Friday April 03, 2020

Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes 3:11, "He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart." Humans sometimes struggle in life because we want to know as much as we can about the whole, the purpose of things, the meaning of life so to speak. We have a desire to know the point of it all. This desire stems from who we are and how we have been created. This desire is one of the aspects that sets us apart from all the rest of God's creation.

Many folks get frustrated because they can't seem to find answers. The reason for the frustration is because they are not taking into consideration what Solomon has said is "in (their) hearts" - eternity. The meaning and reality of life cannot be fully understood and appreciated apart from considering life from the perspective of eternity.

We are eternal beings. If we are looking for meaning and purpose in our present existence alone, we will be frustrated. Cultivating an eternal perspective is necessary for us to truly see life as it really is. There is more to our existence than what we experience here and now. We know this from our study of scripture and from listening to what God says. However, we often fail to apply this truth to all aspects of our lives. Developing an eternal perspective starts with placing our lives in God's hands through receiving the gift of eternal life he has given us in the provision of His Son.

We need to look at our experiences with an eternal eye. We need to live our lives in such a way as to show that we truly believe in eternity. Our belief in eternity should influence how we make decisions, what we do, where we go, our relationships, and everything else. We need to live our lives here and now with the perspective of eternity. Doing this will make all the difference in the world. Our frustration will be diminished because we are living the way we should - with "eternity in (our) hearts."

Pastor Steve
Thursday April 02, 2020

I think I have used the following article before, but I could not find out for sure. I know I came across the story as I was going over some of my writing. I thought it might be helpful as we find ourselves in a situation where we can do little more than wait.

Scripture is replete with stories of folks who had to wait. Abraham and Sarah had to wait 25 years for a child. Joseph languished in an Egyptian cell for almost two decades. Moses spent 40 years in training before returning to Egypt. David waited 20 years to ascend to the throne of Israel. Do you see a pattern here? There are times when God calls upon us to wait.

Waiting is a faith-building process. There are times we do not have full understanding in the waiting process, but that is often the point. These are times when we learn to trust whole-heartedly in the wisdom of God.

Job declares in Job 14:14-15: "All the days of my hard service I will wait for my renewal to come. You will call and I will answer you." We may not like to wait, but know there is always a purpose for our waiting. God does not act randomly or capriciously. As we are patient, God shows us what he wants to teach us and helps us to build character. Through these times, he shapes and molds us into what he wants for us to be. Don t forget that God is working for us, not against us. "We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield." (Psalm 33:20)

Pastor Steve
Wednesday April 01, 2020

Yesterday, I was sitting in my chair in our front room contemplating the recent news of the extension of our "furlough" when a thought hit me, "This seems oddly familiar." I had sort of a déjà vu moment. Then, I realized the reason for the familiarity. Three years ago at this time I was doing essentially what I am doing now - working in my front room in the very chair I am sitting in now because I am more or less confined to my house.

Actually, three years ago I was a bit more confined because I was significantly less mobile. I had fallen and broken my leg. I had surgery to repair the break and was unable to put weight on the leg for six weeks. So, for six weeks, my activities were restricted, much like they are now. Now, the two events aren't exactly the same, of course. Everyone is confined now. Back then, church services still continued and I was back in the pulpit two weeks after surgery. Well, my wheelchair was my pulpit. Some guys would lift me up to the platform and I would get to preach to a live audience. That wouldn't work now - we are unable to meet at church.

As I thought about that time, I realized that some of the lessons I learned from my experience three years ago can help me now. I would like to share some of my thoughts with you with the hope that you may find them to be of benefit.

First, I learned to accept that I was in a situation about which I could do nothing to change. I could complain all I wanted, I could get irritated, I could get angry. But, much like now, none of these would change the circumstances. Acceptance seemed to be the best path.

Secondly, I learned to re-tool my thinking. Since I was unable to get out and do what I was accustomed to doing, what are some things that I could do? This attitude can serve us well right now. As Bing Crosby (among others) sang, 'You've got to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative. Latch on to the affirmative, don't mess with Mister In-Between.'

Finally, I continued to focus on God and meditate on His promises. Concentrating on God and the Word God has given is something that helps us to cope with situations that are beyond our control. I have encouraged this before and I encourage this again we need to turn what is happening over to God. In the scripture, we are encouraged to "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight." (Proverbs 3:5 - 6)

I saw God at work in my individual experience three years ago I know that He is still at work now. Some things may be different, but in many ways, they are the same. One thing I know; God brought me through what I experienced three years ago and He can bring us through what we are all now experiencing.

Pastor Steve
Tuesday March 31, 2020

I would like to tell you a story. This is one of the stories that is humorous to me because I know the ending. If I didn't, it probably would not be quite so funny. Many years ago, on a trip from a repair shop to the church, the door covering the battery compartment on our church bus fell off, unbeknownst to the driver (me!). Before the door could be retrieved, it was run over by a car. It was damaged beyond repair. Now, if the story ended here, it wouldn't be funny at all. But, of course, it doesn't.

Between a local welding shop and a body shop, a new door was fabricated, painted, and installed. And it looked and worked better than the old door. All that was needed was the expertise of the professionals and the necessary price.

Sound familiar? This is what has happened to us. We have fallen off our hinges and been run over by a car. We are beyond repair. However, in the hands of the right Professional, and his Son who has already paid the price, we can be remade. Through the operation of the Holy Spirit, we will be better than the original.

In Titus 3:4-7, Paul tells us what takes place: "But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life." What a way for a story to end!

Pastor Steve
Monday March 30, 2020

This is the anniversary of John Hinckley's attempt to assassinate President Ronald Reagan. On March 30, 1981, Hinckley fired six bullets wounding Reagan's press secretary Jim Brady, police officer Thomas Delahanty, and Reagan. While Reagan was in surgery and with Vice-president George Bush on a jet over Texas, Secretary of State Alexander Haig infamously declared "I am in control here" at a press conference. He received a great deal of criticism for this remark, but he simply was reacting in accordance with his military training and what he thought was constitutionally correct. He wanted to assure people that everything was under control.

It is our natural inclination to want to know who is in charge in any given setting. Some of us are wired to want to be in charge, and others simply want to know who to look to for marching orders. God wants to change our orientation so that we are always following Jesus regardless of what our leadership status might be. "And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy." (Colossians 1;18)

It is good to know who is in charge. It is good to know that God is in charge. This is good to know at any time, but especially at times when we face uncertainly. We need to allow him to say, "I am in control here. We should know full well that when he makes this claim, there is no room for argument.

Pastor Steve
Sunday March 29, 2020

Folks from my church have heard this story before, but it is worth repeating. Many years ago, I witnessed a funny incident that happened at a local store. I parked next to a car with the driver behind the wheel. I knew the man and he told me he was waiting on his wife. I then entered the store and saw his wife sitting on a bench just inside the door. When I spoke with her, she told me she was waiting on her husband. Obviously, I informed her of her that her husband was waiting for her in their car. She didn't look very pleased as she exited the store. I cannot help but recall the line from "Cool Hand Luke," "What we've got here is a failure to communicate."

Of course, this happens all too often in real life. Many "failures to communicate" can be put in the same area of consideration as my story, but if there are real problems with communication in relationships, they need to be addressed. This is an area I stress as I am working with couples either in pre-marital or marital counseling.

Good communication is the foundation of strong relationships. This is true not just in marriage, but in all of our relationships. A failure to communicate effectively can lead to a lot of issues. Follow the advice given in scripture where is it tells us, "Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another." (Ephesians 4:25) A further statement is "My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry," (James 1:19) Work on good communication it will be better for you and for those around you.

Pastor Steve
Saturday March 28, 2020

Isaac Watts was a prolific writer of hymns. If you are unfamiliar with Watts' life or the songs he has provided for us, look him up sometime. "Joy to the World", "Alas and Did My Savior Bleed", "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross", and "O God Our Help in Ages Past" are just a few of the hymns he penned.

Watts was a prolific writer and theologian, but apparently his appearance was somewhat unattractive. Canadian minister John Gladstone wrote that Watts fell in love with a young woman and proposed marriage to her. Her reply was rather cruel, "Mr. Watts, if only I could say that I admire the (jewelry box) as much as I admire the jewel it contains."

Gladstone used this to draw an analogy between the "jewelry box" (followers of Christ) and the "jewel" (Christ) it contains. Are we allowing the "jewel" to be seen in what we are doing? Is the love of Christ evident in our presentation of his message? We need to make sure that our behavior and our appearance does not obstruct the view of the message we are to proclaim. Paul writes about being "winsome" in order to "win some." We read in I Corinthians 9:22, "I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might (win) some."

We should make every effort to make our jewelry box match the jewel in contains. Our lives should reflect the glory of Christ that others may see what he has for them.

Pastor Steve
Friday March 27, 2020

With apologies to William Shakespeare, "To church or not to church? That is the question." Indeed it is. I know all of you share my feelings that we do not like our inability to meet together with our church families. In our community, we just made the decision to not hold our annual Community Good Friday service as it appears that restrictions will extend to that time. In addition, we are unable to meet to do much planning for the service. What we are going to do is to have a Community Service of Praise and Celebration when we get past this time of seclusion.

In reference to my opening statement, I know there is a difference of opinion among church people as to whether we should meet or not. I think we should meet, but I also think that not meeting is the better course. I will outline why in a bit.

First of all, I want to make it clear that I am a church person. "Well, of course you are, you are a pastor," I hear you saying. Other than my being a pastor, there are a number of reasons as to why I am a church person.

I have always taken Hebrews 10:25-26 seriously, "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another and all the more as you see the Day approaching." Inherent in the very word that we translate "church" in our English Bibles is the idea of getting together. A more accurate translation of ekklesia, the Greek word underlying "church," is "assembly." I was in church even before I was born. My folks wanted me in church. I was there every time the bell sounded, and if my Grandpa Mayfield or Homer Click was preaching somewhere, I was usually there. So, yes, I am a church person.

But right now, we have been called upon not to assemble because it is the best course of action. I don't like it, but we would be wise to heed the advice and look forward to the time when circumstances change. Why do this?

First, we have been asked to do so for a very good reason. I am not bringing this up for debate, but authorities have said we shouldn't meet because we may be endangering lives if we do so.

Secondly, we should view this time as a test of faith. Some may say that an appropriate show of faith would be to trust God s protection and have church. There is merit to that, and if you have read any of my previous articles where I commented on our crisis, you know I have maintained that we need to trust God. And we do. Right now our faith is being tested. A display of faith is needed in the face of this adversity. We could show faith through meeting, but we can also show faith through not meeting. We show faith by remaining strong and united even when we cannot be with each other. As I have said before, we need to remain together even though we can t be together together. Situations such as these are either opportunities to grow or to crumble. Be grateful for the technology that allows us to continue to have a degree of connection when we can be with each other face to face.

Thirdly, remember that this time is not going to last. There will be a time when this is over. Look forward to that time. I think of a title of a sermon I preached years ago from Matthew 8:23 - 27, "The Boat Will Not Sink, and The Storm Will Not Last Forever."

Finally, we can allow our time apart to increase our appreciation of being together. I look forward to the time when we can be with each other. I feel like Paul did when he wrote, "I long to see you." (Romans 1:11) We should never take for granted the joy and privilege we have of being together. Of course, this is true in a variety of scenarios alongside the church - times with family, friends, and other gatherings. As I said earlier, we are planning a community praise and celebration time when this is behind us.

I know many of you may disagree with me, that's fine. I am not offering this for debate. I just want to encourage us as much as we can be encouraged in a time when we need to be encouraged. It's not a time to point fingers or judge; it s a time to pray and to trust. A final word - don't get too used to staying in your pajamas for church; we WILL be back together soon! God bless you all.

Pastor Steve
Thursday March 26, 2020

There are times in our Christian experience when we feel that we are on top of the mountain. There are times when we experience great spiritual exhilaration and joy and a sense of the presence of God that is hard to describe. We wish we could stay there. We wish we could stay where we are above struggle and stifle and pain. This is not a unique occurrence.

Peter, James, and John had such an experience. You can read about this in Matthew 17:1 - 8. "After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. . .Peter said to Jesus, 'Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.'. . . As they were coming down the mountain."

They could not stay on the mountain. Christ led them down to the challenges and opportunities of the daily life of faith. We can be grateful when we have such soaring times of closeness to God. Yet our lives are lived in the daily pains and pleasures of this world.

We should pray for the Father to help us use our encounters with him as a source of strength and encouragement and we live our daily lives. We appreciate the times on the mountain, but our lives are lived in the valley.

Pastor Steve
Wednesday March 25, 2020

Hey Parents - are you looking for some resources for you kids during this days of togetherness? Here are a couple of websites you may want to check out for some resources:

You may just be able to click on the link, if not, just cut and paste the address! Blessings to all of you! Hope to see you soon!

Pastor Steve

Pastor Steve
Wednesday March 25, 2020
Hey Parents - are you looking for some resources for you kids during this days of togetherness? Here are a couple of websites you may want to check out for some resources: You may just be able to click on the link, if not, just cut and paste the address! Blessings to all of you! Hope to see you soon! Pastor Steve
Wednesday March 25, 2020

As many of you are aware, one of the latest scheduling decisions that is a result of the Covid19 virus is the postponement of the summer Olympics. This was no doubt a wise decision, but a difficult one when you consider the scope of the Olympics. All of us are having to alter our lives in ways we never would have imagined. Let's continue to look to the future, continue to make good decisions in the present, and continue to rely upon God and know His presence is still with us.

My niece, Hannah, sent this verse out to several of us in her family. Let me share it with you - "So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." One of the most important things we can do is to continue to encourage each other and to continue to follow our faithful God.

As I think about the Olympics, I think about an article I read recently about the "habits" of some athletes. Many athletes at all levels of competition have pre-game rituals or practices that they dare not deviate from lest it lead to a loss. These activities are meant to keep them focused and improve their performance. At times, these habits border on superstition. I read about one football player's habit that literally reeked. The player slept the night before games in a university T-shirt he hadn't washed in 11 years. When asked about sleeping in the dirty T-shirt, he replied: "It's got rips and stuff, but I m not going to change what I do."

Let's remember there is no ritual or practice that is going to bring about a swift end to our current circumstance. And we have been called upon to do things in a different way that we did before in order to try to stifle the spread of this virus. Sometimes we don't like to do things differently because we like our lifestyle just the way it is. We like our "rituals." Now is not the time to be so jealous of how things were, especially if continuing with the "way things were" hinders what we hope will be - an end to this crisis.

There is no "easy fix." but we know we can remain strong if we continue to follow what God has told us to do when we face troubled times. We also need to continue to make good decisions and do what we know we should. There will be an end to this, and we will see our lives restored.

Let's pray for those whose lives have been profoundly affected by the virus because of the loss they have endured. Let's pray for those who labor to try to ease the suffering of others - our medical people, including my niece Hannah and her dad, Kevin, who is a doctor, and my brother, Phil, who is nurse anesthetist, and others in my family. If you are not a medical person, you know someone who is, perhaps family members. Pray for them.

Pray for safety of others on the front lines who are continuing to work because doing so allows the rest of us to enjoy some degree of life as it was before this thing hit. There will not be a magic formula for the removal of this culprit, but we know that doing what we have been called upon to do with regard to altering our lifestyles and continuing to have faith will allow us to remain strong. God bless all of you.

Pastor Steve
Tuesday March 24, 2020

In the book "The Most Misused Verses in the Bible," Eric J. Bargerhuff writes that we must be careful not to use the Bible for our own selfish means. He writes that we tend to latch on to certain verses and "claim the promises" they make to us in an attempt to provide scriptural justification for actions or for ideas that are not correct. There is nothing wrong with letting the promises of the Bible speak to us and encourage us, just don't use a passage to try to prove something that it does not intend to prove.

We need to be careful not to make the Bible say what we want it to say instead of letting it say what is intended. We need to read the scripture and let it speak for itself. We need to work to understand the historical, grammatical, authorial intent, and literary form of the passage and let it say what God intends to convey. We need to be involved in careful individual Bible study, and also get involved with others who want to let the Bible speak for itself. Right now, that may not be what we are able to do, but we will be able to soon. I don't know about you, but I am missing this a bunch. I am glad we are able to keep as connected as we are and I encourage you to use our technology to your advantage. It's important that we keep in the Word and keep sharing about the Word so we can gain insight into what God wants us to know.

Psalm 119:105 says: "Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path." If we want this to be meaningful and true, we must allow God's Word to be a living guide in our lives, not just a handbook we use when we have a problem to solve. Use, but don't misuse, the Bible!

Pastor Steve
Monday March 23, 2020

Something that has not stopped during our current health crisis are calls from telemarketers or other scam calls. Calls from telemarketers are, well, I know I don't need to tell you how annoying they can be. Richard Herman in the United Kingdom decided he had had enough. Even though he was on the U.K.'s equivalent of the Do Not Call List, he continued to receive calls from one particular company. He warned the caller that he would start charging 10 pounds (about $16) per minute for his time if they continued to call. Herman began keeping track of the minutes as the company persisted with their calling. Then, he submitted a bill to the company who was making the calls.

The invoice was ignored at first but Herman did not stop. He took the company to court and won a judgment in the amount of 195 pounds (roughly $270). After the ruling, he told the BBC, "It cheered me up to think that actually instead of being the victim of these calls I can actually defend myself against them to put the boot onto the other foot."

Aren't you glad that God does not look at us telemarketers? Can you even begin to imagine the number of calls He gets from us humans? Yet He never thinks about putting us on a "do not call" list. Psalm 120:1 says, "I call on the Lord in my distress, and he answers me." This is our assurance. God will always take our calls.

Pastor Steve
Sunday March 22, 2020

Not long ago, I was reading one of my favorite passages of scripture (I can hear some of you who know me laughing) - the book of Ruth - when something struck me that I hadn't really given much thought about before. In Ruth 2, we read "And, behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem, and said unto the reapers, 'The Lord be with you.' And they answered him, 'The Lord bless thee.'" (Ruth 2:4) Boaz was a man with a stellar reputation. He was a man with great standing in the community in which he lived. He was "a mighty man of wealth" (Luke 2:1).

How did Boaz attain this status? I think the key to this is in the greeting we see in the first verse I cited above - "The Lord be with you." I see in this a principle that Boaz applied in his life. He allowed God to be a part of every relationship he had. God was a part of his relationship with friends, with family, with business associates, anyone with whom he had any interaction. Boaz knew that God should be involved in every area of his life. Living according to this principle brought great blessing to Boaz.

When we allow God to be a vital part of our lives, we cannot help but be blessed on account of this. Does God have free reign to all parts of your life? Are there any areas where you don't allow him to feel welcome? If there are, do something about this. May "the Lord be with you" in every way.

Pastor Steve
Saturday March 21, 2020

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

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

Don't let your sins accumulate. Deal with them, or experience the consequence.

Pastor Steve
Friday March 20, 2020

Well, did you get your egg to balance on end yesterday? Of course, it really didn't matter if you did or not, yesterday was still the first day of spring. And, of course, remember what I said about balancing eggs on end. You should be able to do it today as it doesn t depend on any special forces that were to align yesterday.

This is the way it is with many things in our lives. Our opinions or thoughts about them do not dictate reality. Reality is determined by some other criteria. There are many things about which we may have different opinions and it does not make a great deal of difference. I may suggest to you a restaurant that I enjoy and find that the food is good there. Then, you try the restaurant and have a totally different experience which leads you to have a different opinion about the restaurant. In this case, having two different opinions does not matter a great deal as our opinion will not lead to any particular good or bad consequence.

There is an area where we do need to agree and having different opinions should not happen. We should agree that having a relationship with God is of supreme importance. We should understand that our opinion with regard to God and whether or not we need to acknowledge Him matters a good deal. God does not care if we are able to balance an egg on end on the vernal equinox or any other day, He simply wants our devotion. He wants us to love him and acknowledge Him as the person of ultimate importance in our lives.

Whether we place our trust in Him or not does have consequences. Following Him through the path He has created through the Gift of His Son means we have life. Joshua declared, "Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord." (Joshua 24:15) Being able to balance an egg on end or not has little consequence. Making the right choice about following God does.

Pastor Steve
Thursday March 19, 2020

Today is the first day of Spring. Supposedly, you should be able to stand an egg on end today. As I understand it, you can actually stand an egg on end just about any day of the year. It takes the right egg and little practice. I hope you have some better things to do than to spend time trying to get an egg balanced on end.

Although today may have nothing to do with gravitational forces aligning just right so that you can perform the egg trick, it does have something to do with balance. Today, we will experience just about the same amount of daylight and nighttime.

As I think about day and night, I think about the promise given to us in Psalm 121:5 & 6, "The Lord watches over you the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night." This tells us that God's presence is with us at all times, even at times when we are experiencing dark times in our lives. In actuality, His presence is with us especially at times when we are experiencing dark times in our lives.

Our current struggle with Covid19 has cast a shadow over almost all of the world. We are facing an experience that was unexpected and certainly unwanted. Through this, we can still count on the presence of God. He is here with us and will not leave our side. We can still count on the provision of God. Just as spring promises renewal and revival, we know that we will experience renewal and revival in our lives. God's provision will bring this to fruition.

We know this will happen because we can be confident in God s power. Psalm 121 begins with a question, "I will lift up my eyes to the mountains, where does my help come from?" This was the question of the traveler as he looked ahead and saw the ominous sight of the mountains that housed uncertainty because of the dangers that lurked there. We face uncertain days, but we can chime in with the psalmist when he declares, "My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth." Yep - He is here and He is not silent. We may not be able to balance an egg on end, but we know we can still trust in God to be present with us, to offer provision in our time of need, and demonstrate power over any foe we face. Spring promises renewal let's look forward to renewal in our lives!

Pastor Steve
Wednsday March 18, 2020

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

As believers, we certainly have something to do. There are always ways we can serve Christ and serve others. We have been given gifts to serve God and others and we should never forget the need of spreading the Word of God to others. We need to be telling others of God's great love. Besides, knowing what we should be doing and not doing it is a sin. "If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn't do it, it is sin for them." (James 4:17) As believers, we do have others to love, and are loved by others. We have our family, and God wants us to promote and strengthen our family relationships. We should love God, and we are certainly loved by God. I John 4:19 tells us that "We love because he first loved us." As believers, we certainly have something to look forward to. I John 3:2 tells us, "Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is."

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

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday March 17, 2020

Patrick was a young man living with his family in Britain during the fourth century A.D. At the age of sixteen, Patrick was kidnapped by a band of Irish raiders and sold as a slave to an Irish chieftain. He wrote about his experience in "Confession". He also wrote of his conversion, ""But after I came to Ireland--every day I had to tend sheep, and many times a day I prayed--the love of God and His fear came to me more and more, and my faith was strengthened. And my spirit was moved so that in a single day I would say as many as a hundred prayers, and almost as many in the night, and this even when I was staying in the woods and on the mountains; and I used to get up for prayer before daylight, through snow, through frost, through rain. There the Lord opened the sense of my unbelief that I might at last remember my sins and be converted with all my heart to the Lord my God who...comforted me as would a father his son."

He spent several years there before escaping back to him homeland. After his return, he trained for ministry and eventually returned back to the island of his captors and introduced Christianity to the largely pagan population. By the time of his death, there were 120,000 Christians in Ireland and over 300 churches. In the next century, Irish missionaries went to Europe and evangelized hundreds of unbelievers there. This was the result of one man who took to heart and put into practice the words of Paul found in Ephesians 4:32, "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." We need to do the same. Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Pastor Steve
Monday March 16, 2020

I read the following in an article recently, "Eyes are windows into a person's inner being. They communicate compassion, anger, questions, and sadness. Eyes can narrow in contempt or open wide in surprise and joy. A glance can demean or encourage others."

Our eyes reveal so much about us. Some experts can tell who truthful one is by watching the eyes as statements are being made. Eye contact is a very important part of communication.

As followers of Christ, there is another thing to consider regarding our eyes. Eyes help us to receive information and input about life. How do we see life? How do we see our role in the lives of others? Do we look at life with the humility of God's sight? Psalm 18:27, "You save the humble but bring low those whose eyes are haughty." Ask God to keep your vision "humble". Ask him to help you look at life through his eyes. Humble eyes look at life with God's perspective. Let God do a "vision check" on you today.

Pastor Steve
Sunday March 15, 2020

A great deal of fear and confusion has gripped our nation and our world because of an invisible foe that has reared its ugly head. You cannot read anything, go anywhere, listen to anything, or watch anything without some reference to the coronavirus. I really don't feel adequate to make many comments about the virus as I am not a medical professional, but I do know something about anxiety and what it does.

Let me begin by saying that showing concern about this phenomenon is warranted. We just can't ignore it. But what I think would be helpful is to channel our concern in positive ways. I do not want to trivialize or minimize our current situation, but keep this in mind: Our lives always have inherent risks. Getting in a car has risks. Walking across the street has risks (especially if you walk like I do). Attending any sort of function where there are a number of people has risks, even without the presence of the coronavirus. Now, before you react to the statements I just made, please remember my preface to these remarks. I simply want to bring some perspective to our current issue.

We face risks daily without giving much thought about the risk. The coronavirus has gripped us because, among other reasons, it is new, it is unknown, it has experts baffled, we hear a lot about it, and it has caused unprecedented response. Once again, I don't want to make light of the problem, but I would never have imagined in my lifetime that I would witness the postponement of the Masters.

So, what do we do? Keep in mind what I have just said - our lives always have risks. In light of this current risk, I encourage you to do what the medical people are telling us to do - wash hands, make good decisions about social interaction, limit travel, and stay informed. Another good thing is to keep your head. Panic does not help. Focus on what you do know and can do, not on what you don't know and can't do. Don't focus on questions that have no answers.

I have saved my next suggestion for last because of emphasis. In actuality, it is what we need to do first. We need to pray about what is taking place. It should not surprise you that I say this. I say this as a person who strongly believes that prayer is something we need to do all the time, not just at a coronavirus outbreak.

Prayer is important for a number of reasons, not the least of which is what prayer can do for us. Prayer helps us to focus on a solution, not the problem, and helps to bring a sense of calm and peace at a time of turmoil and uncertainty. Prayer helps us to remember that God is in control, regardless of the pandemonium we see and the unknowns we experience. Pray for victims, for those who treat the victims, safety for those at risk, and for our own thoughts and reactions. Pray for an end to the crisis.

Pray scriptures that tell us that God is always present and in control, scripture such as Psalm 46 that tells us, "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in the time of trouble. Therefore, we will not fear though the earth gives way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea." If you are unfamiliar with this Psalm, take the time to read it, and then allow your mind to be led to other scriptures that promise us hope in the midst of crisis. By the way, Psalm 46 is my favorite psalm. I quote it to myself when I am going through some medical procedure or some other circumstance. Actually, I quote it at just about any time. It helps me to focus on what is significant.

I know we have a problem that can't be ignored. Focusing on the presence of God in the midst of the problem and on what we can do, rather than what we can't, will help us through the problem we face.

Pastor Steve
Saturday March 14, 2020

I am a 1974 graduate of Dawson-Bryant High School, located in Coal Grove, Ohio. As many of you reading this know, a reunion is being planned for all those who graduated from there during the 70 s. I am hoping to attend this reunion along with my brothers. I missed my 45th reunion last year, so I hope to catch up with some of my classmates, and others, at this soiree.

I sometimes struggle with how many years have passed since I walked out of the high school (which is now the middle school) for the last time. High school just doesn't seem that long ago.

I hope what happened to one fellow at his class reunion doesn't happen to me. The man walked into the room where the reunion was being held and shook hands and hugged people for over 20 minutes before he found out there were two reunions being held in the same building. He was at the wrong one.

This story illustrates an important principle: When troubleshooting something to find a problem, check the obvious first. If your computer isn't working, is it plugged in? If your car won't start, are you out of gas? This idea has implications in other areas of our lives as well. Before we blame others for problems we are having, we should first look to ourselves to see if something is amiss. Before we criticize someone else for what they are doing, we need to look to our own lives to see how things are going.

Jesus warned against judging others unfairly. He said, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye', when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." It is good to look to ourselves first, and check the obvious, before we go looking around other places for problems. If we do, then we won't end up at the wrong reunion.

Pastor Steve
Friday March 13, 2020

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

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

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

Pastor Steve
Thursday March 12, 2020

When we want to find a certain webpage, we type in the address and, boom, there it is, assuming we have the correct address and have typed in in correctly. We have search engines that can take us to webpages we wish to visit, but are unsure of their address. There is a good deal of organization that helps us navigate the broad expanse of the World Wide Web.

Of course, this has not always been the case. During the early days of the Internet, to borrow a biblical phrase, "In those days. . .everyone did as they saw fit." (Judges 21:25) It was, as you can imagine, chaos. In order to bring things out of chaos, web people started calling for others to agree with them on certain standards. Then, in 1989, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, a British computer scientist working in Switzerland, stepped in with a proposal on computer communication and, to made a long story short, the World Wide Web emerged out of the Wild Wild West.

In Deuteronomy 4:1, God tells His people, "Hear the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you." In other words, so that you can have order rather than chaos and achieve your desired goal, you need to follow the standards I have established for you. Without these, there would be anarchy and they would be unsuccessful.

Today, in order to bring chaos out of our sinful, selfish world, God calls upon us to submit to His design. We are asked to follow Him so that "in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ." (Galatians 6:2) We are to submit to the standard that has been established by Christ through placing our faith in Christ. We are to love God and love others as ourselves so that we can live at peace with one another and provide a witness to others of the benefits of following Him. Bring order out of chaos in your life by following Christ.

Pastor Steve
Wednesday March 11, 2020

This past Monday was a day of historic proportions for the stock market, but for the wrong reasons. For the first time since 2008, the market experienced what could be properly termed a "crash." The Dow lost 2,014 points, a 7.76% decline, by the time of the final bell. This was its 11th-worst day in history. The NASDAQ and the S&;P 500 lost 7.72% and 7.6% respectively. To make a long story short, it was not a good day for investors.

Some of the causes listed for this were the fears brought on by the coronavirus issue and the volatility in the crude oil market. The drastic fall of crude oil prices helped fuel the decline of the markets.

I am not an expert in the economy or the markets, but I do know that times such as these demonstrate the instability of our lives here and now and show why we should not put too much "stock" (pardon the pun) into our current existence. The scripture reminds us over and over of the brevity of our lives, the erratic nature of life, and in whom we should be placing our trust.

Psalm 121:1-2 says, "I lift up my eyes to the mountains where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth." Christ tells us, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6:19 21) Paul wrote, "Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things." (Colossians 3:2)

We need to do this because focusing only on what we have now will bring disappointment. Focusing on what we have in Christ is not an escapist mentality, it is reality, as only what we have done in Christ will last. I know Monday was hard for many of you - it was hard on many people. This is why we need to have a different focus.

One article I read about Monday said one should realize that times like these are going to happen as they are the norm, not the exception. Remembering this shows why our ultimate desire should be on something other what we see and possess. David tells us about this, Paul tells us about this, and Christ himself tells us about this. Keeping this focus helps us to put our "Black Mondays" into more realistic perspective.

Pastor Steve
Tuesday March 10, 2020

Today is the final day of the Jewish celebration of Purim. We talked about this in yesterday's article. The holiday is observed on the 14th and 15th day of the month of Adar in the Jewish calendar. According to the book of Esther, this is the date that a plot to exterminate all Jews in the Persian kingdom was exposed and thwarted. I hope you have read part or the entire book of Esther, as I suggested yesterday, and are now familiar with what took place. Reading the book in a sitting or two will help you grasp the flow and drama of this event.

One of the greatest features of this story is seeing what happens in the life of a young Jewish maiden who is thrust to the center of a life-or-death struggle through some rather interesting events. Reading about her experience brings up a question: Is this only a chance circumstance or do we witness a movement of God behind the scenes?

Sometimes it is hard to distinguish between the two. I think part of Mordecai's statement to Esther reflects our position in many of our contemporary experiences, "who knows?" (Esther 4:14). Often the origin of a circumstance is not as important as our response in the situation. When opportunities to accomplish good things present themselves, we should not labor so long over the origin of the opportunity that we miss out on a great possibility of ministry.

As we read God's Word, we observe that God can do things directly and indirectly. I use these terms for lack of a better description. Let's follow the example of Esther and Mordecai and do what we know to be right. God is in it. Remember the words of James, 'If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn t do it, it is sin for them.' (James 4:17) Make the most of opportunities to do what is good, and let God decide if He wants the credit.

Pastor Steve
Monday March 09, 2020

Today and tomorrow mark the Jewish celebration of Purim. Purim is a festival that celebrates the deliverance of the Jews from destruction at the hands of the Persians. The story is recorded in the book of Esther. Haman, a corrupt government official, hatched a plot to have all the Jews killed. Mordecai uncovered the plot and along with help of his adopted daughter, Esther, foiled the plot. Through a series of events, Esther had become queen and was in a unique position of being able to help with the countermoves necessary to block Haman's plan.

One of the key verses in the book is 4:14, "For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?" I would encourage you to read the book of Esther over the next two days, especially if you are unfamiliar with the story.

One of the things that has bothered scholars about the book for centuries is that nowhere in the book will you find the name of God mentioned. This is a unique feature of the book of Esther. However, I have always maintained that this only serves to demonstrate one of the things we know about God - that He is constantly working in our lives, even when we see no tangible evidence of his involvement. God doesn't need any fanfare or recognition. And He knows the best way to carry out His plans. Our response to this is to continue to follow Him at all times, knowing that, as Francis Schaeffer put it, "He Is There and He Is Not Silent." Our response is to be that of Esther's - doing what we know to be right at the time when the right thing needs to be done. This is the lesson from Esther and the point of Purim.

Pastor Steve
Sunday March 08, 2020

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., was born on March 8, 1841. A graduate of Harvard, he fought in the Civil War, edited the American Law Review, taught law at Harvard, and became the Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court. In 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed him to the United States Supreme court. He served over 30 years, to a more advanced age than any other justice in history, eventually becoming Chief Justice.

He was nicknamed "The Great Dissenter" because of his unusual opinions. In 1931, when Holmes was 90 years old, a young reporter asked him what he considered to be the basis of his success. He replied, "Young man, the secret of my success is that at an early age I discovered that I was not God."

Oh, the wisdom of that statement. Now, most of us would not be so ludicrous as to openly assert our position is on the same level as God, let along claim to be God himself. However, we often live in such a way as to indirectly proclaim we believe we are God. That is not smart. An intelligent plan is to make sure we turn our lives over to God and his control and not think that we are in charge. God wants and honors our obedience. Our obedience allows him to do his best for us.

Samuel said "To obey is better than sacrifice." (I Samuel 15:22) We need to learn this truth and put it into practice. We need to make sure we aren't trying to be God because there already is a God who is more than capable of taking care of us and taking care of everything else as well. Make sure you know your identity!

Pastor Steve
Saturday March 07, 2020

Today is the 55th anniversary of "Bloody Sunday," a confrontation that took place at the Edmund Pettus Bridge just outside of Selma, Alabama. On Sunday, March 7, 1965, 600 marchers left Selma on their way to the capitol city of Montgomery in demonstration for voting rights for African-Americans. At the bridge, they were stopped and assaulted by a group of local police and Alabama State Patrol. The march was eventually completed only when President Lyndon Johnson stepped in and provided protection for the marchers. A point of irony in this event is that the date of March 7 had been chosen as it is the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party.

Bad race relations have been a part of our society from almost the beginning. As followers of Christ, we should understand that racism needs to be absent from our personal lives and from our churches. We should understand that equality in our society should be a given, and equality in our churches is a must. We sing the hymn, "In Christ there is no East or West, there is neither North nor South" but often we live otherwise.

Paul wrote, "So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither bond nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:26-28) This needs to be practiced in our lives!

Pastor Steve
Friday March 06, 2020

Where do you see Jesus? A little girl was visiting an art museum with her father. They came upon a large metallic sculpture with a ball that seemed to droop over two outstretched appendages. "What do you see?" the father asked. "I see Jesus!" was the excited reply of the six-year-old.

Jesus is indeed present with us and is everywhere we go. Peering into a flaming furnace, Nebuchadnezzar proclaimed, "Weren't there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire? . . .. Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods." (Daniel 3:24-25) Most likely, this was an appearance of the pre-incarnate Christ. Just before being stoned, Stephen looked up and exclaimed, "Look, I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." (Acts 7:56)

Jesus is always present so we can see him anywhere. The writer of Hebrews encourages us to "fix our eyes" on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2). When we do, he will not be hard to see, as he has promised to always be with us. Where have you seen him today?

Pastor Steve
Thursday March 05, 2020

One of the greatest needs in our lives is for someone to be there for us when we need encouragement in some way. We all struggle with issues and circumstances at times, and having people there to provide support and meaningful assistance is invaluable. Being able to provide such support and assistance is a great asset to the ministry of the church.

Paul speaks about this gift in I Corinthians 12:27-29, "Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance."

A number of gifts are mentioned here. A great deal of discussion is often devoted to some of these gifts. However, one that is usually not a topic of our conversation or our study is the gift of helping. We don't give this gift a great deal of attention, yet the gift of helping is so very important and significant. The gift of helping is a gift that is applied daily. One might consider it a "universal" gift in that all of us benefit from the exercise of this gift at one time or another.

Sometimes many struggle as they feel they lack talent and wonder where they fit or what to do. Exploring and exercising the gift of helping is something to consider, as the utilization of this gift benefits the church as folks in the church receive help. Dave Branon wrote, "The talent to care is the most underrated talent God gives. Caring and loving and nurturing have value that transcends the high-profile talents that put people in the spotlight." Being in the spotlight may be nice, but helping someone else with a life crisis can provide lasting benefits.

Pastor Steve
Wednesday March 04, 2020

I still use an "old-fashioned" pocket diary. I used to receive one free each year, but the company that supplied them no longer makes them as they are actually going the way of the dinosaurs. So, some time ago, I went in search of another supplier and actually found one. Now, I pay for this one, but that is fine with me as I still like to use this relic. These one-time staples of folks who needed to keep a schedule are disappearing because of the rise of electronics. That's just the way it is, but this is one area where I still like to remain archaic.

One of the reasons I still like the old-style pocket diary is that I use it more for a means of keeping reflections on what has happened rather than as a reminder of what is to happen. I have never done extensive journaling, but I still like to spend some time going over what has taken place and write. I enjoy sitting in a quiet moment and jotting down notes of events and feelings about what took place. This gives me a chance to catch up on what was accomplished and reflect of how I saw God intervene in the happenings of the day. This gives an opportunity to see where God supplied strength for the day.

That is what God does. In Christ's instructive prayer, he asks, "Give us day by day our daily bread." (Luke 11:3) God does that - he provides for us just what we need when we need it. Taking time to reflect helps us to see this. That is why I still like my daily pocket diary.

How do you reflect on what God has done for you? It is really an encouraging exercise to take time to do this. If you don t have a particular means of reflection, I suggest that you find a practice that fits you and try it. You may be surprised by the benefit you experience from doing so!

Pastor Steve
Tuesday March 03, 2020

Recently, I read about renewed efforts to put people back on the moon, and possibly even Mars. The last lunar landing was in July of 1975. Of course, last July we observed the 50th anniversary of the first lunar landing that took place in 1969. The United States just made it, but we did fulfill the promise made by President John F. Kennedy.

In 1962, Kennedy challenged the nation to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. He did so at a time when the U.S. was facing some serious issues. Of course, rarely there has been a time in our nation's history when the country was not faced with a struggle of some kind. In a speech at Rice University in Houston, Texas, he said, "We choose to go to the moon in this decade. We choose to go to the moon and do the other things, not because they are easy but because they are hard."

When we are faced with a challenge, we often decide to follow the path of least resistance. Now, that may be an advantageous property for an electric current, but it is not necessarily the best path for us humans. Many times facing the challenge head on and going through the struggle is the most beneficial course of action. We live in an age when energy-saving and time-saving devices proliferate. Sometimes saving energy and time is not the right choice. There is something to be said for embracing life's challenges.

Paul spoke of this in II Corinthians 4. I encourage you to read the entire chapter. Part of what Paul said is "We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed." (vss. 8-9) In II Timothy 4:12, he encourages Timothy to "Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses." The goal is worth the struggle - don't shy away from a good challenge!

Pastor Steve
Monday March 02, 2020

Here in Newton, Illinois, March came in like a lamb. That means it will go out like a lion, according to the old proverb. Now, if today was March 1, I'd be saying just the opposite as we are now experiencing rain with some occasional thunder and lightning.

The "lion and lamb" statement has been around for a while as it can be found in literature as early as 1732. There are many theories as to the origin of the proverb. Some say it may be associated with astrology as Leo is the rising sign at this time of year, while Aries ("Kid") is approaching as you come to April. Some say it came about to describe the extremes in weather that many can experience at this time of year. Others suggest a tie to religion, as Christ is described as both a Lion and a Lamb in scripture. I find this last suggestion rather compelling, regardless of whether it has anything to do with the origin of the statement. We don t know how the phrase began, but we do know that Christ is both the Lamb of God and the Lion of Judah.

Jesus is described as a submissive Lamb by Isaiah who wrote, "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." (53:7) John the Baptist introduced him this way, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29) The Apostle John describes him in Revelation 5:6, "Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne." The description of Christ as a lamb in these scriptures refer to his purpose for his first visit.

Christ may have "come in" like a lamb, but He will "go out" like a lion. A prophecy found in Genesis 49:9 lays the foundation for this analogy, "You are a lion's cub, Judah." Christ's human lineage associates him with the tribe of Judah. Hosea 11:10 is a statement about Christ's future return, "They will follow the Lord; he will roar like a lion. When he roars, his children will come trembling from the west." In the same passage in Revelation where we see Christ described as a lamb, John says, "Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals." {Revelation 5:5)

Christ came like a Lamb that was his intent a Lamb whose sacrifice takes care of the sin of the world. He will come back like a Lion a Lion who will establish His authority as the Ruler of the world. The origin of the phrase "In like a lamb, out like a lion" as it relates to March is unclear. And, of course, the accuracy of the statement is dependent upon the whims of the weather patterns. It may be right, or it may be wrong. This is not the case with regard to Christ.

The same person who came as a Lamb will return like a Lion. He is indeed both the Lamb of God and the Lion of Judah. We know he came the first time, and we know he will return, regardless of the weather. The Return of the Lion of Judah is described in Revelation 19:11, "I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True." I look forward to this time I hope you do as well.

Pastor Steve
Sunday March 01, 2020

Today is the first Sunday of Lent. Lent means many things to different people and is often about sacrifice. Lent is a 40-day period prior to Easter that originated for practical reasons. In days gone by, food stored away in the previous autumn was running out or had to be used before it went bad and little or no food crop was expected soon.

Since it precedes Easter, it is a way to identify with Jesus in His suffering until its culmination on Good Friday. Lent is followed joyously by the celebration of the Resurrection on Easter Sunday. Sundays aren't considered in the time period as that was the day Christ arose. This is how you end up with 40 days, in case you are counting.

The period of 40 days is significant for a number of reasons: It rained for forty days prior to the flood (Genesis 7:4-17); Moses was on the mountain for forty days when God gave him the Law (Exodus 24:18); Christ's fast and temptation at the beginning of his ministry lasted forty days, "Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry (Luke 4:1-2)"; and Christ's ministry on earth after the resurrection lasted forty days (Acts 1:3).

During this time, sacrifice is emphasized to recall the sacrifice of Christ. It is also a good time for reflection on one's life and one's service, a sort of "spiritual check-up." Lent is also a time of anticipation as we look forward to the end of Lent culminating in the celebration of Christ's resurrection.

As you journey through this season of the year, spend some time to recall, to reflect, and to rejoice. This exercise helps to keep us focused and also helps us to learn new things as we concentrate on the activities of Lent. Take time to reflect on the journey of Christ on your behalf. In actuality, 40 days is not really adequate to do this, but it s a great place to start.

Pastor Steve
Saturday February 29, 2020

Well, here we are, our extra day! We get one every four years, as you know, so that we can keep the calendar straight. You know why we do this, so I won't involve you with the details. Just enjoy your extra day and I hope you have a good one. And just think, there are people celebrating birthdays today that haven't had one in four years, not to mention anniversaries!

As I think about extra days and extra time, a particular scripture comes to mind. II Peter 3:8 - 9 says, "But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance."

Peter wrote these words to give an answer to critics who were questioning the return of Christ. They were saying, in effect, "So, if He is coming back, where is He?" Peter's response was "The reason we have extra days is because God is waiting for people to come to Him." In other words, the seeming "delay" in the return of Christ is a display of God's grace.

Christ will come back when it is time for Him to come back, and time that passes until His return gives opportunity for people to follow Him. We know He will return. We should live expectantly, but we should also be happy for the "extra time." The extra time means God's grace is on the clock; actually, His grace is controlling the clock.

Pastor Steve
Friday February 28, 2020

Acts 13 records a fulfillment of prophecy that is easily missed. What is ironic about this is the prophecy was given not long before the fulfillment that is found in Acts 13. In Acts 1, Christ tells the apostles and other followers that they will be witnesses "to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8)

Then, in Acts 13 we read, "While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, 'Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.' So, after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off." (Acts 13:2-3) The gospel was being taken to the "ends of the earth" just as Christ predicted.

We should continue to be an extension of this prophecy. As we take the good news to others in our community, we are a fulfillment of this prophecy. As we support those who minister in cross-cultural settings, we fulfill this prophecy. Perhaps you may have an opportunity yourself to be involved in a mission endeavor either on a short-term or a long-term basis. Whether you represent Christ in your home location or take the message of Christ to another part of the globe, you help fulfill the prophecy of Christ.

Pastor Steve
Thursday February 27, 2020

Being disappointed with yourself can sometimes overwhelm you and bring about a feeling of despair. The disappointment could be brought about for many reasons. A moral failure can cause you to not feel good about yourself. Maybe you have made a bad decision in your business and are trying to cope with the consequences. Perhaps you haven't handled a dispute with someone very well. Experiencing a financial setback or making an unwise financial move can make you unhappy with yourself.

If this is a struggle you have, focus on the provision of Christ, and surrender yourself to His control. Take steps to deal with the results of your failure and lean upon His grace to bolster your spirit. We need to trust Christ to show us the way forward.

David gives this advice in Psalm 25:1-3, "In you, Lord my God, I put my trust. I trust in you; do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me. No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame." Trusting in God is always a good idea, especially when we are struggling with "self-inflicted" wounds.

Pastor Steve
Wednesday February 26, 2020

At the beginning of the school year in 2015, someone noticed an error in a school crossing sign on the pavement outside a high school in New York City. The word "school" was misspelled so that instead of reading "school x-ing", the sign read "shcool x-ing." How a mistake like this could be made is somewhat understandable, but what takes this story up a notch is that the mistake would have been made when the sign was originally painted in 2010. The story gets even better.

After the glaring error was finally discovered, there was an argument among the DOT, city officials, school officials, and even the PTA as to who was at fault. The PTA president said of the principal, "What's ironic is that the principal has probably painted the lunchroom and rooms inside over about five times since 2010." That may be, but as a PTA president, you mean you didn't notice the sign either? The sign did get changed, but what I find sad is that no one wanted to take responsibility for the mistake. Sound familiar?

This is a common problem among us - we don't like to take responsibility for our mistakes. This begins when we are young. Hey, it actually began in the garden right after the commission of the first sin. In response to God's question about having eaten the fruit, Adam said, "The woman you put here with me she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it. All too often, this scenario plays itself out in our lives. We make a mistake, and then try to pin the blame for the error on someone else.

I am not old enough to remember when Harry Truman was president, but I have read about and actually have seen a picture of a sign he kept on his desk in the oval office. This sign, with correct spelling, read, "The buck stops here."

We, like Truman, should be willing to own up to our responsibilities. Proverbs 28:13 shows us the wisdom of such action, "Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy." When mistakes are made, don't spend energy passing the buck, do something to take care of what happened.

Pastor Steve
Tuesday February 25, 2020

Denis Boyles is a writer in the UK. He once interviewed a man on a roller coaster during an attempt to set a world's record for continuous riding. However, after some trips around the track, Boyles became extremely frightened. Then the man showed him how to ride - how to use his body to lean into the movements of the coaster and allow you to feel more stable. Another bit of helpful information Boyle learned in the interview was that, statistically, he was safer riding the roller coaster than he was driving his car. This knowledge helped him overcome his fear and complete the interview.

The more we learn to trust Jesus, the more we find help to face the fears we have in life. Learning more about the Savior increases our faith and helps us with the uncertainties that pop up before us. You perhaps remember the story in Matthew 8 of the disciples' stormy boat ride. As the storm raged, Jesus lay sleeping in the boat. The men woke him and cried, "Lord, save us! We are perishing!" (8:25) Christ's reply came with a gentle rebuke, "'Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?' Then he arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm." (vs. 26) The disciples learned a great deal about the Savior that day.

How often does Christ have to say to us "Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?" Learning more about him helps to build our trust in him and diminish our fears of life.

Pastor Steve
Monday February 24, 2020

As I am writing this, it is raining outside. Well, of course it is raining outside. If it were raining inside, I would have some problems. Our winter here has been a little different as we have not received a lot of snow. Most of our moisture has come in the form of rain.

Thinking about rain reminds me of a discussion we had at a Bible study some time ago. We were talking about a statement found in Psalm 72:6, "May he be like rain falling on a mown field, like showers watering the earth." One comment went something like this, "One thing I have found is that God's water is superior to man's water. Our son watered our tomatoes this past summer while we were gone. When we returned, the tomatoes looked sick. Then, we got a rain, and they looked great!" Another person shared how their bean vines were, for all intents and purposes, dead. Some rains came, and the folks ended up canning 34 quarts of beans.

What God can provide for us is far superior to anything that we can provide for ourselves. Yet, why is it we so often try to go on our own? Why is that we want to rely on our own abilities rather than trust God with our lives? Why is it that we try to figure things out for ourselves instead of letting God take the lead in decision making? Whose rain is best, ours or God's? Well, Scripture teaches us what is best, and our experience confirms it. Remember Psalm 72:6, "May he be like rain falling on a mown field, like showers watering the earth." Don't depend on your own efforts and devices; depend upon the provision of God.

Pastor Steve
Sunday February 23, 2020

We need to do what we can to be a bearer of hope. That is one of the most important things a believer in Christ can do. We live in a world where hopelessness abounds. We face uncertainty all throughout our life, but we can always have hope. Now, this doesn't mean that we ignore reality or evade what is happening. It means that we always endeavor to look at our present reality in the most positive way possible. Someone once said, "Genuine hope is not wishful thinking, but a firm assurance about things that are unseen and still in the future."

How can we have this outlook? We do so by making sure that we keep our eyes constantly on our Savior so we can look at life with His perspective. It means that we understand the position and power of Christ, and realize our position in Him.

Hebrews 11:1 tells us, "Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see." To some, this may sound unrealistic. But following what God has said is not an unrealistic exercise. This statement is part of God's Word, and I don't think I want to call God unrealistic. Look at life with the eyes of Christ and you will always have hope.

Pastor Steve
Saturday February 22, 2020

Often, I have heard some say, "If we could only be able to see God we would follow Him more closely. If He would speak to us, we would have more faith." Well, I beg to differ with that. In the scripture, we have examples of folks who had these and still went away from Him. The classic example of this is the behavior of the Israelites.

The Israelites had both a visible manifestation of the presence of God and they heard God's voice. They were led by a cloud during the day and a pillar of fire by night during their journey from Egypt to Canaan. Exodus 13:21 tells us, "By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night."

When they completed the construction of the tabernacle, the cloud moved over the tabernacle to show them God's presence was with them: "On the day the tabernacle, the tent of the covenant law, was set up, the cloud covered it. From evening till morning the cloud above the tabernacle looked like fire. That is how it continued to be; the cloud covered it, and at night it looked like fire." (Numbers 9:15-16) They also heard God's voice, "As the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him." (Exodus 19:19)

After all this, one would think that the people would be obedient and follow God faithfully. However, if one would think this, one would be wrong. You need to read Exodus 32. The people's response to their witness of God's presence was to have Aaron build a golden calf so they could have something to worship. As you can see, being able to see and hear God does not necessarily translate into being faithful to God. Being faithful is dependent upon our conscious decision to obey. As Christ said, "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." (John 20:29)

Pastor Steve
Friday February 21, 2020

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) was one of the greatest composers who ever lived. Most of you music lovers will not be surprised by this statement. However, would it surprise you to learn that much of his greatest work was inspired by a bird? In May of 1784, Mozart purchased a starling after hearing the bird sing what he thought was his Piano Concerto in G Major. Now, before you laugh yourself out of your chair, the possibility of this is not as far-fetched as you might think.

"Sturnus vulgaris," or starlings, are well-known for their mimicry and incredible range of musical reflections in their songs. In the case of Mozart, the bird he purchased was in his possession during what many consider to be his most productive period. During a three-year span when he had the bird, Mozart produced such works as the opera "The Marriage of Figaro," as well as eight piano concertos and three symphonies. So, the songs from a representative of nature could very well have been the inspiration for some of the greatest works by one of the best-known composers who has ever lived.

Being inspired by some aspects of nature is not limited to Mozart. Many of the psalms reflect the marvels of God found in His creation. We can keep with the theme of birds when we look at Psalm 104 where we read, "The birds of the sky nest by the waters; they sing among the branches."

The wonders of nature around us should inspire us to worship God and to remind us to do our best as we live for Him. What we see and hear should be a reminder that we are here because of God and that we need to live for Him and serve him with all of our heart. Psalm 19:1 declares, "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork."

Let's join in this chorus through letting our lives sing praises to Him! Even as Mozart was inspired to do much of his best work through a representative from God's creation, let's be inspired to live our best for Him by what we see and hear in God's marvelous work!

Pastor Steve
Thursday February 20, 2020

During the War Between the States, Union General Daniel Butterfield was dissatisfied with simply firing three volleys at the burial of those who had died in action. One evening, he called for the brigade bugler, Private Oliver Norton, to join him in his tent as he had an idea for a song. It is generally believed that he had a revision of an old French tune called "Tattoo" in mind as he worked with Private Norton on a melody that eventually came to be known simply as "Taps."

In his memoirs, Pvt. Norton recalled that the General directed him that evening to play their composition instead of the usual call for the end of the day. The haunting tune eventually came to be used by both the Union and the Confederate armies as part of the tribute paid to dead soldiers at their burial.

While the song usually evokes an air of melancholy as it is associated with death, the words that came to be used with the tune convey the hope we have that death will someday give way to scenes of celebration: "Day is done, gone the sun, From the hills, from the lake, from the sky; All is well, safely rest, God is nigh."

At even our lowest times in life, we know this promise to be true. God is nigh. He is right there beside us. He promises, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." (Hebrews 13:5) He will make all things well if we are trusting in him. Romans 8:28, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." This is our hope - God will turn our negatives into positives.

The song "Taps" played at the end of a day bears out the promise of a new day, a new beginning. When played at the end of someone's life, the hope of new life is conveyed and is a reality for those who have hope in the Lord. For the faithful, "All is well, safely rest, God is nigh."

Pastor Steve
Wednesday February 19, 2020

Often our view of God is skewed when it comes to thinking of him as a patient person. We have the idea that he is impatient and is looking for ways to exercise discipline in our lives because we have messed up. In reality, just the opposite is true. God is patient and long-suffering and we should be glad about that.

II Peter 3:9 tells us, "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." Psalm 103:8 tells us, "The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love."

God's dealings with the Egyptians demonstrates that he is patient with even the most rebellious. God gave Pharaoh every chance to do the right thing. Remember the plagues? You can read about them in Exodus 11. He started out with an unpleasant, but fairly harmless, plague of frogs. Then each subsequent plague increased in intensity before the slaying of the first born finally changed Pharaoh s mind.

Be grateful for God's patience. And don t do things intentionally to try God s patience. We can be rebellious, and we need to be aware of God's determination before we enter into conflict with him. He is patient, but you will not prevail. It may be wise to abandon the fight before the conflict escalates. Even God's patience will ultimately wear thin.

Pastor Steve
Tuesday February 18, 2020

I heard this statement in a show I was watching the other day, "He is always looking on the good side of things - I am always looking at the bad. I wish I could be more like him and look for the good." Why the difference? What helps some folks to look at the good while others seem to focus on the negative aspects of circumstances? This is a really good question with no easy answer.

Mental discipline has something to do with it. We must expend some effort to develop a positive perspective. And doing our best to focus on things from God's perspective can be of benefit.

Nehemiah was a person who kept a positive perspective even though it would have been easy to develop negativity. Constantly, he faced opposition to his efforts to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. In response to the mental assault launched against him by Sanballat and others, he said, "I sent him this reply: 'Nothing like what you are saying is happening; you are just making it up out of your head.' They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, 'Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed.' But I prayed, 'Now strengthen my hands.'" (Nehemiah 6:8-9)

Nehemiah was able to keep a positive perspective by being realistic about the situation and allowing God to influence his thinking and come alongside him in his efforts. We can do the same and doing so will help us look for the good.

Pastor Steve
Monday February 17, 2020

We need to take care that we do not develop a judgmental attitude. It can become so easy to be critical of others, their decisions, and other aspects of their lives, while we are blinded to our own deficiencies and circumstances. Often, we question the prosperity of others when they didn't "do anything to deserve it" as we struggle with issues and problems. A good rule of thumb is to concentrate on how we are living and leave the judging to God. Abraham declared "Will not the judge of all the earth do, right?" (Genesis 18:25) Indeed he will.

Christ told a story that points out the need of putting things in God's hands as we continue to maintain our relationship with Him. In Matthew 20:1-16, he tells the story of a landowner who paid the same wages t

Christ stated this principle at the end of his story, "So the last shall be first, and the first will be last." (Matthew 20:16) The bottom line of the story is that we must leave judging to God as he is the one who knows best what is right. Even though "the last will be first," don't be the last one to learn this lesson.

Pastor Steve
Sunday February 16, 2020

I am very fond of Bill Keane's "The Family Circus." Since the cartoon debuted in 1960 when I was 4 years old, I pretty much grew up with it. I haven''t read it in years as I no longer take a "Sunday paper." I must confess, I don''t even know if it is still published.

I remember reading a panel one time that showed Billy walking into a room carrying a sweater and a shirt. He complains to Jeffy, who is standing in the room, "Mommy sure has a lot of hang-ups. ''Hang up your sweater. Hang up your shirt.'"

We often think this way about God. We chafe at his "hang ups," i.e., his righteous laws for our lives. We have difficulty with obedience. We struggle to listen to what he says about how we should live our lives. I would imagine that God must find our goofiness rather amusing at times. At other times, probably not so much.

When God tells us to "Be still, and know that I am God," (Psalm 46:10) he means it. Don't draw back from God's "hang ups." They exist for a reason, and we would do well to use hangers!

Pastor Steve
Saturday February 15, 2020

Some people find they have trouble with being dependent on others. We who have this problem find it hard to ask for help and also find it hard to relinquish control of situations. We want to be able to do things on our own and not have to depend on someone else for help.

Now, this really isn't a rational thing and it actually demonstrates a weakness, not strength. There is strength in numbers, and learning to work with and alongside of others gives great advantage in many ways. There is an old proverb that says, "When you run alone, you run fast. When you run together, you run far."

Ecclesiastes 4:9 tells us, "Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor." God did not intend for us to be alone. He did not intend for us to work alone. From the very beginning, he intended for us to be dependent. Fostering dependence upon each other fosters dependence upon God. Don't be hesitant to lean on others. This is what he intends.

Pastor Steve
Friday February 14, 2020

Leadership Today writes, "Paul and Peter could disagree and still endorse one another in ministry because they both knew the unconditional love of Jesus. An awareness of being fully accepted by Him allowed them to speak the truth in love and challenge one another to faithfulness. A secure foundation in God's unconditional love and acceptance allows us to trust God and one another. Treating others with unconditional love helps to build trusting relationships with family members, friends, co-workers, and community members."

When you exhibit unconditional love, it takes a lot of the guesswork out of relationships. Too often we operate in relationships where we think we need to continue to work to be assured of the love of someone else. Often, we are guilty of making someone else feel as if they must continually work to gain our approval, acceptance, and affection. This is not what God wants for our relationships be it our family or our friends. </>

We all need to exhibit unconditional love. In I Corinthians 16:14, Paul encourages us to "Do everything in love." As you celebrate Valentine's Day today, why not spend time reflecting on your love for others your spouse, your family, and others that come into your sphere of influence? What type of love do you demonstrate towards them, and how will your words and actions reflect Christ's unconditional love to others? Happy Valentine's Day!

Pastor Steve
Thursday February 13, 2020

The United States Food and Drug Administration describes a household lacking the money to buy enough food to be "food insecure." According to 2018 statistics, there are 11.1 million food-insecure households in the United States. This represents a population estimate of 45 million people who are food-insecure. This has always bothered me. I have no answers why in a country with such an overabundance of food that there are so many who go without food on a regular basis.

As followers of Christ, this is an area of ministry that we should not neglect. James encourages us to do something about it: "Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, 'Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?'" (James 2:15-16) God wants food security for all people. We should do all we can to provide this for those around us.

There is another type of "food insecurity" that plagues all of humankind and about which God has done something. Christ declares in John 6:35, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst." When Christ utters these words, it is for those who are hungry because of the sickness of their soul. All of humankind suffers from this food insecurity, and only what Christ is offering is adequate to change someone from this state to a state of being fed. Only through faith in Christ can this hunger be satisfied. For those who are suffering from this shortage, receive God's forgiveness through faith in Christ and feed your soul. For those who have done this, let's do all we can to spread the news about Christ's provision. He offers the only solution for the food shortage of the soul

Pastor Steve
Wednesday February 12, 2020

Few of us will be remembered widely for our lives after we are gone. Only a few are remembered by the masses for the contributions they made while they lived. Abraham Lincoln will never be forgotten for his leadership of our country during our darkest hour. Winston Churchill will be long remembered for providing inspiration to an embattled Great Britain as they fought against the Nazi war machine. Billy Graham will be remembered for his ministry and his world-wide efforts. Mother Theresa still provides a model of service and faith as she eschewed fame for ministry among India's poor.

We cannot worry about not being remembered like this. We simply need to live in a way that our lives do make an impact on those with whom we have contact. Whether by many or only by a few, we should seek to be remembered for our faith. Hebrews 11 gives us some examples of people remembered for their faith:. "These were all commended for their faith" (vs. 39) - this should be our goal.

Each time I do a service for a person who has died, I am reminded that each person touches others. They may not be remembered by the masses for their accomplishments. They may not have roads, buildings, bridges, or parks named for them, but there are always those whose lives have been touched and by whom they will be remembered.

I recall doing a service for a dear lady where one individual spoke about her faithfulness and commented, "She is the one who led me to the Lord." What greater legacy can we seek? To be used by God to lead others to the Lord so they may experience the joys of eternity with Christ - what greater legacy can we seek? Strive to be faithful, not to be famous.

Pastor Steve
Tuesday February 11, 2020

Attar of roses is a very expensive aromatic oil that is a product of Bulgaria. I read about a lady who tried to smuggle some of the oil out of the country without paying the high duty price. She hid the bottles in her suitcase. One of the bottles opened and a little of the oil spilled. It was just a drop or two, but it was enough to make it evident that she had some of the precious oil in her possession.

We should not try to hide our position in Christ. We need to let the fragrant aroma of Christ pour out of our lives and into the world around us. What is really neat is to realize how powerful Christ's presence in our life can be. And just as the aroma of the attar of roses poured out of that suitcase, our lives should brilliantly effuse the love of Christ and the witness of Christ.

The aroma of attar of roses is unmistakable, powerful, and captivating. Our lives should demonstrate that we are unmistakably identified with the powerful message of the Savior and are captives of His grace. II Corinthians 2:14 says, "But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ's triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere." Can others tell that you are part of this procession?

Pastor Steve
Monday February 10, 2020

I remember a story I heard years ago about a motorist traveling along a country road. He was in a hurry and was approaching an intersection where there was a stop sign. The traffic in the bisecting road did not have a stop sign. As he got nearer to the crossroads, he noticed two cars approaching from his left that were heading in the same direction. He wasn't happy that he would have to stop to wait for them, but he had an idea.

Judging their speed and the distance between the two cars, he thought he could allow the first car to pass the intersection and then have enough time to speed through the crossing ahead of the second car. He timed his arrival brilliantly, but what he had failed to notice was that the first car was actually towing the second car. So, he caught the tow chain perfectly. You can use your imagination to construct an image of what happened next.

Often we jump into situations without seeing all the important aspects of the situation clearly. There are times in our lives when we would do well to take more time to review all of the facts before we plunge in. Don't be afraid to take time to look at important criteria, consider the facts, and consult others in the process. Of course, it is always a good thing to involve God in our decision-making process. He should be involved in what goes on in our lives. Proverbs 15:22 tells us, "Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed." Have all the facts so that your plans don't fail!

Pastor Steve
Sunday February 09, 2020

When researchers want to test a medicine, they often set up a double-blind study where a certain number of people are given medication and then the researchers watch the results. In these studies, not everyone receives the real medicine. A certain number of the people are given the medicine and a certain number are given a "sugar pill", more technically called a placebo. Neither the group taking the medicine nor the group administering the experiment knows who receives what, hence "double blind."

This is a necessary procedure to see if the medicine is effective. What is interesting is that in many incidents, some of the test subjects who received the placebos actually improved as well. This shows that a belief may be effective even when it is based on something that isn't true.

This may be a good phenomenon in medical testing, but it has some interesting implications in religious belief. It means that even a belief in an untruth could have a positive effect and lead to the conclusion that what is actually false is true.

An example of this from Scripture is the Pharisee in Luke 18 who trusted in a religious system that led to a sense of well-being and peace, but he was absolutely wrong. "The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other people - robbers, evildoers, adulterers - or even like this tax collector." (vs. 11) He was sincere in his belief, but was sincerely wrong. His belief system was nothing more than a "sugar pill" that would not bring true relief from his problem of sin.

We have the same problem in our world today - people relying upon a belief system that is based on false ideas. Don't trust a placebo - the effects will not last.

Pastor Steve
Saturday February 08, 2020

One of my summer jobs as I was working my way through college was clearing right of ways for the Lawrence County, Ohio, highway department. There were several other college students on the crew, along with a permanent county highway employee who was our supervisor and took us to jobsites. One of his favorite lines was "It all pays the same." He usually responded with this when someone would complain about a job assignment, or even when someone would question him about his particular job.

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

This is a good description of a life without God. A life without God is meaningless and not going anywhere. There is no earthly solution to this - even the wisdom of my supervisor offers no hope in this case.

In the book of Ecclesiastes, this was the question of the Teacher when he wrote, "'Meaningless! Meaningless!' says the Teacher. 'Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.' What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun?" (Ecclesiastes 1:2-3) After pondering over all the possibilities, the Teacher concludes, "Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man." (Ecclesiastes 12:13) The Teacher realized that life had little meaning apart from God and a relationship with Him. With God, you will have more to say than the cliche "it all pays the same" when you talk about your life.

Pastor Steve
Friday February 07, 2020

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

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

We need to develop a heart of charity and remember to not be judgmental towards those who struggle. Having a giving heart is one way that we can display the character of Christ in our lives. We need to put actions to our words and do what God's Word tells us!

Pastor Steve
Thursday February 06, 2020

This last Sunday was a rather unique day not only because it was Super Bowl Sunday, but Sunday was a palindrome. To be more precise, the date of Sunday was a palindrome. Sunday's date was 02/02/2020, which reads the same forwards or backwards, and is therefore a palindrome. This was the first occurrence of a day of this nature in 909 years. That date was 11/11/1111. The next occurrence of a date palindrome will be 03/03/3030.

Of course, a palindrome occurs not only with dates. A palindrome is any word, phrase, or numerical sequence that reads the same both forwards and backwards. "Mom" and "tacocat" are words that is are palindromes. Author James Joyce is credited with creating the longest single word palindrome in the English language when he coined the word "tattarrattat" to describe the sound made when one knocks on a door. Yes, this is an actual word - you can check the Oxford English Dictionary if you don't believe me. Some phrases that are palindromes are "rats live on no evil star" and "never odd or even."

The word "palindrome" has origins in the Greek language. "Palin" is a Greek word that means "again, back." "Dromos" means "running;" hence a palindrome is something that is "running back again," so to speak.

A palindrome is an interesting phenomenon that really has no real ramifications for us. But, as I thought about the nature of palindromes, I was drawn to the idea that God manifests the properties of a palindrome - He is the same forwards or backwards. What I mean is, God is the same no matter how you look at him or how he is approached.

When we come to God, we don't have to worry if we are going about it in the wrong way, or coming at him from the wrong direction, or not catching him at the right time, or catching him in the wrong mood. God is always the same.

We should not be flippant in our relationship with God, but he is consistent in mood, presence, and approachability. Through his Son, Jesus, he has ordered things so that we can come before him at any time and with any matter. We don't need to fear that we are doing things backwards because he has given us the privilege of approaching him without fear. Hebrews 4:16 tells us, "Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." There are no "forwards" or "backwards" with God - he is always the same and we can come to him at any time. All palindromes aside.

Pastor Steve
Wednesday February 05, 2020

What do you expect from your relationship with Christ? Many of us dig too shallow. We are like the folks who clamored to follow Jesus because they wanted another free meal. After Christ fed a huge multitude with a young boy's lunch, he chastised those who were looking for more of the same. He told them, "Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill." (John 6:26)

There is a lot of teaching today about how true faith in Christ assures health, financial security and well-being. These may be what we desire, but is this the main goal of our Christianity?

We need to be sure that we are not like those first century seekers who wanted nothing more than a full stomach. There is more to our life in Christ than physical comfort. Christ wants to develop our spiritual character and our holiness. He wants to develop us from the inside out. Seek his truth and his teaching and seek to dig deeply in your life with him. Follow him for more than creature comforts.

Pastor Steve
Tuesday February 04, 2020

Well, Super Bowl LIV is in the books and the Kansas City Chiefs are the victors. Late into the fourth quarter, it didn't look so good for the Chiefs. The San Francisco 49ers led by 10 points with not a lot of clock left. Then, they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by allowing the Chiefs to score 21 unanswered points in about six minutes. The Chiefs won 31 - 20.

Just as he has been all year, the Chiefs' quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, was the main catalyst in the victory, He rallied the team. He said to Tyreek Hill, one of his main targets in the passing game, "Just believe, man." Well, "The Comeback Kid" did as he had done in the previous two games in the AFC playoffs - brought the team back from the brink of defeat to a victory. They were down, but were not out, and they celebrated victory - 50 years removed from the last Chiefs' Super Bowl triumph. This was indeed quite a comeback.

I can think of another comeback that has much greater significance than Mahomes' victory with the Chiefs. After he had been tortured, tried illegally, crucified, stabbed with a spear, and buried in a borrowed tomb, Christ was down but certainly not out. He experienced the greatest comeback of all time when the earth quaked, the stone rolled back from his tomb, all the guards passed out, and he rose from the dead, bringing victory over death, hell, and the grave.

Christ snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, and His victory can be shared by anyone who will believe. Christ said in John 6:47, "Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life." You can have part of the greatest comeback of all time when you take part in the victory of Christ through faith in Him.

Pastor Steve
Monday February 03, 2020

Sir Alexander Mackenzie was a Scottish explorer who completed the first east-to-west transcontinental crossing of the North American continent north of Mexico. His expedition predated the Lewis and Clark effort by ten years. He was trying to find a "Northwest passage," a water route from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean.

A journey in 1789 along a river ended in frustration when the river he was following emptied into the Arctic Ocean. Although this river was eventually named the Mackenzie River, Mackenzie actually called it the "Disappointment River" because of his experience.

Many folks are floating along in life on "Disappointment River" because the path they have followed in life did not take them to where they wanted to be. And if you are not following Christ, I guarantee that you are on the "River of Disappointment." Jesus told his disciples, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father except through me." (John 14:6) Don't follow "Disappointment River," follow Christ.

Pastor Steve
Sunday February 02, 2020

Today is Groundhog Day. Isn't that amazing? According to legend, as most of you know, if the groundhog sees his shadow today, then we will have six more weeks of winter. Of course, since the first day of spring is just a little more than six weeks away, we will have six more weeks of winter anyway. Yes, I know, what is meant here is that if the shadow appears, we will have six more weeks of winter weather.

This year, we really don t know what to hope for, as our weather has been different. We haven't been all that cold, and our precipitation has been, for the most part, rain. But whatever happens, this day does act as a prognostication of winter's end.

Christ spoke of signs that pointed to coming events. He used a prognosticator found in nature to show that there will be indicators given of his return. We read his statement in Matthew 24:32-33, "Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door." The "things" about which he spoke were events that would let folks know of the end of the tribulation and his approaching return. He was saying "When you see these events, you will know my return is near."

In our day, we see happenings that look to be setting up the things about which Christ spoke. I think we would be wise to observe these events. It is foolish to speculate about a precise time of the circumstances spoken of in Matthew 24 and 25, as well as other places in Scripture, but we do know God has given us "Groundhog sightings" to remind us of what is to come. We know God is setting things up according to His plan, so don't ignore the signs!

Pastor Steve
Saturday February 01, 2020

Each Sunday in our morning worship, we pray the Lord's Prayer. Praying the prayer, we ask the Father to "Give us this day our daily bread." When we ask him this, we are asking for provision for the day. We are asking for guidance for the day. We are asking for illumination for the day. When Christ prayed "give us this day our daily bread," he was putting emphasis on a crucial concept in our spiritual lives - we must trust God day by day. We only know the moment in our lives. What is past is past. We don't know the reality of moments to come, or even if they will come at all. We must trust God with the events of the now, and we rely upon him to provide for the now.

In the day when Christ lived, most did not know from day to day what provision would be there for them. Work opportunities, what was available to eat, goods that were available, were usually available for that day, with no guarantees for the next. But, what else did you need? If you have what you need for today, there was no cause to worry about tomorrow, as tomorrow would bring new provisions.

When God provides for us, it is for our daily needs. We are not able to see beyond today's provision to know what will be done about tomorrow. However, when the needs of today are met, why worry about what might happen tomorrow? God has provided for today, he can provide for tomorrow as well, so leave that details in the hands of God. This is called faith.

When God provided for his people as they were wandering in Sinai, he provided their daily bread through manna. There were strict regulations about gathering more than what you needed for the day, except on the eve of the Sabbath. God ordered this circumstance to show the people he could be entrusted to provide for their "daily bread."

We need to trust God for our daily bread, and realize that tomorrow is to be left up to him. Jesus tells us, "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own (Matthew 6:34)." Trust God for your daily bread, leave tomorrow in God's hands.

Pastor Steve
Friday January 31, 2020

We can be stubborn people, you know? Before seat belt laws were enacted in the 1980's, very few people wore them despite great evidence of the benefits of seat belt usage. Only about 10 to 15 percent used seat belts despite the fact that usage gave folks a 45 percent greater chance of survival in an accident. Usage rose to about 65 percent in the 1990's after laws made it illegal to drive or ride in vehicles without seat belts. By 2008, 85 percent of drivers used them, but this means that there are still 15 percent of drivers that ignore the protection that seat belts bring. Why are we so stubborn? We must believe in what we have been told before we will act upon it.

Isaiah 30 speaks to the stubbornness of man. The nation of Israel had constantly demonstrated their unwillingness to follow a path that showed they believed God. So, God said, "Because you have rejected this message, relied on oppression and depended on deceit, this sin will become for you like a high wall, cracked and bulging, that collapses suddenly, in an instant. It will break in pieces like pottery, shattered so mercilessly that among its pieces not a fragment will be found for taking coals from a hearth or scooping water out of a cistern." (Isaiah 30:12-14)

Don't be stubborn when it comes to following God. There are consequences to being stubborn. Not wearing your seat belt is one thing, but being in God's hot seat is another. Do the right thing!

Pastor Steve
Thursday January 30, 2020

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

Many argue against the existence of God because he cannot be seen. However, just because we cannot see him does not mean he isn't there. There are many other lines of evidence that point to his existence. Of course, it does eventually come down to faith. One must believe that God is even though he or she has never seen God.

Christ told Thomas in John 20:29, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." Hebrews speaks of believing without seeing as being the definition of faith. We read in Hebrews 11:1, "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see."

The old adage "seeing is believing" does not apply here. We believe even though we have not seen. Faith is the ability to "see" the spiritual world, to "see" God. Romans 1:20 declares, "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities-his eternal power and divine nature-have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse." As George MacDonald wrote, our goal then is to "grow eyes" to see the unseen. Whether we see him or not, God is there.

Pastor Steve
Wednesday January 29, 2020

Robert Frost died on January 29, 1963, the same year in which John F. Kennedy was assassinated. An ironic fact is that Frost read a poem at Kennedy's inauguration in January of 1961. It really should go without saying that Frost wrote a number of compelling poems, given that he was awarded four Pulitzer Prizes. Perhaps his two best-known works are "The Road Less Travelled" and "Stopping by a Woods on a Snowy Evening."

In a radio interview on WQED Pittsburgh in 1956, Frost made a really marvelous statement that, to me, are perhaps his greatest words. He said, "Ultimately, this is what you go before God for: You've had bad luck and good luck and all you really want in the end is mercy."

We do want God to deal with us in mercy. We deserve justice because of our sin, but we desire mercy because of our sin. Paul wrote to Timothy, "But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life." (I Timothy 1:16)

As you read Frost's poems, he makes you wish to have the experience he is describing. When he writes about the two roads, you are standing right there to make the decision. When he speaks of a snowy evening, you wish you could be by the woods. The mercy of God about which Frost spoke is something you can experience. Following God's Son through faith brings you into the realm of God's mercy.

Pastor Steve
Tuesday January 28, 2020

I would imagine that you are aware of the tragedy that occurred in California this past Sunday morning. A helicopter that was flying too low struck a hillside, killing all nine passengers as well as the pilot. As I am sure you know, former NBA basketball player Kobe Bryant and his daughter were among the victims. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all the families.

Today is the 34th anniversary of another tragic event. On January 28,1986, the space shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after lift-off, killing all seven crew members aboard the flight. In his address after the tragedy, President Reagan spoke of the dedication of the seven astronauts and likened it to the dedication of another explorer who had died on the same date 390 years earlier, Sir Francis Drake. Quite a coincidence.

Another coincidence is that this tragedy did for the nation what the near-tragedy of Apollo 13 in 1970 had done. The event startled folks out of their "take it for granted" attitude towards these journeys. Much has been written about the attitude of the country with regard to the space program at the time of the Apollo 13 lift-off.

On April 13, 1970, two days after lift-off, the crew of Apollos 13 taped a telecast that no one saw because the networks decided moon flights were too "routine" to cover closely. Just after this "broadcast," Jack Swigert, the mission pilot, followed orders from Houston that changed what people were watching on TV that night. A routine procedure caused an explosion. From that moment onward, the focus of the nation was on Apollo 13 and the efforts to get them back to earth safely. No one watched anything else because all the networks were now following the procedures of mission control in Houston.

Isn't it a shame that it often takes such events to get our attention and awaken us from our complacency? This can happen in our spiritual lives as well. We sometimes come to a place where we begin to take God and his blessings, his provisions, his protection, his presence, for granted. Then, something happens - some event, an illness, a financial setback, maybe even a tragedy - and we begin to cry out to God and realize how much we need him.

We should have our focus on him at all times, not just at times when our "cage has been rattled" by some circumstance. David says in Psalm 34:1, "I will extol the LORD at all times; his praise will always be on my lips." The operative words in this verse are "all times" and "always."

Don't take God for granted! Be consistent in your walk with him. Don't wait until an "explosion" before you give him your undivided attention. We should never let our walk with him become "routine." God is too important to be routine!

Pastor Steve
Monday January 27, 2020

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

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

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

Pastor Steve
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