrong. What needs to change is not how we manage the things that cause the stress. This is just working on the externals. What needs to change is something within. We need to change our perception of what, actually whom, we celebrate at Christmas and how we should go about our celebration. We need to be more concerned about the Gift and less concerned about gifts.

I know this isn't new advice, but we sometimes need to be reminded. I know I do. If I don't make an effort, I find it easy to get caught up in what Christmas has become instead of what it should be. I want Christmas to be what it should be - a reminder of who Christ is and what Christ means to me rather than how much I need to do. I want Christmas to help me to be a Philippians 3:10 Christian, "I want to know Christ. . ."

Does Christmas help you know Christ more? That should be our focus - that should be our desire. Enjoy Christmas the way you should!

Pastor Steve Willis
Friday December 09, 2016

A dear friend of mine, Mindy Shay, sent a response to the article I posted yesterday. She wondered if I could use it as an impetus for a devotional. Here is her story: "When we lived in Cincinnati, the boys ages were 11, 4 and 2. After I had set up the Nativity I kept noticing that Baby Jesus was gone and I would find him in the kitchen trash. This happened a few times before I put on my spy glasses and set up a surveillance operation. The culprit was 2 year old Marty. When I asked him why he kept throwing Baby Jesus in the trash, he responded, 'I is the BABY of the family!'"

After I picked myself up from the floor because of laughing so hard, I began to do some thinking about little Marty's dilemma. He was simply expressing the fact that he did not want to have someone be a substitute for him. I certainly appreciate his thinking, and understand his reasoning. Why should he have to relinquish his status as the baby of the family? In this scenario, I would agree with him without question.

Adults also have situations where they do not want to have a substitute. Most of us would rather not lose our job to someone else, lose our position on a team to someone else, or even lose our place in line to someone else. We like where we are, we want to be where we are, and we don't want someone taking over for us.

I find no fault for wanting to be the "BABY" in the aforementioned experiences; however, I can think of times when a substitute is a good thing. Actually, I can think of one particular scenario where a substitute is absolutely necessary. This circumstance is the reason we have Nativities.

The BABY in the manger came to be a substitute - not a substitute for Marty and his position in the family, but a substitute for us because of the problem that we face. There are consequences because of our sin. Christ came to be our substitute and took those consequences on himself when he died on the cross. Isaiah 53:6 tells us, "We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all." Marty, and all of us, should be happy because Christ came not just to be a BABY, but to be our SAVIOR.

(Many thanks to Mindy for her idea for today s devotional)

Pastor Steve Willis
Thursday December 08, 2016

A little girl was roaming around her grandmother's house looking at all the Christmas items and trinkets that had been placed on tables and shelves for the holidays. She stopped at a small olive wood nativity scene that had been placed on an end table. She picked up the baby carving, cradled it next to her, and said, "Sleep, Baby Jesus." Of all the ornaments and Christmas knick-knacks in the room, she had singled out Christ.

This is as it should be. We are surrounded by many baubles, trinkets, tinsel, and other trappings of the season. Among the bombardment of Christmas regalia, we need to single out Christ. Christ should be the center of our lives at all times. We shouldn't fall into the error of putting him on some side shelf at this time of year because we are more concerned about other holiday endeavors.

Paul spoke of his desire to single out Christ amidst the cacophony of voices that clamored for his attention, "But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death." (Philippians 3:7 & 10)

Make sure you single out Christ in your life not just at this time of the celebration of his birth, but at all times. And don t let the holiday voices confuse you in your celebration of Christ. Focus your eyes on him, and in this way demonstrate that you understand what is truly important in life.

Pastor Steve Willis
Wednesday December 07, 2016

Today is the 75th anniversary of the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii which brought the United States into World War II. I remember my father talking about this day. He was in the Army and was stationed near Ft. Worth, Texas. He was on his way to a football game, but never made it. The news about the attack went out and that all military personnel were to report to their base. It wasn't long before Dad found himself on a troop ship leaving San Francisco bound for the South Pacific. That would be his home for the next 4 years.

Our relationship with the Japanese has improved dramatically over the years, but our country has never forgotten this event. It would not be possible to forget an event that directly involved more than 16,000,000 U.S. citizens and had a tremendous impact on life for the entire population. Today there are still many who recall this day, but the numbers are shrinking. Of the 16,000,000 who actually served during World War II, only 620,000 are still alive.

There is one thing on which I would like to focus as we reflect on the events of this day - the need to expect the unexpected. We do not know what circumstance is waiting for us just around the next bend in the road. We don t know what might happen. Obviously, we can't be prepared for all things, but realizing the potential of unexpected events can go a long way to helping us prepare for our response to such occurrences. The U.S. was taken by surprise on this day 75 years ago; however, the reaction of the country was what was important. The loss we suffered did not destroy us, but led to a response that ultimately produced victory. The victory was not secured easily. The response involved a great deal of time, cost, effort, and the loss of almost 420,000 U.S. lives, but the outcome was certainly more preferable than the alternative.

We have a similar choice when we face an unexpected circumstance that devastates us. We can allow it to destroy us, or we can respond in such a way as to eventually become victorious. And certainly an outcome of victory is preferable to the alternative. This requires an investment of time and effort, but we know we will not be alone. God will be with us each step along the way to our recovery.

The prophet Jeremiah declared, Why are you like a man taken by surprise, like a warrior powerless to save? You are among us, O LORD, and we bear your name; do not forsake us (Jeremiah 14:9)." Here he is commenting on what appeared to be a "surprise attack" against God and his people. What he is saying is there really isn't any such thing - God is never surprised, and his people can count on him to be present when they face an unexpected foe.

This happens to us. We face unexpected "foes." When this occurs, know that we have One beside us for whom nothing is a surprise. He will lead us along the road of healing.

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday December 06, 2016

We are busy at our church making preparations for our Christmas musical, "Come and Adore." This involves a lot of work and planning, but it is so neat to see it all come together. The set for the drama is pretty much ready, the choir just about has all the music down, and the soloists are ready to sing. When it all comes together, it is a great time of celebration that is the result of planning and preparation.

As we were rehearsing this past Sunday, a thought came to me. I wonder what it must have been like in heaven just before Christ came to the earth. Preparations had been made from eternity past for this event. God had ordained just what would take place. Then, the time came for everything to happen.

Luke makes a very simple, to-the-point, statement about this in his Gospel, "While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn." (Luke 2:6-7) There are a few more verses about the angels and the shepherds. In the second chapter of Matthew we read about the visit of the magi that took place later. That is it. God chose to record these details in a a brief fashion. We don't get a glimpse into what must have occurred before Christ's coming. We don't see the anticipation, the work, the planning. However, God revealed to us what we need to know. A statement of the fact that he did send his Son, just as he promised he would. I am so glad he did.

As our anticipation runs high for the coming of Christmas, take time to reflect on God's planning for us, his gift to us, his love for us. When I see someone open a gift from me, and see the excitement on their face when they see what it is, I am so very happy. Maybe that is how God felt on that night so long ago when He gave his Gift to the world.

Pastor Steve Willis
Monday December 05, 2016

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis
Sunday December 04, 2016

I am looking forward to watching "It's a Wonderful Life" again soon. Since it s Christmas time, it will be on at some point. I have no idea how many times I have seen this movie, but I certainly never enjoy it any less. The reason I enjoy it so much is because of the "Moral to the Story" it presents: your life means more than you think.

I suppose I need to be careful here and not assume that everyone has seen the movie so let me give a quick synopsis. A man, George Bailey, struggles with the perception that his life has not really mattered. Through an unusual (and actually unrealistic, but it is a movie) circumstance, he finds out just how much impact his life has made on others. A line from the movie states the point, "Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches another's. When he isn't around, he leaves an awful hole."

We will never have the opportunity to see all the differences we have made in other's lives as did George Bailey in the movie, but rest assured you have made more impact than you know. We need to realize our lives do touch others, and we need to live in such a way so as to influence others beneficially. Make sure your ways follow God so that others who look at your life may see His ways. Proverbs 2:20 speaks of the path of good people: "Thus you will walk in the ways of the good and keep to the paths of the righteous.."

If someone follows your ways, would they be following the "ways of the good?" Remember you indeed have an influence on others. What type of influence you have is up to you. "It's a Wonderful Life" when you follow God s ways.

Pastor Steve Willis
Saturday December 03, 2016

I enjoy Christmas for so many reasons. One of these reasons is seeing the happiness on another person's face when they are taking part in a celebration or opening a present. It was truly a pleasure watching the faces of my girls when they opened their presents on Christmas morning. What a treat to see people enjoying themselves!

God enjoys seeing His children having a good time. He wants to see joy in our lives, Nehemiah 8:10-12 describes a celebration that was prescribed by God for the people upon the completion of the wall: "Nehemiah said, 'Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.' The Levites calmed all the people, saying, 'Be still, for this is a sacred day. Do not grieve.' Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them." God wanted to see his people celebrating His provision.

The celebration we have at this time of the year isn't prescribed in the scripture, but the events we are celebrating certainly are. Christ was born of a virgin according to scripture, he was born in the city (Bethlehem) where scripture said he was to be born, and he came into the world at the time he was to be born according to scripture. We do indeed have something to celebrate. Remember the angel's message to the shepherds about "good tidings of great joy?" (Luke 2:10) We should indeed celebrate with great joy.

Enjoy your family festivities, the pageants, the musicals, and whatever else you have planned. God does indeed like to watch his children enjoying themselves. We have a reason to celebrate, and we need to show God our pleasure because of His provision.

Pastor Steve Willis
Friday December 02, 2016

The other day my wife commented, "You know, without the lights on, I really don't like the looks of our Christmas tree this year. Having the lights on makes all the difference." I thought to myself, "Well said." Having the lights on does make all the difference, and not just when it comes to the Christmas tree standing in our front room. Light makes all the difference in so many situations, including our lives.

Without the light of Christ within us, we are totally different beings. We are lost and confused.. However, when we allow Christ to come into our lives, He is the Light that transforms us, changes us, and takes our lives in a different direction.

At this time of year, we are celebrating the entrance of the Light into the world. There are so many passages which proclaim Christ as the Light that came into the world to change our lives. Matthew 4:16 says, "The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned." John 1:9 describes Christ as "The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world." In John 8:12, Christ said of himself, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."

Light does indeed make a difference. Whether you like your Christmas tree without the lights on is of no real consequence. However, how you feel about your life without the Light of Christ in it is of great consequence. Let the light of Christ be the guiding force in your life!

Pastor Steve Willis
Friday December 02, 2016

The other day my wife commented, "You know, without the lights on, I really don't like the looks of our Christmas tree this year. Having the lights on makes all the difference." I thought to myself, "Well said." Having the lights on does make all the difference, and not just when it comes to the Christmas tree standing in our front room. Light makes all the difference in so many situations, including our lives.

Without the light of Christ within us, we are totally different beings. We are lost and confused.. However, when we allow Christ to come into our lives, He is the Light that transforms us, changes us, and takes our lives in a different direction.

At this time of year, we are celebrating the entrance of the Light into the world. There are so many passages which proclaim Christ as the Light that came into the world to change our lives. Matthew 4:16 says, "The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned." John 1:9 describes Christ as "The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world." In John 8:12, Christ said of himself, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."

Light does indeed make a difference. Whether you like your Christmas tree without the lights on is of no real consequence. However, how you feel about your life without the Light of Christ in it is of great consequence. Let the light of Christ be the guiding force in your life!

Pastor Steve Willis
Thursday December 01, 2016

Today is December 1, the "unofficial" first day of winter. Winter actually doesn't start until later this month, but for some reason many of us, myself included, think of December 1 as the beginning of winter. Because of our unusual autumn, we may have wondered if winter was really going to happen this year. The temperatures have been elevated above the norm for most of our fall. We ve also been a little dry. Then, along comes December 1, and almost right on cue, the temperatures have started dropping. In addition, we have had some rain recently. The change seemed to occur right on time as we flipped the page on the calendar.

Someone else on whom we can rely for having perfect timing is God. God always knows the best time to do things. He has never been wrong in this department, and will never be wrong. God knows what we need and when we need it when it comes to our personal lives, and he also knows the right timing for events on a bigger stage. We often struggle to accept God's timing, but we would be much better off if we do.

A case in point with regard to God's timing is the entrance of Christ into the world. As we come to the time of our celebration of this event, we need to include acknowledgement of God's perfect timing in our observance. Galatians 4:4-5 says, "But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons."

We can always rely on the timing of God. He knows what to do when it needs to be done. The hard part for us is to trust his timing. Don't you think it's just about time that we do?

Pastor Steve Willis

My Favorite Bible Verse

Connie McCall

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

Pauline Phillips

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

Lois Strole

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

Week Of March 26th, 2017

5:45 PM
6:30 PM
Wed. Mar 29th
Dinner
Cross Training/Bible Study
9:00 AM
Sat. Apr 1st
Prayer Time

Happy Birthday

Dorothy Stephrnson - Tami Michl
Sun. Mar 26th
Ashlee Phillips
Tue. Mar 28th
Lawrence Klier
Wed. Mar 29th
Mitchell Tarr
Fri. Mar 31st

Happy Anniversary

Richard & Margaret Mitchell
Wed. Mar 29th

March Ministry Schedule

Assisting in Worship
John Dryden Sr.
5th
Eric Schmidt
12th
Rein Schmidt
19th
Brad Tarr
26th
Brad Tarr
Communion

Ushers
Jay Hart
Ray Diel
Richard Mitchell
Sam White

Special Music
 
5th
Lawrence Klier
12th
 
19th
Lawrence Klier
26th
Kent Klier
Song Leader

Instrumentalists
Jeannie Chiddix
Piano
Cheryl Earnest
Organ

Nursery Workers
Michelle Fulton
5th
Becky Catt
12th
Maria Green
19th
Donna Watkins
26th

Greeters
F. Read & A. Kirts
5th
Brad & Cindy Davidson
12th
Tom & Betty Yaw
19th
Brad & Amy Tarr
26th

Jr. Church
Bridgett, Becky, Anthea, Sarah
5th
Steve, Rachel, Jayne, Bob
12th
Adam, Brooke, Ross, Lynn
19th
Ross, Jennifer, Jerod, Brooke
26th

Jennifer Meinhart - Brooke Wolf
Hostesses

My Favorite Bible Verse

Beverly Brackett

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things.
Philippians 4:8

Madonna Klier

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

Deloris Staley

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

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

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

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

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

My Favorite Bible Verse

Lawrence Klier

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

Scherry Willis

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

Richard Lewis

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Steve Willis - Pastor

My Favorite Bible Verse

Lawrence Klier

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

Scherry Willis

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

Richard Lewis

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

March 1, 2017

March - in like a lamb, out like a lion, and vice-versa. I don''t know how long this statement of prognostication has been around, but I have heard it all of my life. Sometimes it is true, and sometimes it is not.

In many instances, the scripture uses the imagery of a lamb and of a lion to depict the characteristics of a certain era or a certain person. The peacefulness of the Kingdom of God is described in this way, "The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox." (Isaiah 65:25)

In the scripture, Jesus is both described as a Lamb and as a Lion. His willingness to be our sacrifice is spoken of in Isaiah 53:7, "He was led like a lamb to the slaughter." John the Baptist makes this proclamation about Christ when Christ came to be baptized, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29) This word picture highlights the fact that Christ is the sacrificial lamb for us.

Christ is described as both a Lion and Lamb. "See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah. . .Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne." His strength and authority are on display, as well as the fact that he is a sacrifice for the world.

This would almost appear to be an oxymoron - how can Christ be described as both a Lion and a Lamb? Well, he is, of course, the Son of God and can be described in whatever way he wants. Being described in this way shows for us that he is indeed the all-sufficient One for all of our needs. The Lamb of God provides for our spiritual needs through the gift of his life. The Lion of Judah provides strength for us as we walk along in life, and will bring leadership to our world as well as the establishment of perfect peace.

March may exit differently that its entrance, but our Savior is a Lamb and a Lion for us as the same time. Through Him, all of our needs are provided. Pastor Steve Willis

My Favorite Bible Verse

Gloria Bradley

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

Ruth Spraggins

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

Carolyn Woods

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