Sunday January 26, 2020

There are times when we are sure of our position on an issue, but then a critic's forceful, perhaps even biting criticism, of our position makes us have second thoughts. It is important for us to have the confidence to stand up in the face of critics when we know we are right. When we know we are objectively correct, to change our story in the face of a challenge shows dishonesty. When we know what is right, we should confidently stand where we are. This demonstrates integrity. This is especially true in the realm of spiritual matters.

David was facing critics because of his stand for the Lord. He was being falsely accused and assailed because of his position. In Psalm 26:1-3 he says, "Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have led a blameless life; I have trusted in the LORD without wavering. Test me, O LORD, and try me, examine my heart and my mind; for your love is ever before me, and I walk continually in your truth." What did he do when he faced his critics? He put his trust in God and allowed God to be the basis of his confidence.

This is what we can do. In all matters, whether you are talking of matters of faith or simply matters that come up in life, God will help you to stand firm in the face of critics. He can give you the self-confidence you need as you take your stand. Be confident in the Lord!

Pastor Steve
Saturday January 25, 2020

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

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

Character faults seem to pop out at us when we observe them in others, but usually we are slow to see our own. We need to be careful about our short-sightedness when it comes to our flaws. We should allow the mirror of God's Word to reflect that which we need to see and to change. It is much too easy to fall into the trap of criticizing others. Don't do that! Pray for insight and let God smooth out the wrinkles of your life. Proverbs 16:10 says, "How much better to get wisdom than gold, to get insight rather than silver!" Pray for valuable insight!

Pastor Steve
Friday January 24, 2020

Memory is an interesting thing. I am to the point in my life now where I can remember all sorts of insignificant items, but there are sometimes I have to stop and think about my own address or something else of real importance.

The "memory" in machines is also really fascinating to me. I sometimes carry around a little thing that I can plug into the USB port of a computer and store data or share data. This little device has more than 100 times the amount of memory of the first computer that I owned.

Of course, if you compare all this to God's memory, there is no contest except in one little detail. Psalm 103:10-12 says, "For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us." Isn't that something? The omniscient God chooses to totally eradicate my transgressions when I come to him and ask forgiveness. He chooses not to remember them. That's memory loss that is to our benefit!

Pastor Steve
Thursday January 23, 2020

I have written before about my dislike of automated answering services that have proliferated in the past few years. A recent commercial indicates that someone must have heard my complaints. Of course, I say this tongue-in-cheek. I don't think my voice counts for much in the business world, but a commercial I heard on the radio indicated that, at the very least, I am not alone in my opinion of this supposed innovation.

The commercial starts with the sound of a machine taking a call, you know, the familiar "press one for whatever." It then segues into a voice-over talking about a service that uses live telephone respondents. The narrator speaks of the disdain he has for automated services and the advantages to having live people answer your phone. Wow! What a great idea! Using real people to answer the telephone!

Please forgive my sarcasm, but I think they might have something here. Of course, there would be a fee to utilize this service. Ah - now I see what is actually going on. Someone is using the dislike of automation to fuel an advancement where money can be made! That is the actual motive. Well, of course it is, and I am not so naïve that I didn't see the idea behind this "innovation."

This brings me to an important issue regarding motives. The Bible has a lot to say about our motives. A motive is the underlying reason for any action. Proverbs 16:2 says, "All a person's ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the LORD." Because the human heart is very deceitful, we can easily fool ourselves about our own motives. We can pretend that we are choosing certain actions for God or the benefit of others, when in reality we have selfish reasons. God is not fooled by our selfishness and is "a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." (Hebrews 4:12)

Now, perhaps I should not be so quick to judge the motives of those who are behind the movement back to "live" telephone answering services, but I can decipher my own motives. I need to constantly guard my inner drive so that I am sure I am pursuing efforts for the right reason. I may fool others, but I will never fool God.

Pastor Steve
Wednesday January 22, 2020

Jesus was at Caesarea Philippi with his disciples. This location was a little out of their territory and was a place of spiritual oppression. It is located in the midst of the Golan Heights in the northern part of Israel. A temple to the Greek god Pan had been built there and it was also a location of one of the "Gates of Hades". Even today, when you visit the ruins you sense desolation, which is appropriate as Pan was the god of desolate places. It was here that Jesus asked his disciples two incisive questions. First, he asked, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" (Matthew 16:13) Read the passage and you will learn their responses to this. Then he asked a more penetrating question, "But what about you? Who do you say I am?" (16:15)

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

Pastor Steve
Tuesday January 21, 2020

An old adage goes "take time to smell the roses." I am always impressed by how much more I see of things when I walk by them as to when I drive by, or at least I was when I used to be able to walk by things. When you are driving, you can't afford to be looking around too much. You need to keep your eyes on the road I did find this out the hard way. And, when you are speeding by things, you simply don't have the time to take in all the details you can when you are going at a slower pace. I can drive by a location 10 times, and then walk by it once and say, "Well, I never noticed that before."

The obvious lesson here is that sometimes we need to slow down and take in more detail. This is why we have such comments in the Bible as are found in Psalm 37:7, "Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him;" and Psalm 46:10, ""Be still, and know that I am God;" A literal translation of the "be still" in 46:10 is "cease striving." In other words, slow down, observe, and listen. This is something we need to do more of - whether it be in our spiritual lives or in life in general. "Be still" and see how much more you see!

Pastor Steve
Monday January 20, 2020

We experience warning signs throughout our lives. I remember hearing a story about two guys standing beside a road with large signs that read, "The End is Near!" and "Turn Around Now!" A driver yelled out as he sped by, "Leave us alone, you religious nuts!" Soon the men heard screeching tires followed by a loud splash. One man said to the other, "Do you think we should just have a sign that reads, 'Bridge out ahead?'" Sorry, I know, but let me forge ahead with my point before you quit reading.

As I was saying, we experience warning signs. There are warning signs that tell us of things to watch for on the road ahead or that the floor is wet or there are power lines we need to avoid. There are other things we call warning signs that really aren't literal signs at all, but woe to the person who decides to ignore them. For example, chest pain is usually a warning sign of a heart attack. It's always a good idea to pay attention to warning signs.

We would be wise to heed the warning signs we find in scripture. Proverbs 13:1-14 lists a number of warnings for us: 1) Don t ignore instruction and rebuke (v.1); 2) Guard your mouth (v.3); 3) Beware of the pursuit of riches (v.7); 4) Avoid dishonesty (v.11); 5) Don t disrespect God s Word (v.13). Proverbs 13:14 says, "The Word of God 'is a fountain of life, to turn [us] away from the snares of death' (v.14)."

Pay attention to the signs. They are there for a reason.

Pastor Steve
Sunday January 19, 2020

These words were displayed in the home of a follower of Christ, "You love Jesus only as much as you love the person you love the least." Wow, this is a rather convicting thought, isn't it? There are similar words in 1 John 4:20, "He who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?"

We often find ourselves positions where loving someone is a little difficult because of some situation or circumstance or some quirk in the relationship with that person. But we need to strive to love others, even when loving others is a difficult exercise.

This is what we see in Christ when he was living on earth, and is certainly a characteristic of the Father. How else can you explain why God pursues us in spite of our bent against him? There seems to be no better way to show the love of Christ than to show others who are hard to love that we love them. When we do this, we certainly fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).

Pastor Steve
Saturday January 18, 2020

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
Friday January 17, 2020

A very valuable practice that is followed in many high schools across the nation is that of job shadowing. This is where a young person spends some time with an individual as they are on the job so that the young person might have an opportunity to see if this is something they would like to pursue. It truly is a worthwhile endeavor. Both of my girls were involved in job shadowing in high school and both were happy to have these experiences so they might make a more informed choice about job choices.

The apostle Paul refers to something similar to job shadowing in I Corinthians 11:1 where he says, "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ." In job shadowing, the person is looking for an example of someone to follow. We should realize that, as followers of Christ, we should be good examples for others to follow in order for them to see the benefits of following Christ.

What kind of an example are we as we participate in the process of "job shadowing." We should show others what a life dedicated to God can be like. You may never know who is watching, so do your best to follow the example of Christ so you can be a good example to follow.

Pastor Steve
Thursday January 16, 2020

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

Jesus took Peter, James, and John to the top of a mountain in Israel. There, he was "transfigured," and the disciples witnessed him in a state of brilliance and glory. Moses and Elijah appeared, and the three men talked. As they were leaving, Peter said, "Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah." (Luke 9:33) The text then tells us that "he did not know what he was saying." (vs. 33) I find it interesting that this event is recorded in Luke just after Christ has told them the cost of following him. Each person must "deny (himself), and take up (his) cross daily". (Luke 9:23) Through these events, Christ's followers are reminded of what they have through him, but more importantly are reminded of what they should be doing with what they have. They cannot stay on the mountain. They need to come down to the work.

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

Pastor Steve
Wednesday January 15, 2020

In spite of the many gray days we have experienced, I have noticed that the days are getting longer. This is, of course, as it should be as we are on the upside of the winter solstice. This is just fine with me.

I don't know if I truly have seasonal affective disorder or not, but I do know I really don't care for the shorter days. It seems the older I get, the more going back to "regular" time in the fall bothers me. I have a real aversion to darkness at 5 p.m. However, that is just the way it is, and I adjust. Still, it leaves me feeling a little blue.

How does one cope with blueness? Well, there are many good things to think about to help me cope with the blues. God has given abundant blessings on which to focus that helps ward off the blues. I read an article some time back that gave these suggestions: Problem: Things seem impossible. Answer: All things are possible with God (Luke 18:27).Problem: Life is often exhausting. Answer: Jesus offers rest for your soul (Matthew 11:28-30). Problem: You can't forgive yourself. Answer: The Lord forgives all who confess their sins to Him (1 John 1:9). Problem: You are afraid. Answer: God will strengthen and help you (Isaiah 41:10). Problem: You are worried and anxious. Answer: "Cast all your cares on God, for He cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7). Problem: You feel alone in this world. Answer: The Lord promises never to leave nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5).

When we feel a little down, know that God can help us with the woes that are bringing us down. Put your problems in the palm of God's hands. He knows how to deal with the blues.

Pastor Steve
Tuesday January 14, 2020

Do you recall what you had to eat three weeks ago today? Most of us probably cannot, unless it was some sort of special event that helps our memory. We don't recall many of our past meals, but the fact that we are still alive and thriving demonstrates that we derived benefit from them.

It is the same way with God's Word. We may not be able to recall all the details of the message, or of a Bible study, or our personal devotions that took place in the past, but we can be assured that we derived benefit from them. We obtain benefit from various sources when it comes to our interaction with the Word - Bible studies, reading literature, personal devotions, or a memorization program. All of these are beneficial, even though we don't recall specific details.

I Peter 2:2 encourages us, "Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation." Babies certainly don't remember all of their feedings, but the feedings nonetheless keep them healthy and help them to grow. We should desire God's Word and make sure we are getting exposure to his Word regularly. The benefit is there in spite of a failure to recollect the details!

Pastor Steve
Monday January 13, 2020

A group that goes by the name of WhistlinDiesel put twenty-foot wooden wheels on a monster 4-wheel-drive truck and then drove it. Well, they sort of drove it. As you can imagine, the wooden wheels, four-by-fours put together with metal bracing, did not fare well. You can check this out on YouTube when you want a little comic relief.

They dug trenches to accommodate the big wheels, put the "wheels" on the truck, and made a valiant attempt to get it to move. After a time of trying to get the vehicle to go on the wheels, they had to rely upon another truck to provide a tow. When that started to work, the wheels simply collapsed under the strain. The wooden wheels, as big and impressive as they were, simply did not supply enough support for the truck.

We need adequate support in life if we want to move forward. If we are trusting in the wrong means of support, we will not advance. We will just "spin our wheels," so to speak, and find ourselves collapsing under the strain.

God is the one who can supply us with the support we need when we face the stressors of life. Isaiah 41:10 tells us, "Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." Further assurance of God's strength for us in our time of struggle is given in Hebrews 4:16, "Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."

Life can throw at us all sorts of things - God is the one that can hold us up when things try to drag us down. Trying to get through life without allowing God to hold us up is akin to trying to drive a monster truck that has wooden wheels. We aren't going to get anywhere, and we will find ourselves in a crumpled heap when the wheels collapse under the load.

Going forward in life with wooden wheels makes for great YouTube videos, but doesn't do a thing in reality. Trying to live without God s support doesn't make good anything. Put your life in his hands and let him keep you out of the trenches.

Pastor Steve
Sunday January 12, 2020

Leonardo da Vinci labored for three years on "The Last Supper." When he finished his masterpiece, he was anxious to see what others might think about the work. He had a good friend whose judgment he trusted come to examine the finished painting to give him a critique. Upon examination of the piece, da Vinci's friend had nothing but praise for the artist's rendition. One by one, he praised the details of "The Last Supper." "Why," he said, "the cup is so realistic I cannot take my eyes from it." "Then the cup is too prominent," da Vinci replied. With that, he took a brush and changed the features of the cup. "Nothing should distract attention from the figure of Christ," said da Vinci.

Nothing should distract attention from the person of Christ. What is drawing attention away from Christ in your life? Christ needs to be our focus. Whatever we do, it should be for Christ. Whatever we have, we should dedicate to Christ. Wherever we go, we should glorify Christ. Not only should he be the central figure in da Vinci's "The Last Supper," Christ should be the central figure in our lives. If he is not, then we need to make some changes.

Paul tells us the central place Christ has. Listen to his words in Philippians 2:9-11, "Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Make sure your life exalts Christ!

Pastor Steve
Saturday January 11, 2020

Have you ever encountered an optical illusion? You know, something that appears to be one thing but actually is something else or is hiding something else? The illusion usually is created by the use of colors, patterns, and other means. Through these means, objects that are actually stationary appear to move, straight lines appear warped, items are hidden, colors appear and disappear, or some other illusion, all through the manipulation of factors in such a way as to create an illusion. Many times you can find these on the comic page of the Sunday newspaper. There are, of course, naturally occurring optical illusions created by light striking objects in just the right way, shapes that create a certain appearance, and other phenomena.

Optical illusions are usually harmless and are actually entertaining. They are fun to look at and provide a challenge as one tries to figure out just what is going on. How in the world do I see red when that box is green? Are those dots really moving? Why does that wall look crooked when it is actually straight? These are why they are illusions!

I do know someone who likes to try to make things appear different from what they really are. However, his ability to do this is not harmless, and he doesn't do it for fun. Satan likes to make the harmful appear harmless so he can injure the innocent. Paul warns of this in II Corinthians 11:13-15, "For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve."

Beware of Satan's tactics. Beware of his use of optical illusions. He is good at making things appear good when they really aren't. He is good at making harmful activities appear harmless. Don't fall for his tactics and tricks. Focus on what is real, and leave the optical illusions for the comic page!

Pastor Steve
Friday January 10, 2020

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

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

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

In Hebrews 11:8, we read, "By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going." This chapter lists the names of men and women who stepped out on faith to follow God, not know exactly where this path might lead.

We are called upon today to exhibit "The Right Stuff" as we follow the Savior. We do not know what following him might bring, but a true follower exhibits commitment in spite of the unknown. We need to follow Christ faithfully and trust him completely with our future.

Pastor Steve
Thursday January 09, 2020

I enjoy being home in Newton after the holidays, but I do miss my kids and grandkids. Of course, my return this time was made a little more difficult as I left two sick grandkids in Galesburg. Many of you know that Casey and Megan's newborn, Edie, ended up spending some time in the hospital because of RSV. Scherry stayed with them and things are looking up. Edie is home now and recuperating and her older brother is doing well also. Thanks for your prayers.

Over the years, we have had a number of memorable things take place during our sojourns back and forth. Once, we were driving home on I-64 from our holiday visit and encountered some slow traffic as we approached a bridge over the Ohio River that connects Louisville, Kentucky, and New Albany, Indiana.

As we crawled forward, we saw the cause for the congestion. A car had stalled just before reaching the crown of the bridge and another motorist had stopped behind the car. The individual was helping the driver of the stalled car push the vehicle out of the way. The driver who had stopped to help had faced a dilemma. Stopping to help would be difficult, and even dangerous, but stopping presented an opportunity to do something for someone else that was necessary.

Often opportunities to do something for someone else are accompanied by difficulties. We can either make the decision to face the difficulty and do what we can, or we can walk away. I admired the driver who faced the difficulty and assisted a fellow motorist. I almost envied him because he had the opportunity and the ability. In my current physical condition, even if I had the opportunity I would not be of much use. However, I have been in similar situations and did what I could. I recall stopping late one night in sub-zero temperatures many years ago to help a driver who had slid off an ice-covered road into a ditch.

As we encounter situations such as these, we have to make the decision whether or not we will allow the difficulty to be a deterrent to our doing what we can. Now, the difficulty may not be one of a physical nature. It might be a difficulty relating to facing detrimental attitudes or opinions if we intervene in a situation. There may be other concerns that make providing assistance difficult. If this is the case, then we simply need to make the decision if we are going to view the difficulty as an opportunity or an obstacle. Paul speaks of his "present difficulty" that was used by the Philippians as an opportunity to help him. He wrote, "I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles." (4:10 & 14) The Philippians overcame the difficulty of providing help for Paul and turned it into an opportunity to share. Will we do the same?

Pastor Steve
Wednesday January 08, 2020

Driving to Ohio for the holidays a couple of weeks ago brought me to an exit ramp that I have found rather intriguing since they completed it a couple of years ago. It is Exit 63 off I-275, the bypass around Cincinnati, on the east side. If you come to this intersection from the north, you encounter an unusual circumstance. Well, it is unusual to me.

The exit has two lanes, which is not unusual, but what is different is that if you want to go east on State Route 32, towards Batavia, you need to make sure you are in the lane on the WEST side. If you want to head west towards Cincinnati on SR 32, make sure you are in the EAST lane. The first time I saw this, I thought they had the signs mixed up and it was all I could do to fight my instinct to be in the east lane since I wanted to go east. But I trusted the road people and followed the sign.

As you no doubt surmised; this was a good thing. Eventually, the lanes take you in your desired direction as the east-bound lane goes over the west, and all is well. After experiencing this, I it was apparent that the people knew what they were doing as the design enhanced traffic flow. What was further ingenious was that they had designed a "safety road" in case there were people like me who just couldn t buy into the direction challenge. Having to use this slowed your progress considerable - it simply was not the best option.

I imagine you know where I am heading for this. We often find that God leads us into circumstances where we are not very clear at the time what the outcome will be. It is not that God wants to fool us, or impress us with his ability, or demonstrate his superiority, although he is vastly superior, he just knows what is best for us and following him is always the best path. His way will always lead us in the right direction. Of course, he is gracious and will provide "safety paths," but as we trust in his design for our lives and yield to his direction, we will experience a superior conclusion.

There are so many biblical examples of this. This past Sunday in my morning message, I looked at the examples of Joseph, Naaman's maid, Daniel, and Mary as people who encountered a "lane twist" in life but continued to follow God with all of their hearts. The conclusion for each is recorded in scripture - I challenge you to research their experiences.

God knows what he is doing to enhance "traffic flow" in our lives, more so than road engineers. I have often found coupling Isaiah 55:8 - 9 with Jeremiah 29:11 helpful. Isaiah says, "'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.'" This is true, but Jeremiah reminds us, "'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.'" Bottom line: trust God's road-building.

Pastor Steve
Tuesday January 07, 2020

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)

Now, 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
Monday January 06, 2020

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

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

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

Pastor Steve
Sunday January 05, 2020

Well, I start my writing today with a correction. In yesterday's article, I mistakenly stated that there was only one bowl game left - not so. As I flipped through channels yesterday morning, I found the 2020 Lockheed Martin Armed Services Bowl that was being played in Fort Worth, TX. My apologies to those involved with this bowl, especially since it honored an important part of our population - those who have served and are now serving our country. God bless all of you.

I decided to keep up with the bowl just to see what might happen. If you remember my article from yesterday, you remember that I wrote how the ending is more important than the beginning, and I used sporting events as an illustration. I made the comment that in many bowl games I watched this season, the team that had the strongest start did not go on to win the game. And it will be the ending of the game that is remembered. The ending is important, but there cannot be an ending without a beginning. So, if you want to have an ending with God, you need a beginning.

Well, the game yesterday did not disappoint me in my observation - Southern Mississippi roared out to a 13-point lead and looked like they would dominate. They didn't. Tulane scored 30 unanswered points and won the game.

So, remember what I said about endings. Also remember why I am even referring to this again - I made a mistake and needed to correct the mistake. This is also something we should do - not be afraid to admit when we are wrong and do what is necessary to correct our mistakes when we make them. I admit I goofed, and I wanted to take care of things. Now, in this case, my mistake is really not one of great consequence. But sometimes our mistakes are of great consequence, and we should be willing to do what we need to do to set things right. I really didn't intend to write about this today, but the more I got into the story, this is the direction I went. I had another article already written. Maybe someone out there needs to hear this advice.

James reminds us, "We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check." (James 3:2) He also reminds us, "Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom." One act that demonstrates wisdom as much as anything else is the willingness to admit mistakes and pursue a resolution. And when it comes to wondering if there are more bowl games, mum is the word for me.

Pastor Steve
Saturday January 04, 2020

Some time ago, I read an article in Sports Illustrated that compared and contrasted great endings with great beginnings. The author noted that great endings are what are remembered. We usually don't remember great beginnings, and in one sense, is there any such thing as a great beginning? In most cases, whether it is a sporting event or some other experience in life, it is the outcome that is important.

This was illustrated in the recent college football bowl season. There were a number of teams that had great beginnings, but the game didn't end in their favor. This happened in just about every game I watched, and to every team that was my pick. So, you may want to lay the loss of your bowl team at my feet. We do have one more game to go. We ll just have to wait and see how that one ends.

Endings are usually more memorable than beginnings, but you don't have endings without beginnings. This is no truer than in our experience as followers of Christ. We are looking forward to a marvelous ending as we will be with our Savior throughout all eternity, but that "great ending" will not occur unless there is a beginning.

In Philippians 1:3-6 Paul writes, "I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." In this passage Paul refers to the "first day" and the beginning of a "good work." Had this not occurred in the lives of the Philippians, there would be no hope or confidence of future joy. The work needs to begin in order for the work to continue and to bring about results.

God wants to begin this work in us but he will not do it forcefully. You need to give your life to him in order for the work to start. If you want to have a great ending with God, you need to have a great beginning with God. In reality, if you have a great beginning with God, your great ending will last forever!

Pastor Steve
Friday January 03, 2020

Many years ago, when I was still in high school, I remember singing at a New Year's Eve service at a church with my brothers and a friend of mine. My mother, Edith Willis, was playing the piano for us. We were singing "Til the Storm Passes By" when suddenly Mom stopped playing. She looked at us for a few seconds, and then resumed right where she had stopped. Later she told me 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
Thursday January 02, 2020

This one is from the "Lightning Striking Twice" department. Four years ago, I wrote a post about my granddaughter, who was not quite two at the time, and a nativity scene. Scherry and I had given her a book that had figures you popped out and created the traditional Christmas adornment. In my article, I commented that, as I was helping Maddie with the book, she was insistent that the little lamb be placed right next to the manger that held the infant Jesus. I wrote about how "theologically astute" my little granddaughter was, as this act of innocence was actually fraught with a great deal of marvelous symbolism.

Well, this took place again the other day. This time it involved my 16-month-old grandson, Maddie's cousin, Sullivan. Sully had received a little "play- with" nativity scene from my cousin, Lisa Winters, as a Christmas gift. Anyway, to be succinct, I was watching him interact with the set and noticed that he didn t put the little lamb next to the manger, he set the lamb IN the manger. This was a little déjà vu moment for me, with some modifications.

Now, I know that neither my granddaughter or my grandson had much realization of the significance of their actions. I know there is a little "grandpa" stuff going on here, but I still can't help but thinking of how a powerful statement was made by their little exercise. I am sure most of you don't have to take a big leap to get on the page with me about what I am going to remind you.

Jesus is indeed the Lamb of God who was sent to take away the sin of the world. There is prophecy in the Old Testament that alludes to this. We have an introduction to this in God s provision of a lamb for Abraham in Genesis 22 to offer as a sacrifice in the place of Abraham s son, Isaac. A more illustrative picture is the symbol of the Passover lamb found first in Exodus 12. And then there is the statement of the prophet Isaiah, "he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth." (Isaiah 53:5) The New Testament contains more direct applications. As Jesus comes to the Jordan River to be baptized by John, John says, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29)

That little Lamb in the manger became our Savior - not the animal lamb, of course, the human/divine Lamb. I don't think my granddaughter or my grandson were knowingly affirming this great biblical truth, but as an active witness, I still think it was pretty neat in both occurrences. And it does reflect truth, a truth with which I hope you agree.

Pastor Steve
Wednesday January 01, 2020

Well, we are in a New Year now - 2020! Can you believe it has been 20 years since the time of "The Great Agitation" when a nervous world awaited the changing of the clock into a new millennium? We were all supposed to disappear or something like that. Well, we didn't, and we are still here.

What about your resolutions this year? Did you make any? How about doing something different in the resolution department this year - why not let God make your resolutions for you? Why not seek his leadership and allow him to determine what you should be doing differently? I have often used a phrase that is not original with me, "If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans." Now, it isn't that we don't want to please God; it is just that we don't want him to double over in fits of uncontrollable laughter as we outline our intentions. What would please God the most is for us to say, "God, you know what is best for me, so I want you to choose for me that path I need to follow." Now, that may take God by surprise (not really as he already knows everything, but just go with me here), but it won't make him laugh.

We should let Proverbs 20:24 become a reality for us, "A person's steps are directed by the Lord. How then can anyone understand their own way?" We can't understand our own way, and that is why it is best to let God order our steps. If you want to make a make a really wise resolution this year, let God make your resolution for you.

Pastor Steve
Tuesday December 31, 2019

Today is the last day of 2019. Last things can sometimes be sad events. The last days of a loved one that slips away from us is a sad time. This week will be a sad event for Scherry and I as it will be the last of our time with our family during the holidays. The last events at buildings that are slated for demolition can have a sad feeling. Last events, experiences, and situations can indeed be sad times.

However, amidst the sadness of these times there are often circumstances that bring joy. The death of a saint means that the person has moved into the presence of the Lord to share in the good things promised to those who believe in Christ. When we leave this week, it is with the hope of seeing our family again and we are returning to a home and positions that we both enjoy. Old buildings that are razed give way to new construction with new amenities and the promise of new experiences that, hopefully, will be joyful. As we leave 2019, there may be a bit of sadness, but there is the hope of the days ahead in 2020.

When Christ left, there was sadness among his disciples. That is why he had told them forty days or so earlier, "Let not your hearts be troubled" (John 1:14). And as they stood watching him ascend to Heaven, they were given this promise: "After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 'Men of Galilee,' they said, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.'" (Acts 1:9-11) This is great news at a time of great sadness. This is what God can do for us - at the times of our great sadness he can provide an element of joy. May the New Year bring you a time of great joy!

Pastor Steve
Monday December 30, 2019

We really don't know exactly where to put the wise men in the story of Jesus. Scripture gives us this introduction to them, "After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, 'Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.'" (Matthew 1:1-2) So, how long after Christ's birth did they appear? I have always found it interesting that we know the shepherds "hurried off and found Mary and Joseph and the baby, who was lying in a manger", meaning they were there just after Jesus was born, but we really don't know the exact time of the appearance of the wise men.

Another mystery is: who were they? Some say they were from the Nabotean community at Petra that would have been about 100 miles away, others have said they were from the region of Babylon, more than 600 miles to the east. Others have conjectured a variety of ideas.

What this says to me is in the scheme of things, God did not consider who they were as important as what they did. They took pains to prepare for a journey, locate Christ, and offer gifts that were "fit for a King." This stands in contrast to other people who were much closer but didn't twitch a muscle to do any investigating of the news that was being circulated through the land.

A saying found on many marquees at this time of year is "Wise Men still seek Jesus." This play on a descriptive title is obvious, but also obviously true. We need to do the same as that group of men who took pains to prepare for a journey, make inquiries, and present gifts. Let's make sure we spend time in preparation as we walk with the Lord, let's be inquisitive as we explore what we should be doing to better serve him, and let's give him our best. Doing this can serve to help make us wise. As with the wise men, let's make what we do define who we are.

Pastor Steve
Sunday December 29, 2019

Taylor University is a Christian liberal arts school located in Upland, Indiana. They have a rather interesting tradition associated with basketball and Christmas. Each year on the Friday before final exams in December, they have a tradition called "Silent Night" at their men's home basket ball game. At the beginning of the game, the Taylor fans are silent. All that can be heard are the squeaks of the tennis shoes, the coaches ' voices, the players' banter, and the sound of the ball being dribbled and shot. Then, when Taylor scores its tenth point, the gym erupts and begins to sound like a typical basketball game. After the game, the student body gathers on the court and sings "Silent Night." Isn't this unique?

On a very unique night long ago. the silence was broken by the voice and the light of an angel. Shepherds near Bethlehem were doing what they usually do during the night - watching their flocks. They could hear the low bleating of the sheep, perhaps the wind passing through, their voices and the crackling of burning wood as they gathered around fires, but for the most part is was a silent night. Suddenly the silence was broken by the voice of an angel as he appeared to share with them some startling news. The interruption of silence would have grown as other angels joined the first angel to appear to raise their voices in praise to God who was sending His Son to become man. As suddenly as the angels appeared, they rose to heaven and were gone. The silence had returned, and what were they to do? They did what they were told and "they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them." (Luke 2:16-19) After some silence, they broke out in testimony about what had taken place.

We need to do the same. We need to spend some quiet times thinking about God's Gift to us then we need to experience His Gift for ourselves. After that, we shouldn't be silent about His Gift. We should "spread the word," as did the shepherds. Let the news of that "Silent Night" be made known!

Pastor Steve
Saturday December 28, 2019

Twenty years ago at this time I was in Chicago. The reason I remember that so well is because my youngest daughter, Megan, was in an all-state theater production of "The Pirates of Penzance." We were in Chicago with a number of our family taking in the performance.

I am always amazed at theatrical productions. It takes so many people for these performances to take place, many more than you actually see on the stage. Beside the principal actors, there are those that make up crowd scenes and other roles. There are many people backstage besides the director that work to move scenery and props, take care of special effects, lighting, make-up, and many other details. The success of the show depends upon every person doing their part. There are always roles to fill at every level. Sound familiar?

This is the way it is in life, and certainly the way it is in our churches. There are always roles to fill. Paul tells us. "From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work." (Ephesians 4:16) Re-read that last line: "as each part does its work." Yes, you have a role to fill, and yes, what you do is vital! Maybe in this New Year, you will have a new role to fill! What will it be? Everyone must do their part in order for the work to be done! What part will you play? What job will you do? NO ONE gets a bye! So, pitch in and help!

Pastor Steve
Friday December 27, 2019

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

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

Christ said, "I am come that they might have life and that they might have it more abundantly." (John 10:10) If we focus on the Savior and his provision, we will not only be able to conquer those post-Christmas blues, we will be able to experience a richer life that is full of joy and contentment because of what he provides. Trust him and experience the life he has for you!

Pastor Steve
Thursday December 26, 2019

Author Elizabeth Berg once wrote, "You know the phrase 'It s always in the little things'? In writing, it is always the little things it s the details . . . that make a character and a story come alive."

The gospel authors knew the importance of details. Luke provided little details in his story about the birth of Christ that gives us a more realistic glimpse into the happenings that night. Another example is the writing of the apostle John. He wrote that Jesus "had to go through Samaria" as He was traveling from Judea to Galilee (John 4:4). This little detail tells us more than we realize about Jesus, His kingdom, and what it means to be His follower. John was good at providing little details that have great significance. This detail shows that Christ was not tied to the conventions of the day. He showed that the message he brought, his life itself, would be efficacious for everyone. Christ didn't play favorites.

We should not play favorites. James writes, "My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism". (2:1) James then goes on with an example of what he means. Please take the time to read the rest of his thoughts. We should not play favorites for any reason - economics, politics, fashion, appearance, or any other criteria. For one thing, it just isn't nice, and for another, it runs contrary to the teaching and the example of Christ. As followers of Christ, we want to be imitators of Christ. John gives us some details on how we can do this.

Pastor Steve
Wednesday December 25, 2019

The year was 1921. The Taggert Baking Company of Indianapolis was about to launch a new product - a 1.5-pound loaf of soft, white bread. Elmer Cline, one of the vice-presidents, was in charge of coming up with a name for the new product. While attending the International Balloon Festival at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he received an inspiration for a name. The sight of all the multi-colored balloons filling the blue sky filled him with wonder - why not name the new bread "Wonder Bread?" He did, and the rest is history. If you are familiar with this product, you know that yet today the packaging includes several multi-colored circles, evoking the image Cline saw on that day in 1921.

Today, you should be filled with wonder. Not because of some incredible scene that you have witnessed, or because of some feat of greatness you have just read about, or because your team made it to a bowl game, but because of whom we celebrate on this day. The story of Christ coming to earth should evoke wonder within you. You should never get over the incredible nature of the Gift we celebrate.

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told." (Luke 2:16-20) The shepherds were filled with wonder, everyone who heard their story was filled with wonder, Mary was filled with wonder. We should be filled with wonder as well - and I am not talking about the bread! Merry Christmas!

Pastor Steve
Tuesday December 24, 2019

Russell Nagy wrote a song entitled "The Promise." Part of the lyrics are:

Silently by night,

in mortal flesh enshrouded,

He who framed the mountains

draws first breath.

Far from human sight,

the Promise ne er forgotten

Is in love begotten

to conquer death.

What a beautiful expression of the provision of God through the birth of his Son. This was a Promise first given to Adam and Eve just after the Fall. The Promise was actually contained in a statement that God made to Satan: "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel." (Genesis 3:15)

Knowing that humanity would fall, already God had a plan in place to provide for our sin. With the creation of humans came a Promise to provide for us. I sometimes wonder why God created us when he knew full well how needy his creation would be, but then there are a lot of things I don't know about with God. I know he decided to create us and decided to provide for us. Celebrate his Promise, made for us before we were even created!

Pastor Steve
Monday December 23, 2019

I really miss Christmas trees at my Papaw and Mamaw's house. Of course, it has been almost 50 years since our last tree there. My grandparents have been with the Lord for this amount of time, and the house is now the possession of another family. The trees at their house were really special. They weren't trees from a Christmas tree lot or a farm; they were trees that my Papaw had cut down himself from the woods he owned.

Now, these trees had not been "groomed" as they were growing, so they were not perfectly shaped when he first cut them. Usually they were misshapen, gnarled, crooked, and really didn't look anything like a Christmas tree. But, after my grandpa would cut them, he would begin to work on them. He would prune, snip, and even pull up branches with twine, to shape the wild pine into a Christmas tree. Then, he would turn it over to my mother who would finish it off with decorations. When my brothers and I grew older, we were even allowed to help with the decorations. Upon completion, the tree always stood in the corner of my grandparents' living room as a beautiful symbol of Christmas! What a marvelous transformation!

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

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

Pastor Steve
Sunday December 22, 2019

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

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

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

Pastor Steve
Saturday December 21, 2019

"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 never known peace. Conflict has been part of our 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 he makes peace possible between humans and God. He was willing to enter the No Man's Land that existed between God and humans 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
Friday December 20, 2019

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

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

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

Pastor Steve
Thursday December 19, 2019

When I was growing up, we would spend Christmas Eve at my grandparents home in "Possum Holler." There we would have dinner, and then open gifts after we ate. I remember enduring those dinners. Who wants to eat with all those packages under the tree just begging to be opened?

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

One year, my mother explained to me that Mamaw opened packages in this fashion because, when she was growing up, paper was a premium item. Her family did not have a great deal of money, so Christmas wrap was one thing that was recycled. Mom told me they did this even when she was growing up.

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

What things are others learning from your life? What patterns of living are being observed and finding their way into the consciousness of your children or your grandchildren? I learned a great deal more from my grandmother than how to unwrap a Christmas gift so as to save the paper for future use.

We need to remember that we are influencing the lives of future generations. Many of our lessons may be unintentional, as it was with the unwrapping, so we need to make sure we are modeling good practices. But we also need to be intentional with other important lessons.

Deuteronomy 6:6-7 reminds us of this, "And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise." Christmas is a good time to apply this wisdom, and you can pass on more than just how to properly unwrap gifts!

Pastor Steve
Wednesday December 18, 2019

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

I would imagine you may know the premise of the movie - During WWII, Captain Bing Crosby is saved from death by Private Danny Kaye who is hurt during the rescue. Bing visits Danny in the field hospital and is "roped" into going into show business with him after the war when Danny plays the "injured when I saved you" card.

They are successful, and wind up at a Vermont Inn at Christmas time where their entertainment talents save the day for their formal general who owns the inn but is about to go under. One big problem is that it is December in Vermont but there is no snow, so no customers. A recurring event during the movie is that any idea brought up that Bing doesn't like but Danny does is met with a rub on the arm by Danny reminding Bing what he owes Danny for saving his life. If you can't follow my synopsis, then you need to watch the movie. I am sure you will enjoy it!

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

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

He paid a debt he did not owe

I owed a debt I could not pay

I needed someone to wash my sins away.

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

Christ Jesus paid a debt that I could never pay!

Now that is a Christmas song!

Pastor Steve
Tuesday December 17, 2019

I had a professor in seminary who said to us on more than one occasion, "When I arrive in heaven, I will be surprised by three things. First, I will be surprised by who is there. Secondly, I will be surprised by who I do not find there. Finally, I will be surprised that I am there at all." The professor was not saying we cannot have the assurance of being in heaven, he was saying we should be humbled continually by the idea that we have the opportunity to live there. We should be humbled when we consider the price God paid to give us this opportunity. This month we are celebrating God's plan of humility that was enacted so people may have the chance to live forever with Him.

As we think of this, I want to draw your attention to that great Christmas text that describes what Christ did for us in order that we might be in heaven. Philippians 2:6-8 tells us, "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!

You probably thought I was going to use Luke 2, didn't you? Well, Luke 2 may tell us the details of what took place when Christ was born, which is important, but Philippians 2 tells us what really happened. Christ humbled himself to become one of us. In light of this, those of us who have received His gift need to humble ourselves so we can become like Christ. Now, I didn't say so that we can be Christ, that won't happen. But we should strive to live Christ-like lives because of what his great sacrifice on our behalf. Keeping in mind what he did for us so that we can have the hope of life in heaven will help us to keep the right perspective on who we are and what we have.

As you celebrate Christmas this year, keep in mind what you have because of what Christ gave up. This should keep us humble, which is exactly the point.

Pastor Steve
Monday December 16, 2019

Last night we had a change in plans with regard to our evening Christmas celebration because we received about three inches of snow yesterday afternoon. Do we cancel or do we go on? We decided to continue, but with a change in plans. We would have our musical, but our communion and candlelight service that was to be at the conclusion of our service would wait until another day. This would allow folks to get home a little earlier. This proved to be a good decision, as was the decision to continue with our musical.

We still ended our evening in our customary way singing "Silent Night" a cappella. I never get tired of doing this. I know I have written about the origin of the song before, but I usually like to slip in the following story during this time of year. In view of our change in plans last night, "Silent Night" was an appropriate hymn to sing. We have "Silent Night" because of the need to make a change in plans.

Rev. Joseph Mohr, a pastor in Oberndorff, Austria, brought the lyrics of "Stille Nacht" to Franz Gruber just before Christmas in 1818. Gruber was the church organist, but the organ was not working. So, he composed a melody for his pastor's poem to be played on the guitar for the Christmas Eve service of the church that year. The song was born out of necessity because of something that was broken. Today, it is one of our endearing treasures. Bing Crosby's recording of "Silent Night" is the third best-selling single of all time.

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

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

Pastor Steve
Sunday December 15, 2019

When I was a kid I loved to watch "The Lone Ranger." I would imagine most of you are familiar with this program, even though you may not be old enough to remember it on TV. It was first a serial on the radio (now that was before my time) and later on the television. The Lone Ranger was conceived in a radio station in Detroit. I have always thought that odd, given that the main character is a Texas Ranger. Texas - Detroit, oh, yeah, the connection is obvious.

Anyway, a familiar line from the TV show, and I imagine it would have been on the radio show as well, was "Who was that masked man?" This was a question usually asked at the end of the show by the grateful beneficiaries of the Lone Ranger's particular skills.

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

Determining the identity of the Lone Ranger could be answered easily, but determining all the reasons why the Lord chose to have shepherds be the first visitors of the newly-born King of Kings is a different matter. There are some good thoughts as to why: the revelation to the shepherds would have shamed the religious leaders; the visit would be a confirmation to Mary and Joseph; the revelation would bring joy to the shepherds; and it would bring glory to God.

There is irony in the story of the Lone Ranger in that good guys don't normally wear masks, so, folks had to get beyond this to appreciate him the way they should. The visit of the shepherds was indeed ironic in that it certainly was not what people would expect. That is God's way, though, isn't it? He doesn't do things the expected way, he does things his way.

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

Pastor Steve
Saturday December 14, 2019

"We cannot despair of humanity, since we ourselves are human beings," said Albert Einstein. I heard this quote on a television show recently. On the surface, it sounds profound and hopeful. The problems of humankind should not obscure our vision of the potential of humankind. In spite of the evil present among humans, we should not negate the possibility of man achieving goodness. Well, this does sound enlightening and optimistic, but it really isn't realistic. As much as we wish this to be true, the fact is that humans are inherently sinful. Humans can do good things, but we cannot take care of our biggest problem in and of ourselves.

Humans are sinful and cannot redeem themselves. Romans 3:23 tells us that "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." We should never be too surprised by the actions of humans because of our intrinsic nature.

We are celebrating the visit of God himself, a visit that would not have been necessary if we could have found a way to be good on our own. I would like to alter Einstein's quote a bit to more adequately reflect the actual state of humankind, "We cannot despair of humanity, since Christ came to help human beings." Through Christ's ministry on our behalf, there is hope for humanity. Through the finished work of Christ, we can become what we should be.

Romans 5:12 & 19 tells us, "Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous." Celebrate this reality this Christmas and be glad that Christ came to do something about our shared problem!

Pastor Steve
Friday December 13, 2019

When I was in the first grade, I remember that we made silhouettes of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln in February to commemorate their birthdays. Why am I bringing up these February presidential birthdays in December when we are preparing to celebrate the birth of Christ? Follow my thinking a bit.

The silhouettes I made of the presidents were of their adult likenesses. As we think about the birthday of Christ, what do you think of? We think of him as a baby. Among many other aspects, this is something unique to Christmas. Rather than picturing Christ as an adult when we celebrate his birthday, as we do for others, we focus on the actual birth and picture him as an infant.

It is altogether appropriate that we do this, given the scriptural accounts regarding his birth. For the most part, we don't have birth details about others whose birthdays we acknowledge. With Christ, we have details given in Scripture regarding his birth - where he was born, the conditions in which he was born, the angelic announcements of his birth, and the visitors who came just after he was born and those later on.

Don't you find it fascinating that all of these details are given about his birth? They were given because we need to marvel at his birth. This was God coming into the world as a human. The baby would grow into an adult and die for us; however, we still need to honor the baby - God in flesh, Immanuel.

Isaiah 9:6 captures the magnificence of this, "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." What a wonderful birthday - celebrate the Baby who is our Savior!

Pastor Steve
Thursday December 12, 2019

Much is said about keeping "Christ in Christmas" which is as it should be. As followers of Christ, we certainly know why we are celebrating at this time of year. We should indeed celebrate the name of Christ and "Keep Christ in Christmas." Something I am even more concerned about is keeping the name of Christ out of where it should not be. Some time ago, a network television program focused on the increase in the use of foul language in our society. Something I see that seems to be on an increase is the use of the name of Jesus as a curse. This should not be, especially by those who know the Lord.

Exodus 20:7 tells us, "You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name." We should not misuse the name of our Savior, yet that is what seems to be the case during this season. The sense of Christmas as being a time for economic advancement and material well-being is very strong in our culture. This makes up so much of what is looked upon as Christmas in our day. This seems to be nothing more than misusing the name of Christ! Of course, we have little control over mindset or the speech of others, but we certainly have control of our own attitudes and our own speech.

Don't abuse the name of Christ at any time by using it as an idle curse when things don't go like you want. The name of Christ should be held in honor and reverence. Remember that as you consider your speech. Remember that as you participate min the celebration. Remember that "at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth." (Philippians 2:10) We should hold the name of Christ in highest regard at all times and especially as we celebrate His birth.

Pastor Steve
Wednesday December 11, 2019

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

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

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

Pastor Steve
Tuesday December 10, 2019

I have written about my grandparent's little farm in "Possum Holler" on a number of occasions. Actually, both of my parents lived on farms in Possum Holler. Dad grew up on a farm that was much larger than my Mother's farm. The farms were adjoining, and that is how Dad and Mom met. I'll have to tell more of this story at another time. My Dad's father died before I was born and that farm was in the hands of another family as I was growing up. All of my memories of Possum Holler are at my Mom's place. I spent a great deal of time there.

Papaw Mayfield always had a few cattle to take care of there. In the winter months I enjoyed going to the barn and throwing down hay from the loft to feed them. During this time of year, Papaw would remind me, "Jesus was born in a place like this." As he pointed to the feeding trough, he would say, "They laid him right there." Not literally "right there," of course, but in something similar.

From our reading of Luke 2, we know that Christ was born is some sort of a structure used for animals. It might have been a cave serving as a stable, or maybe even part of a house that was a shelter for animals. We do know He was born where the animals were kept, and then laid in the feeding trough, the manger. I always think about this a great deal at this time of year, and the birth of my new little granddaughter last week really brought some fresh thoughts about the description of Christ's entrance into the world.

The scripture tells us the reason for the location was because there was no room for them in the inn. Luke 2:7, says "And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn." Not only was Christ born in a place where animals stayed, he was born there because no room was available for him where people lived.

Doesn't that sound oddly ironic? It describes a reality that still exists today. For many people, there is no room for Christ in their lives. Even those of us who call ourselves followers of Christ at times can live in a way seems to say, "I have no room for you right now."

Don't let this be the case in your life. Make sure you have room for Jesus. Why was he born in such rude surroundings? One reason is that it shows he is not afraid to go where he will encounter filth. He is not affected himself, but he is not afraid to go where the dirt is found in order to clean up the junk and bring life. He isn't afraid to go into a barn. Don't forget this as you celebrate His birth this year!

Pastor Steve
Monday December 09, 2019

Some time ago, I was driving along a secondary road at an unusual hour. For those of you "local" readers, I was on 33 coming from Effingham. I was returning from the hospital where I had been with a family. I know this may raise a question or two, so I will say all was well in this instance. But, that is beside the point of this article. As I was driving along the road, I was mildly surprised by the number of other vehicles I saw. One would think the road would be more isolated at that time. In a position where I thought I would be isolated and alone, there actually were a number of folks around.

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

Even at times when you think you are alone, you are not. There are people there, and do NOT take for granted the presence of Christ.

When I was young, I enjoyed watching "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol" every year when it was broadcast on TV. Who am I kidding? I still like watching this I even bought the DVD last month so I can watch it whenever I want.

There is a scene from this magnificent Christmas special where a young Ebenezer Scrooge is alone at his boarding school during Christmas. There is no one to take him home, and he sings "I'm all alone in the world."

For those of us who are followers of Christ, this couldn't be further from the truth. No matter how alone you may feel, remember that Christ is always with you. And if you look around a bit, I imagine you might be surprised at just who all is out there.

Now - a word from the flip side of this issue. As followers of Christ, we need to be sensitive about those who may be in a position where they feel alone. Don't do this just because it is Christmas, but why don't you pray that you might have the eyes of Christ to see those who are in need of the presence of others in their lives? If we claim to be followers of Christ, pray for the mind of Christ - "in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others." (Philippians 2:3-4) No one should feel as did young Ebenezer, "I'm all alone in the world."

Pastor Steve
Sunday December 08, 2019

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

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

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

Pastor Steve
Saturday December 07, 2019

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

Events have consequences, and events of this magnitude have consequences that are far-reaching. This is the 78th anniversary of the attack, and we still experience the consequences because of what this action caused.

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

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

Pastor Steve
Friday December 06, 2019

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

This is a point of emphasis at this time of year. We are celebrating the fact that God came to be with us. This is even reflected in one of his names. Matthew writes, "The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means 'God with us')." (Matthew 1:23)

This statement of God s promise found in the opening chapter of Matthew is echoed in the declaration of Jesus in the closing words of the book, "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (28:20) When Christ came into the world, he came for us. Let s make sure we live for him.

Pastor Steve
Thursday December 05, 2019

In a book about business strategies, the author makes this statement, "Solving tough organizational problems may require counter-intuitive strategies." Well, yeah, that sounds just like what we need. Except, uh, what in the world is "counter-intuitive?"

The word refers to things which go against the usual thinking, ideas which may even defy common sense. This is sometimes what is required. This even has a spiritual application. Paul states this fact in I Corinthians 1:18 - 25, For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.'. . .God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. . .we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength."

The idea of God coming down to earth in the form of an infant is different from what one might expect from the all-powerful Creator of all that is. The Gospel does not make sense to a lot of people. It defies logic and goes against "conventional wisdom." But, as seen above, we even have examples from the business world where this is often necessary.

It certainly was when it came to offering a solution to the problem of sin. This required a "counter-intuitive strategy." We need to be thankful we have a God who knows that logic needed to be defied. This led to the strategy of the manger, the cross, and the empty tomb that leads to our deliverance, if we accept God's thinking. I think that would be a very wise thing to do.

Pastor Steve
Wednesday December 04, 2019

While doing some research for my writing some time back, I came across the following address by Harry Reasoner, a deceased TV newsperson who was respected highly by peers and listeners. In 1971 he gave the following commentary:

Christmas is such a unique idea that most non-Christians accept it, and I think sometimes envy it. Christmas is such a unique story that, in reality, it leaves you only three ways of accepting it. One is cynically -- as a time to make money or endorse the making of it. Another is graciously -- the appropriate attitude for non-Christians who wish their fellow citizens all the joys to which their beliefs entitle them. The third is reverently. If this is the anniversary of the appearance of the Lord of the universe in the form of a helpless babe, it is a very important day. It's a startling idea of course. My guess is that the whole story -- that a virgin was selected by God to bear His Son as a way of showing his love and concern for man -- in spite of all the lip service given to it, is not an idea that has been popular with theologians. It's a somewhat illogical idea, and theologians like logic almost as much as they like God. It's so revolutionary a thought that it probably could only come from a God that is beyond logic and beyond theology.

"It has a magnificent appeal. Almost nobody has seen God, and almost nobody has any real idea of what He is like. The truth is that among men the idea of seeing God suddenly and standing in a very bright light is not necessarily a completely comforting and appealing idea. But everyone has seen babies and most people like them. If God wanted to be loved as well as feared, He moved correctly. If He wanted to know His people as well as rule them, He moved correctly, for a baby growing up learns all about people. And if God wanted to be intimately a part of man He moved correctly here, too, for the experience of birth and family-hood is our most intimate and precious experience.

"So it comes beyond logic. It is either all falsehood or it is the truest thing in the world. It is the story of the great innocence of God, the baby. God in the person of man has such a dramatic shock toward the heart, that if it is not true, for Christians nothing is true.

"So even if you have not got your shopping all done and you are swamped with the commercialism and the frenzy, be at peace. The story stands."

Indeed the story stands regardless of anything else. We would do well to remember this as we celebrate Jesus this Christmas season. "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1:14)

Pastor Steve
Tuesday December 03, 2019

Yesterday was a special day for our family. My daughter, Megan, gave birth to Edith Rowan. This is no surprise to many of you as I have already posted a "birth announcement." She was 6 lbs. 15 oz. and 19 ½ inches. Edith is named after my mother, which is really special.

The name Edith evokes a lot of special feelings for me as I think of my Mom and all the special times I had with her. Now, I have another Edith in my life with whom I will share special times and for whom I have a tremendous love. My life will be different because of this little girl who is now with me. Well, not just with me, of course. I think her Mom and Dad will be spending some time with her. And, of course, her big brother, Sully, will be spending some time with her. Their lives will be different, in a really, really, good way, of course, because they now have Edith with them.

As I held little Edith for the first time, I thought "Grief, what an impact you have made already!" She certainly has. I look forward to the days ahead to see what kind of impact this little girl is going to have on my life. It is really exciting to think about that.

As you know, this month we are celebrating the birth of another Child that made quite an impact. I always marvel that God's Grand Plan of Redemption started with a tiny infant. Galatians 4:4-5 says, "But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to redeem us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children."

Thank you to all who have helped us celebrate the birth of Edith - by the way, she was born in the same month as her namesake. And I hope you have plans to celebrate the birth of Christ, who actually may not have been born in December, but we need to celebrate Him anyway, don't we?

Pastor Steve
Monday December 02, 2019

Yesterday, our church looked different on the inside than it did the week before because we decorated for Christmas. The abundance of decorations and lights really make the church take on a different appearance for the holiday season.

In addition to the decorations in the church, you now have lights on houses, there are ornaments on lamp poles, and there are decorations all over the place. We are in Galesburg with our youngest daughter for a special event - more on this tomorrow but, of course, many of you know what that special event is - and there are decorations all over the place here.

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

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

Pastor Steve
Sunday December 01, 2019

Today is the first Sunday in Advent. Advent is the time in our calendar when we prepare to celebrate the Birth of Christ. It is unclear when Advent was first developed, but it has been a part of church traditions for centuries. Of course, the biblical basis for the celebration centers on the many scriptures that foretell the coming of the Messiah. For followers of Christ, the Advent season is not only a time when we look back on what has taken place, but we look forward to the return of Christ we know will someday happen.

As we think about Advent, my mind is drawn to the appearance of Gabriel to Mary to tell her she was to be the mother of the Messiah. When she heard this news, she said, "I am the Lord s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled." (Luke 1:38) Later, when she visited her cousin Elizabeth who was pregnant with John, we read her song about her experience. During this song, which we call the "Magnificat," She rejoiced about the coming of the Savior; she reflected on many of the great deeds of God, and then she returned to her home to anticipate the birth.

We can do the same this Christmas season. We should rejoice in the goodness of God. We should reflect on God's great deeds done on our behalf. We need to return to our place of service if we have strayed. As we celebrate today, look forward to what God has in store for us. Even as Christ came the first time, he will come again. This is a good reason to celebrate.

Pastor Steve
Saturday November 30, 2019

Well, how was your Thanksgiving? Before you answer that, you may want to take a moment and think about it. If you have some negative comments about the food, the weather, the time spent preparing the meal, or whatever, you may want to take some time for some introspection. You may want to think about the reason for the day and the importance of giving thanks.

When we have negative feelings about a day that is intended to celebrate the giving of thanks, we have lost the spirit of the celebration. Remember the origins of the day - a long-ago commemoration by a small group of people who were expressing thanks that they were still alive. They had witnessed the demise of half of their original number since their arrival in this new land. Were it not for the help of some Native Americans who saw their plight, all of them could be dead.

We need to capture that spirit as we spend time celebrating during the holiday season which we are now experiencing. And even though Thanksgiving is past, we need to continue to reflect the spirit of gratitude in our lives. Doing so will counteract out tendency to be negative and will help lessen the blows that life can sometime deliver.

Dr. Billy Graham once said, "Ingratitude is a sin, just as surely as is lying or stealing or immorality or any other sin condemned by the Bible. The Bible says, 'For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.' (Romans 1:21) Nothing turns us into bitter, selfish, dissatisfied people more quickly than an ungrateful heart. And nothing will do more to restore contentment and the joy in our lives than a true spirit of thankfulness." So, how was your Thanksgiving?

Pastor Steve
Friday November 29, 2019

Got your boxing gloves on? Well, those may not be the best thing - you need to be able to grab things, and you can't do so with boxing gloves. And, if you waited until today to get in on those early specials, you may be too late, as Black Friday has been moved back into Thanksgiving Thursday. Anyway, the madness has begun.

The 2019 Christmas shopping season has officially started and maybe you were part of it. Wikipedia states "The day's name originated in Philadelphia, where it originally was used to describe the heavy and disruptive pedestrian and vehicle traffic which would occur on the day after Thanksgiving. Use of the term started before 1961 and began to see broader use outside Philadelphia around 1975. Later an alternative explanation was made: that retailers traditionally operated at a financial loss ('in the red') from January through November, and 'Black Friday' indicates the point at which retailers begin to turn a profit, or 'in the black'."

Online sales have perhaps made the day a bit safer, and have also taken the profit margins to new heights. Last year, there were over $6.2 billion in online sales alone. Yeesh.

Whatever your opinion on Black Friday, as followers of Christ, we certainly need to keep a proper perspective on buying and acquiring stuff in general. We need to make sure we are worshipping God who brings us the Gift, not the gods who bring us gifts. There is nothing inherently wrong in buying and giving gifts; what is wrong is buying into all the hype of buying and giving gifts.

I hope you don't lose your head today in all the hype. Of course, "losing your head" could have a literal meaning. Keep the day of pursuing gifts in perspective as we draw closer to the day we have set to give praise to God for his Greatest Gift.

Pastor Steve
Thursday November 28, 2019

On September 16,1620, 102 people on the Mayflower departed the Netherlands, the land that had been their home since 1607, to proceed westward to a land that was unknown to any of them and would become their new home. A sister ship, the Speedwell, encountered problems not long after the departure and had to return. The journey of 2,750 miles would take 66 days and be fraught with many problems. However, they were determined to reach this new land where they hoped they would be able to continue their lives free from the religious persecution they had experienced in their homeland of England.

Can you imagine what it must have been like for them? Actually, you probably can't. I know I certainly have no concept of what they must have been feeling, what thoughts they must have had, and the concerns that were theirs as they embarked on an unknown vessel across an unknown ocean to an unknown land. Courage was certainly not in short supply. Faith was not in short supply. Determination was not in short supply. It is a gross understatement to say they were a group of people who were not afraid to take risks.

Having the willingness to take risks and to step out courageously to do something new and different is a good thing. We need a sense of the pioneer to bring about change and to reach out boldly in order to see good things happen.

Paul is a biblical example of a person with the spirit of a pioneer - willing to step out, to take risks, and to go where others feared to venture. What fueled his spirit? He gives us a clue 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."

The desire to know more about Christ and to do more for Christ often requires a little bit of the pioneer spirit. Use the example of Paul and of the Pilgrims as role models for developing a desire to reach out in new ways for new results. Happy Thanksgiving!

Pastor Steve
Wednesday November 27, 2019

Recently I read an article about the worst TV series finales of all time. "Why would you read an article on this?" you might ask. Well, I read a bunch of stuff as I am always looking for ideas for my posts. The following is an example.

In the article I read about dreadful series finales, the last episode of "Seinfeld" was mentioned, along with the absolutely bonkers ending of "St. Elsewhere." The one that seemed to be generally agreed upon as the worst of all time was the finale of "How I Met Your Mother." Now, I would imagine some of you may not be familiar with the show, so I will try to sum it up as quickly as I can in order that my article will make sense.

The premise of the show is of a father telling his two teenaged kids how he met their mother. The series lasted for nine years, so a lot of stories were told along the way, which made for the respective episodes for the show. In the finale (spoiler alert), it is revealed to the audience through the story told to the kids that after the dad married their mother, and the children were born, the mother became ill and died. He then married their "Aunt Robin," who was actually not related, but a close friend who had been involved in their father's life for many years. "Robin" was a regular character in the series. This ending created a great deal of angst among those who followed the series. It was an attempt to end the show on a "feel good" basis, as many viewers actually wanted the dad to marry Robin.

Confused? Well, I would imagine you are, and my point is not to explain the series or the ending, but to simply create a scenario where I say this: What does it matter and why do so many people obsess over the ending of this show, or any other show? Years later, you can still find blogs and websites containing articles debating the ending of TV shows. This reveals one of the dangers of our world: we can become involved in pointless issues because we are missing the real issue of life. This example is just one of many pursuits that could be cited with regard to emphases on the unimportant or irrelevant. We can get caught up in what is unimportant or irrelevant so easily. Put these issues in their place, and focus of what truly is important.

Ecclesiastes 2 gives us a conclusion reached by Solomon over prioritizing our lives: "Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun. Then I turned my thoughts to consider wisdom, and also madness and folly. What more can the king's successor do than what has already been done? I saw that wisdom is better than folly, just as light is better than darkness." (vss. 11-13) True wisdom is found in seeking after God. Time spent in this pursuit is time not wasted. Put the finale of "How I Met Your Mother" in perspective and focus on the important!

Pastor Steve
Tuesday November 26, 2019

The cost of health care is certainly a topic of much discussion these days. Health care reform is something that you can read about in almost every news publication in existence. When President Johnson signed into law the bill that created Medicare in 1965, the estimated price tag for doctor's visits for those on Medicare was $460 million per year. Today that figure is almost $200 billion. This is why, as one publication's headlines read, there is a need for a "Big Fix."

Health care reform is an important issue, but aren't you glad that there isn't a need for a "Big Fix" because of an increase in the price of salvation? When God laid the plans for salvation in eternity past, he knew what the price would be - the life of his only Son. That would never change. Paying this price would mean that salvation could be offered to all people for all time. There would never be a need for reform. There would never be a need to analyze the plan because it was not adequate. There would never be a question about the cost or the coverage.

I have no idea what the future of health care is in our country. However, I know that the cost for my spiritual health has been paid. And it will not be subject to any spiraling increases. Romans 6:23 tells us, "the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Christ has paid the price. If you have received his gift, you are in good health.

Pastor Steve
Monday November 25, 2019

At our church some time back, we did a personal financial management seminar with Dr. Chris Stocklin, founder of Turning the Tide Financial Ministries. Dr. Stocklin offered a great deal of good advice on how to take control of our personal finances so that we might be better stewards of what God has given us.

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

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

Pastor Steve
Sunday November 24, 2019

John Ortburg authored "When the Game Is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box." He uses the game of Monopoly as a metaphor for life and what our attitude about life should be. The point of the study is to show that a philosophy of life based upon the acquisition and accumulation of stuff is incorrect because when the game is over, it all goes back in the box.

As I was thinking upon this one day, another game came to mind that perhaps reflects more accurately a philosophy of life we should have - Dominoes. The point of Dominoes is to lose all of your pieces. The first player to nothing is the winner. It is not good to have "bones" at the end of the game. This perhaps reflects more realistically the attitude we should have as followers of Christ. We should realize that, with regard to material things, we came into the world with nothing and we will leave with nothing. Job said, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart." (Job 1:21) So, it is better to work on giving away what we have for the betterment of others. It is better to live to glorify God with what we have. The second part of Job 1:21 says, "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised."

If we need an example of someone who gave it all away, we need look no farther than our Savior. Christ gave all for us, and he also tells us, "What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul." (Matthew 16:26) Live to give!

Pastor Steve
Saturday November 23, 2019

A number of Christians serving in Japan in the 19th century was confronted by a shogun who demanded that they step on a picture of Jesus and renounce their faith or face death. He felt threatened by their presence and thought the message they brought would be a detriment to his regime. When the ordeal was concluded, 26 Christians who refused to recant were crucified in order to serve as an example of what would happen to those who followed the teachings of Christianity.

How would we respond if we were faced with such a predicament? That is a difficult question to answer. Peter did not stand up for his identity when he was faced with a challenge regarding his discipleship. He denied Christ three times; however, he later stood in front of the same people who called for Christ's crucifixion and challenged them with a powerful and plain message on Christ. Tradition holds that he was crucified upside down as he did not want to be crucified in the same way as the Savior.

What have you done when faced with a challenge to your faith? I would imagine the challenge you faced was far short of death or torture or any other physical consequence. Every day we are faced with situations or decisions that tempt us to betray our Lord by hiding our faith or choosing the world or not standing up for our convictions. We need to stand firm. As Paul says, "Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand." (Ephesians 6:13) Don't tread on the picture of Jesus, stand firm for the person of Jesus.

Pastor Steve
Friday November 22, 2019

"Getting a little big for your britches, aren't you?" Have you ever heard that expression? I did a time or two when I was younger. For those of you who aren't my age, let me translate. What this means is that you are forgetting who is really the boss.

God told Job he was "getting a little big for his britches." Well, he didn't use exactly those words. Actually, the words he used were a little scarier. God told Job in Job 38:2-3, "Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me." What God wanted to make clear to Job is that He was in charge, not Job. Job didn't have the answers, God did.

Every now and then, we need to be reminded of this as well. Don't make God use scary language with you. Keep in mind that he is in charge. In Job 38, God reminds Job that he is the one who has put the world in order. He is the one who has made things work the way they do. And what we need to remember is that since God is the one with the power and the ability to put our marvelous universe into working order, he can put our lives into order as well.

Pastor Steve
Thursday November 21, 2019

I know I have commented before about my affinity for The Andy Griffith Show. I enjoyed it as a boy, and I love watching reruns now. I remember a particular episode that featured a Hollywood producer visiting Mayberry and expressing 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, and the removal of the oak tree changed them from their genuine state. What the producer wanted was the town as it was, not "gussied up."

We need to avoid the temptation of putting on airs just to impress others. We should strive to be genuine. We need to be honest with others and not try to be what we are not in an attempt to impress them. In addition, we need to realize God sees us as we are anyway, and we can't impress him by being something we are not.

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
Wednesday November 20, 2019

As he looked upon the wreckage of his demolished home, John Lokitis Jr. felt a little sick and a little bitter. He had worked hard to try to stay in his home in Centralia, Pennsylvania, where he had lived for all of his 39 years. However, circumstances had dictated otherwise. Circumstances dictated otherwise for the entire town.

In 1962, a fire at the town dump had ignited an exposed vein of coal. The fire spread underground and is still roaring today, fed by millions of tons of anthracite coal. Because of this, the town has had to move as fumes from the fire were creating serious health issues, not to mention the sinkholes created when seams of coal were burnt. So, with the assistance of federal and state governments, the town relocated. Some fought the relocation because of their strong ties to the town, but relocation was inevitable. They simply could not live there. Nonetheless, for many, their ties to their town made for a difficult move.

The scripture warns us to not have too strong a tie to our present home in this world. We will not live here forever, and we need to realize that allowing our present life to have too strong a grip on us keeps us from appreciating the joys of what lies ahead, and living the way we should now. We, like Abraham, are people of faith who need to remember that we are aliens here. We read of this in Hebrews 11:13-16, "All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country--a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them." Many years ago, Petra sang a song based on this scripture that reminded us: "We are strangers, we are aliens. We are not of this world."

Scripture encourages us to have the right perspective on where we live currently. It is not our home - our home is yet to come. Don't have such a strong tie with what you have now that your fail to realize this and focus too much on your present place of residence. This hinders your relationship with God, and can hinder your ministry for him.

Keeping the right perspective can actually help us enjoy more our lives now as we look forward to what God has in store for us. We read the words of Christ in Matthew 6:19-21, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Don't be too attached to your present home - keep in mind it is not where going to be staying.

Pastor Steve
Tuesday November 19, 2019

Hugh Richard Sheppard, better known as Dick Sheppard, was an Anglican clergyman who served as a chaplain during World War I. In 1936, he founded the English Pacifist movement known as the Peace Pledge Union. He was appointed rector of Glasgow University just prior to his death in 1937.

In one of his publications, Sheppard recounts an experience he had during WWI. One night he was hiding in no man's land, close to enemy lines, when he heard someone approaching. He wanted badly to call out "friend or foe?" but he knew this could mean his death. Years later, as he was experiencing a dark emotional experience, he looked to God and was tempted to call out "friend or foe?"

There may be times in our lives when we find ourselves involved in just such an emotional struggle. In the blackness of our experience, we may be tempted to cry out to God, "friend or foe?" We struggle with the why of his intentions for our life and at times even his goodness. What we can do at times like these is to realize we can trust our loving God? We already know the answer to the question "friend or foe?"

One person in the scripture who had many occasions to make this cry to God was Joseph. He was mistreated by his family, falsely accused, forgotten in prison. But he never forgot God. He knew God would not forget him. His faith remained strong, and God honored his faith. His faith is seen in one of the statements he made to his brothers when they came to Egypt, "Do this and you will live, for I fear God (Genesis 42:18)." In spite of what happened to him, he knew God would turn his darkness to light. He came to grips with the realization that his experience allowed for good for many others. He told his brothers, "Don't be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives." (Genesis 50:19-20)

God has promised to never leave us or forsake us. He has proven himself faithful. Continue to remain faithful to him in spite of what comes along that tempts you to do otherwise God is a "friend that sticks closer than a brother." (Proverbs 18:24)

Pastor Steve
Monday November 18, 2019

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
Sunday November 17, 2019

When I was young, I enjoyed playing in the hills that surrounded my grandparent's home. I have written about this on other occasions. There was a creek that ran through a valley in those hills. Once, my brothers and I cut down a fairly good-sized tree that lined the creek. It fell across the chasm and made a bridge for us to cross. I never felt really good about crossing that "bridge" - I always used caution and took my time so I wouldn't fall into the creek below. My fear led me to be careful and focus on my steps so that I wouldn't fall. I have no idea how many times I crossed that bridge, but I never lost my fear of falling.

We need to apply the same principle in certain situations in our lives. We should never lose our fear of falling into a chasm when it comes to temptation to sin. We should always realize we could fall, and allow this awareness to sharpen our focus and fuel our caution. We never lose the ability to fall into the trap of immorality or deception or other inappropriate behavior. Our fear of falling helps us to be cautious and walk carefully at times when we are tempted. Given the opportunity and the circumstances, any of us are capable of falling into any sin, so we need to take care.

Paul warned the Corinthians, "Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he falls." (I Corinthians 10:12) Don't ever lose your fear of falling!

Pastor Steve
Saturday November 16, 2019

Many years ago I attended a drag race featuring some Top Fuel dragsters. The fuel used in Top Fuel racing is 90% nitromethane and 10% methanol. Please don't try to use this fuel in your family car to improve horsepower. Your car wouldn't last very long with this in the tank. Engines in the dragsters are specially constructed to use this mix and, as you would expect, the car goes really fast. Another property about the fuel mix is when it burns, you can't see the flames. That can be dangerous. I remember watching a driver fly out of a car and start swatting himself all over. At first, it looked a little comical until you realized that he was on fire and could have been seriously hurt had the pit crew not reacted as quickly as they did and extinguished the invisible blaze.

Someone mistakenly said once, "What you can't see can't hurt you." Whoever said this ignored a great deal of harmful things that cannot be seen. Bacteria and viruses are not detectable with the naked eye, yet can cause a great deal of harm. In the spiritual realm, we know that our adversary is invisible and can cause us great harm if we are not vigilant. Satan and his allies cannot be seen, yet we know they are there and are bent on our destruction. Ephesians 6:12 informs us: "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."

So how can you keep from being harmed by an unseen foe? Being aware that he is there is one line of defense. Trusting in our powerful, yet invisible, Father is another. Paul proclaims trust in the invisible God in I Timothy 1:17, "Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen." We depend upon our invisible God to help us against our invisible foe. Constantly lean upon Him and declare your confidence in God's hand of protection. He will keep you from being harmed by Satan s invisible flames.

Pastor Steve
Friday November 15, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Steve
Thursday November 14, 2019

There are many books that are written about how to be free in a variety of areas. Finances, attitudes, relationships, health and work are some of the more common topics of these "how-to" guides. They frequently are at the top of the best-seller s list. This demonstrates the desire of many people to be unshackled and unencumbered in their lives. We want control of our lives, and being free in these areas is important to having control.

In reality, there is only one Book that tells us how we can truly be free - the Bible. We may be totally in charge of all of the aforementioned areas of our lives, but unless we have solved a basic problem, we are not truly free. We have an issue with sin, and sin has us gripped like a vise. There are no solutions to this apart from what the Scripture says. We need to allow the Spirit of God to transform us through following Christ. Jesus says this is the way to true freedom. In John 8:32 & 36, "Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. . So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed."

Regardless of what you think, the source of your greatest anxiety is the problem of sin that we all face. Only through God can we find a way to be set free from this. A friend of mine, Danny Jividen, wrote a song that said, "Make me your servant to I can know true liberty; chain me with your love and I will be free." Giving your life to God through faith in His Son is the path to real freedom. Trust him and your heart will be free!

Pastor Steve
Wednesday November 13, 2019

One of the most compelling stories in all of scripture is that of Hannah and her son, Samuel. Hannah was childless and prayed fervently not only for a child, but specifically asked for a son (I Samuel 1:9-11). She told the Lord that if he would give her a son, she would offer him to the Lord. She prayed, "O LORD Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant's misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head (I Samuel 1:11)."

God honored her request, and Hannah kept her promise. When the child was old enough, she brought him to the house of God. She brought him there not just for consecration, but to present him to the Lord for good.

We don't need to go so far with our children today, but we do need to leave them in the hands of our Lord. We must do all we can to give them a strong spiritual and moral foundation so that when the call to follow other paths weighs heavily upon them. We need to teach them well so that the lessons that other factions try to put in their lives will fall upon deaf ears. Television, internet, peers, culture, all speak loudly. When these voices are speaking the wrong things, our children need to have the ability to make good decisions. This comes from their family and their family at church. We need to teach them well.

We "give" our children to the Lord through our prayer for them, our modeling spiritual behavior before them, and our teaching them to follow Christ. Give them to God so they will know the way of truth.

Pastor Steve
Tuesday November 12, 2019

We had a nice little winter storm yesterday that left the landscape, streets, parking lots, buildings, and vehicles blanketed in a nice coat of white. This is a little early, but not all that unusual. A couple of songs kept running through my head as I saw the growing pile of white. Bing Crosby kept singing, "Oh, the first snowfall of the winter. . ." Yes, Karen Carpenter did that one also. And then there was, "Oh the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful. And since we ve no place to go, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow." No particular singer was ringing in my ears on this one. And I actually did have places to go, so there s the knock against what we experienced yesterday. Still, it did make for a beautiful picture.

I also had another thought as I was out amidst all this white bubbliness - I thought about how the scripture said this is what Christ makes me look like on the inside. Isaiah 1:18 is perhaps the best-known of these scriptures, "Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool." David speaks about this in his great confessional Psalm, "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow." (Psalm 51:8) Revelation 3:5 gives a little different perspective on being cleansed, "He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels." This is the hope for all who yield their lives to him.

As I looked at the new coat of snow covering the surfaces of all you see, I thought about how Christ does this for those who come to him - cover everything that is unsightly and soiled. In reality, he goes a bit further than this He cleans us inside and out, and puts us in a place where we can enjoy him. What a beautiful thought to have on a snowy day. Actually, a beautiful thought to have on any day. Thank you, Lord, for your death on my behalf that allows me to be clean. As the song says, "Now wash me and I will be whiter than snow."

Pastor Steve
Monday November 11, 2019

Today is Veteran's Day. The day will be observed by work stoppages, bank holidays, and a postal holiday. There will also be parades and ceremonial observations. This day originally commemorated the end of World War I and was known as Armistice Day.

The Treaty of Versailles ended the Great War and was signed on the 11th hour of the 11th day of November in 1918. The Great War was supposed to be the war to end all wars. Most naively felt that there would never be another conflict of this nature and that on the signing of this treaty war would never be experienced again. Sadly, they were wrong. Those of us living today have reached a point where there are no living veterans of this great conflict. And war still rages.

Someday, war will cease. God has promised a day of his intervention when "He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire." (Psalm 46:9) Until that time we need continue to place our trust in the Sovereign God who controls all things. He knows when this final treaty will be ratified. It will not be so much of a treaty as a mandate.

Let us pay tribute to those whose lives have been profoundly affected by their participation in conflicts, or simply even their participation in forces that exist because of the presence of conflict. Let us pray for the time when all conflict will end. Thank you to all who have served. Your sacrifice has not gone unnoticed.

Pastor Steve
Sunday November 10, 2019

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

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

He knows my name

He knows my every thought

He sees each tear that falls

And He hears me when I call

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

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

Pastor Steve
Saturday November 09, 2019

The following story came from a post on a blog that was created to promote honesty: "While loading my groceries into the car one day a store employee pointed out that I had left my milk on the bottom of the cart. I immediately realized that I had forgotten to take it off of the cart during check out. I placed the children back in the cart and returned to the store in to pay for it. When I came out the employees were so impressed that they gave me $12.50 in coupons! At the time, my husband was in school and we were not well off. The free milk and cereal that I received by using the coupons was appreciated! The blessings of honesty are real. My children learned a great lesson that day too!"

Exodus 23 lists several scenarios of how honesty should be employed. The Israelites are told, "Do not spread false reports" (vs. 1); "Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong" (vs. 2); "If you come across your enemy s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to return it" (vs. 4); "Have nothing to do with a false charge" (vs. 7); and other directives concerning honest actions.

What I find especially fascinating about these statements are that the Israelites are told to be honest with their enemies as well as their friends. Honesty should know no bounds and we need to allow the principle of honesty to drive us at all times and in all circumstances. We should strive for honesty whether our efforts bring benefit to us or not. Doing so is simply the right thing to do. Sir Edwin Sandys was certainly correct in saying that "Honesty is the best policy."

Pastor Steve
Friday November 08, 2019

You perhaps remember in my post yesterday that I commented upon Stephanie and Megan seeking my help from time to time. Well, just after I arrived in my office, I received a text from Stephanie asking if I could print some copies for her. Why did my daughter who lives 400 miles from me ask me to do this for her? Her printer wasn t working and she and her family are coming to see us this weekend. So, the copies are ready for her when she arrives.

She asked me to do this because she knew I would do what I could to help her. Both of my daughters know this. They know I would do anything I could to help them whenever I can. I am limited physically now, but I still like to do all I can for them because I like to help them.

Many years ago, I gave driving directions to Megan when she was trying to find Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. This was before the proliferation of smart phones and she didn't have a GPS. So, she called me to see if I could tell her how to find Yale. Through MapQuest, I was able to guide her to her destination.

I delight in being able to help my daughters whenever I can. God also delights in being able to help his children. He delights in having a good relationship with his children. He delights in helping us with details in our lives that need to be addressed. He delights in helping us find the right path.

Psalm 147:11 says, "the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love." Micah 7:8 - 9, "Who is a God like you? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy." Zephaniah 3:17 says, "He will take great delight in you;"

God delights in his children who desire to follow him and seek his help. This brings him joy. He loves nothing better than to walk with us and help us along the pathway of life. God delights in his children. And his help, unlike mine, is limitless. Let's delight our Father by doing what we should.

Pastor Steve
Thursday November 07, 2019

I am thrilled when either of my two daughters call and say they are in need of help with something. I am thrilled because this doesn't happen all that often as their lives have taken them to other places and they have proven to be quite capable of taking care of themselves. We tried to raise our girls to be independent and be able to take care of themselves, and it looks like our efforts were successful. I sometimes joke about this and say I wish we had not done such a good job. It would be nice to have them closer, especially now that there are grandkids involved, but I am so happy to see them as they are.

The days of helping them with tying their shoes, fixing their breakfast, taking them to school, teaching them to ride a bike and even to drive a car are over. Now, they are getting to enjoy these times with their children. Those days went by fast. So, when they call and need some advice or ask us to help them with something on our next visit, I am thrilled. They are independent and capable of taking care of themselves, but our relationship is such that they feel totally comfortable asking for help when needed. And that is as it should be.

As followers of Christ, we also should learn to "stand on our own two feet" by growing in him. However, we should never lose sight of our dependence on him. We need to remember that we will never be totally independent of God and his resources for our lives. When we try to live in this way, we get into trouble.

Christ trained his disciples to carry on his ministry after he was gone, but he also reminded them, "Without me you can do nothing." (John 15:5) God wants us to grow in our faith and become mature, but always with the idea that we need his continued input into our lives.

Paul chastised the Corinthian believers for not progressing in their faith, "Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready." (I Corinthians 3:1-2) However, growing in faith and dependence on God are not mutually exclusive. We are to gain maturity in the Lord, but always recognize our dependence on the Lord to help us mature.

My girls have grown into resourceful, capable, intelligent young ladies, but they still recognize the resource they have in their parents. This is what we should do as followers of Christ - grow in faith and knowledge in Christ but never forget our need for the resources only Christ can provide.

Pastor Steve
Wednesday November 06, 2019

A real estate agent was showing a dilapidated property to a prospective buyer. It was an old warehouse that had most of its windows broken out, doors that were hanging loosely, ceilings falling in, and a great deal of masonry in need of repair. The agent said, "The seller will repair all the windows as well as make all other updates should you decide to buy this property." "Don't bother," said the businessman, "I'm not interested in the building, I want the site. The building is to be torn down so I can build something new."

Like the prospective buyer of this property, Jesus is not interested in what you can bring to him, he is interested in what he can do for you. Many people labor under the mistaken assumption that we need to try to be good enough, to be able to contribute enough money, to be able to offer enough in the way of service to the church, or many other efforts, to somehow appease him and gain entrance into eternal life. Christ wants to do away with the old in your life and build something new.

Many years ago I was with a group in Peru. I was with moy oldest daughter, Stephanie, doing some shopping. We engaged in a conversation with a young shop keeper about her relationship with Christ. She told me she didn't have enough money to be able to be part of Christ's church. In my broken Spanish I told her, "Jesus no quiere tu dinero, Jesus quiere tu corazon" (Jesus does not want your money, Jesus wants your heart).

Paul tells us, "If you declare 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 profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, 'Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.'" (Romans 10:9-11)

I hope you realize this - you can bring nothing to Jesus that will obtain his acceptance. You have nothing of value he wants except your heart. He wants you and wants to do something for you. If you have not allowed him access to your "site," why not do so today?

Pastor Steve
Tuesday November 05, 2019

Many years ago, a missionary who was working among a tribal group gave a mirror to an individual from the people he was serving. When the person realized he was looking at himself in the mirror, he smashed the mirror. He didn't like what he saw.

James tells us that God's Word is a mirror into which we can look to see what we look like on a spiritual level. We read in 1:23-24, "Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like."

When we see ourselves in the mirror of God's Word, who is looking back? Do we like what we see, or do we see a visage that makes us want to "break the mirror?"

God's Word exposes our flaws and shows what we need to change. So, in actuality, we shouldn't be too quick to do away with the image that can help us make needed adjustments in our character and in our actions. We should use what we see to help us better reflect Christ's character. Use what you see in a positive sense, even if what you see is a negative. This will help you turn the negative into a positive.

Pastor Steve
Monday November 04, 2019

Folks who don't believe in God give a lot of reasons for their skepticism. However, when you condense all of these reasons, a common thread may be found. Folks do not believe in God because God doesn't match who they think God should be. So many times I have heard, "If there is a God, then why do bad things happen?" and similar questions. Raising the questions provides justification for denying God's reality. Woody Allen said, "If only God would give me a sign, like making a large deposit in my name at a Swiss bank." The intent of this remark may have been humorous, but it reflects a serious issue - a denial of God for who he is and our position before him.

As followers of Christ, often we fall into a different sort of trap. We tend to put God in a box. We must realize that God is who he is - he is not what we think he should be. When we make the mistake of trying to "think for God" and making plans for him, instead of letting him make plans for us, we can get into some real trouble. When we focus on what we think God is not doing, we miss what he is doing.

There were a group of people in Christ's day that did just that. Even after the Pharisees witnessed Christ's provision of food for thousands using what was intended just for one, they doubted God's presence. They asked, "What sign will You perform then, that we may see it and believe You? What work will You do? Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.' (John 6:30-31). Isn't that ironic?

God does not exist because people believe in him, nor does he exist just to fulfill people's plans. "I am who I am," he declared to Moses (Exodus 3:14). We are so much better off when we remember who God is and that he is more than just a cosmic genie in a bottle excising only to supply our whims. Focus on God, not what you think God should be doing. Then you won't miss a thing.

i Pastor Steve
Sunday November 03, 2019

I shared the following story with my church last Sunday. There has been an issue with security guards at JFK Airport in New York that have been caught sleeping on the job. So, how safe are you at the airport if the guards aren't paying attention? Stephen Jackson, a former manager for FJC Security, which employs about 300 security guards at JFK Airport, said it was actually surprisingly common to see JFK guards dozing. According to The Inquisitor, one incident was particularly embarrassing. Jackson said Suhas Harite fell asleep twice while assigned to a remote post near Jamaica Bay. In August a jet skier who became stranded breached a 6-foot-tall fence built as part of the New York Port Authority s $100 million Perimeter Intrusion Detection System. The jet skier managed to walk across two runways undetected. Yeesh!

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

Pastor Steve
Saturday November 02, 2019
For just about as long as I can remember, something I do at this time of year is check the college football rankings when they came out on Sunday. I used to have to wait until Monday to check them in newspapers; now I can find them on the internet. The poll system is rather interesting now since a play-off system (of sorts) was introduced into Division 1 football, but the two polls with the most history are the AP poll that started in 1934 and is based on the votes of sportswriters and the Coaches poll based on the votes of 62 Division 1 coaches. This latter poll has been around since the 1950-51 season.

The polls are subjective, of course, and are based on the performance of the teams. The subjectivity means these two polls rarely match totally.

Aren't you glad that our standing with God is not determined by some poll that is based on a subjective measure of our performance? Our relationship is based on God's loving provision of a Savior for us through his Son, Jesus Christ. Our relationship is based on our decision to follow this provision. Opinions are not considered, and God does not rate our performance to see where we rank on his scale.

Poll ratings are good to determine the position of a college football team, but have nothing to do with our position with the Lord. Christ told Nicodemus the criteria that determines our relationship with God, "Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again." Polls do not determine this. You determine this through your faith in Christ.

Pastor Steve
Friday November 01, 2019

We should aspire to be a "feet" kind of Christian. First of all, as the feet are the first line of support for us, we need to stand firm in our position with Christ. Paul encourages us to "stand firm in the faith" (I Corinthians 16:13) In addition, we need to be supportive of others and encourage others to stand firm in the Christian life. Paul tells us to "encourage one another and build each other up" (I Thessalonians 5:11) We need to develop an "others-centered" mindset and help to support our fellow believers.

We should aspire to be a "feet" kind of Christian by being willing to go where we need to go to bring the Good News of Christ to others. Paul writes in Romans 10:15, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" We need to have "beautiful feet" and be involved in telling others about what Christ has done and what he will do for them when they trust him as their Savior. Do you have beautiful feet?

A final way that we should be a "feet" kind of Christian is being sensitive to sin. We should be able to see areas that could be problems and avoid them. When we do sin, we need to seek forgiveness and not allow sin to remain and grow. No matter how "tough" your feet become, your foot is always sensitive to foreign objects present that may present a problem if left where they are. A tiny pebble in our shoe drives us nuts until we take the time to remove the pebble. We need the same sensitivity to the presence of sin.

God told Cain, "sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it." (Genesis 4:7) We need to develop a sensitivity to sin that helps us to avoid the thorny issues sin causes. Be a "feet" kind of Christian! Support yourself and others well, bring the news of Christ to those who need to hear, and avoid sin!

Pastor Steve