We Offer
Long Term Care
Short Term Care
Senior Health -
Supplements, Etc.

$20,000 Childrens
Life Insurance Policy
Age 0-24
$45 Per Year

Convert To Whole
Life @ Age 25

Call Today

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.

2 Timothy 2:15

Get a quote now!

     If you're like most of us, you don't want to spend inordinate time reading through line after line of website content to find what you're looking for. You want to be able to click once and have a quote right at your fingertips. That's what Dryden-Kamis Insurance has for you. Click a link below to have an instant quote for your insurance needs through our major carriers.
Daily Devotionals
By Dr. Steve Willis

Pastor Of The First Baptist Church In Newton, IL
Tuesday August 23, 2016

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis
Monday August 22, 2016

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis
Sunday August 21, 2016

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

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis
Saturday August 20, 2016

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

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis
Friday August 19, 2016

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis
Thursday August 18, 2016

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

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis
Wednesday August 17, 2016

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

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday August 16, 2016

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis
Monday August 15, 2016

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

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis
Sunday August 14, 2016

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis
Saturday August 13, 2016

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis
Friday August 12, 2016

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis
Thursday August 11, 2016

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis
Wednesday August 10, 2016

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis
Thursday August 11, 2016

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis
Wednesday August 10, 2016

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday August 09, 2016

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis
Monday August 08, 2016

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

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

Hebrews 6:18-19 describes this hope, "God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure."

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

Pastor Steve Willis
Sunday August 07, 2016

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis
Saturday August 06, 2016

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

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis
Friday August 05, 2016

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis
Thursday August 04, 2016

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis
Wednesday August 03, 2016

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

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday August 02, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis
Monday August 01, 2016

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis
Sunday July 31, 2016

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis
Saturday July 30, 2016

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

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis
Friday July 29, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis
Thursday July 28, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis
Wednesday July 27, 2016

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday July 26, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis
Monday July 25, 2016

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis
Saturday July 23, 2016

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

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis
Friday July 22, 2016

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis
Thursday July 21, 2016

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis
Wednesday July 20, 2016

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

As a believer, one thing to keep in mind as we continue through life is that although we may have a number of places we call home here on earth, earth is not really our home. Yes, we enjoy the presence of others here, and we have many enjoyable experiences in this life, but we should not get too attached to the here and now as this is not our home. We need to have the attitude of Abraham that is revealed to us in Hebrews 11:9-10:"By faith he made his home in the Promised Land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God."

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

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday July 19, 2016

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

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis

Monday July 18, 2016

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis

Sunday July 17, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis

Saturday July 16, 2016

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

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

He knows my name

He knows my every thought

He sees each tear that falls

And He hears me when I call

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis

Friday July 15, 2016

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis

Thursday July 14, 2016

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

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis

Wednesday July 13, 2016

Most of us would really like to be content. How is it that we can be content? Job gives us the first hint when he says, "If they obey and serve him, they will spend the rest of their days in prosperity and their years in contentment (Job 36:11)." Now, think about who is saying this. This is coming from a man who has lost just about everything. Yet, he affirms that contentment comes not from life circumstances, but from being settled in God.

Solomon continues this line of thinking in Proverbs 19:23, "The fear of the LORD leads to life: Then one rests content, untouched by trouble." Paul reflects this same thinking when he writes, I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:11-13). Where was Paul when he wrote this? In jail! He was put in prison for his stand with God. That is where he was when he encouraged Timothy, "But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that (I Timothy 6:6-8).

With all of these men, contentment came not from what they had, where they were, or what they were experiencing. Contentment came through their relationship with the Lord and the settled-ness that comes from trusting in his way. When this is done, one will be content.

Pastor Steve Willis

Tuesday July 12, 2016

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

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis

Monday July 11, 2016

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

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis

Sunday July 10, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis

Saturday July 09, 2016

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis

Friday July 08, 2016

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis

Thursday July 07, 2016

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis

Wednesday July 06, 2016

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis
Tuesday July 05, 2016

Good friends are a treasure. A friend is one who has our best interests at heart; one in whom we can confide and know our thoughts are held safely; and one that will not do anything to bring us harm. We are in need of friends, and having good friends makes life more enjoyable, more encouraging, and in some situations, more endurable. We share our hearts with our friends because we know we can trust them.

Christ referred to his disciples as his friends. We read his words in John 15:15, "I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you." Christ called them friends because he had entrusted in them all that had been given to him by his Father. He had confided in them, and he trusted them to do the right thing with that with which they had be entrusted. We know we can confide in Christ and we know we can trust Christ because we know he has our best interests at heart and will not do anything to bring us harm.

Can the same be said about us towards him? Can Christ trust us? Can he be assured we will do nothing to bring harm to his cause? Does he know we have nothing but his best interests at heart? Examine your life from this perspective and ask some hard questions. Christ wants our friendship. Have we shown ourselves friendly?

Pastor Steve Willis

Monday July 04, 2016

Today, July 4, is Independence Day. On this date in 1776 the Second Continental Congress adopted the wording of the Declaration of Independence. It wasn t actually signed until about a month later; however, after the approval on July 4 John Adams said: "I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty." This is why we celebrate on July 4.

Today the day is celebrated as a "great anniversary Festival," but not with "solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty." Usually we don't consider this day to be a "religious holiday;" but along with our cookouts and our fireworks, it would be good to take time to thank God for all the blessings we enjoy because of living where we do. There are so many in our world today who still languish under totalitarian regimes while we enjoy freedoms that are often taken for granted. Don't do that! Be mindful of the price that was paid for us to be able to enjoy life the way we do.

We should not take our spiritual freedom for granted either. Adams spoke of commemorating the anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence as the Day of Deliverance. We should celebrate our spiritual Day of Deliverance. On Friday, April 14, 33 A.D., Christ died on a cross to pay the price for our spiritual deliverance. Now, I know the date I have given may not be exact, but it is close. Just as certainly as the Declaration of Independence being adopted in 1776 led to freedom for the inhabitants of the 13 colonies, Christ's death for our sins during the Passover in A.D. 33 leads to freedom for all who believe.

Galatians 5:1 says, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free." John speaks of our freedom in Christ in chapter 8 of his gospel, "Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. . .if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed (vv. 32 and 36)." We are free in Christ if we commit our lives to Christ.

As you celebrate today, remember to give thanks for those whose sacrifice brought us our freedom. As you remember your freedom in Christ, use this as a time to give thanks for the sacrifice that brought you that freedom. Happy Independence Day!

Pastor Steve Willis

Sunday July 03, 2016

Behind every great discovery usually there is a story of great persistence, even when the discovery is "accidental." How many light bulbs did Edison make before he got it right? How many formulas did researchers go through before finding the most effective propellant for rockets? Did the Wright brothers fly on their first attempt? WD 40 is called WD 40 because it took 40 attempts to develop the right "water displacement" lubricant for aerospace applications. Persistence is an important quality when seeking the right result.

Another area where persistence is important is in our life with Christ. There are a number of examples of Christ honoring persistence among those seeking his aid. Some examples are the woman who had suffered from bleeding for 12 years (Mark 5:25-29); the centurion who sought aid for his servant (Matthew 8:5-13); and the Canaanite woman whose daughter was afflicted by a demon (Matthew 15:22-29). Christ also spoke of persistence in our prayer life. Luke 18:1 says, "Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up." The story that followed was of a widow who continued to pursue a decision from a judge about someone who was giving her trouble.

Christ tells us to continue to pursue him with regard to matters about which we are concerned. The process of asking, seeking, and pursuing provides benefits for us. We often don't understand the process or the need for such persistence, but we need to remember that Christ is working with us through this time. What is being accomplished in our lives through our persistent prayer is in our best interests. Never forget that Christ will always deal with us through grace and mercy in our time of need.

Pastor Steve Willis

Saturday July 02, 2016

Puritan congregations in the Northeast during colonial times had an usher with a rather unique task. During the service, the usher would be posted towards the back of the meeting house. He would be "armed" with a staff that had a feather on one end and a wooden knob on the other. Those caught napping during the long worship would catch one end or the other of the stick. Typically, the younger and the older members of the congregation would experience the feather, while the older children and the adults would be "bopped" if they were caught snoozing or not paying attention. In many instances, it was a judgment call as to whether the person deserved to be "feathered" or "bopped." Sometimes, the action was not actually warranted.

We need to make sure we watch our "judgment calls" against others as well. Sometimes we pass judgment on others when passing judgment is not the right thing. Christ warns against this in Matthew 7:3-5: "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."

Pretty strong words, don't you think? Well, this goes to show just how serious Christ takes the matter of incorrectly judging others. If we pass judgment on others when we ourselves have issues to solve, we are truly being hypocritical.

Don't be quick to pass judgment on others, especially when you do not know all you should about what is taking place. We need to look to ourselves and leave the judging to Christ. He is the one who knows for sure who needs to be feathered or bopped.

Pastor Steve Willis

Friday July 01, 2016

I remember hearing someone once say: "Whenever I don't have anything better to do, I worry. And it always seems I have nothing better to do but worry." Much has been said and written about worry, yet we still worry. Many struggle with worry to the point that it is the controlling factor in their lives. Folks worry about their family and friends, and often expand that circle to include a variety of other things and other people. We know that worry really doesn't produce a great deal of positive results in most cases, yet we still worry.

Christ had a number of things to say about worry. We read in Matthew 6:25 - 34 (the following is just an excerpt, I encourage you to read the entire passage): "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

I do not profess to be an expert in the area of dealing with worry; however, as someone who has a tendency to worry, I have made some observations that may be of some help. First, worry is an aberration of concern. Being concerned about matters is not a bad thing. We should be concerned about our own well-being and the well-being of others. We should be concerned about world events. There are many things about which we should be concerned; however, when we inflate the concern to the point that it takes over our lives, then we have moved on to worry. Work on keeping concern from being overblown.

Secondly, worry seems to be an issue of control. Most of us want to be in control of circumstances and when there are circumstances out of our control, it bothers us. Focusing on "letting go of the reins" can be a helpful exercise. Learn to admit that there are situations beyond our control.

Finally, worry seems to be an issue of confidence. Worry can be a symptom of a larger problem -- a lack of gratitude for how God has taken care of you in the past, or a lack of faith that God is trustworthy, or perhaps a refusal to depend on God rather than yourself. We need to ask hard questions if we have a real struggle with worry and make realistic decisions about the issues our questions raise. Developing confidence in God helps diminish our worry. Asking someone else for help in this process may be a wise move.

As I said, I am not an expert in the field of worry, but I know that worry can be a real problem and can be debilitating for many. Taking steps to transform the problem of worry in your life can lead to better spiritual, emotional, and even physical health.

Pastor Steve Willis

Thursday June 30, 2016

Are you a thermometer or a thermostat? "Huh?", you may ask. The purpose of a thermometer is to reflect the temperature of the surrounding environment. The thermostat is a device that helps to control the surrounding environment. So, which are you? Are you easily influenced by the whims and ideas of those around you, or do you control your life by choosing how you want to live and what you want to do? In many instances, being a "thermometer" may not be a bad thing; but if you allow yourself to be influenced by people with bad ideas, then there can be a problem.

We need to live in such a way that we allow the Spirit of God to help us choose how we live and what we do. If we are with those who would like to influence us to go where we know we shouldn't go or do what we know we shouldn't do, we need to let the Spirit help us to be a thermostat rather than a thermometer. We need to be a thermostat rather than a thermometer when we find ourselves among those who want to talk disparagingly about others. We need to be a thermostat rather than a thermometer when we find ourselves being influenced by those who spend money unwisely racking up debt that will be difficult to repay. In other words, we need to live in such a way so as to influence our environment in a positive way rather than being affected in a negative way.

Daniel chose to be a thermostat rather than a thermometer. Surrounded by the influence of a new culture, sometimes he was called upon to forsake his allegiance to God and the ways of his faith. When this took place, he resolved there would be no compromise in areas of his belief in God. He refused to eat food that would defile him (1:11-14) and refused to forsake his prayer to God (Daniel 6). His friends had the same mindset and refused to bow before an image for worship (Daniel 3). This resolve brought respect for him and his friends and led to their placement in positions of authority. Daniel 2:48 tells us, "Then the king placed Daniel in a high position and lavished many gifts on him. He made him ruler over the entire province of Babylon and placed him in charge of all its wise men." He became a positive influence upon three successive political regimes. Even Nebuchadnezzar proclaimed, "Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries." (2:47)

We are called to be thermostats, not thermometers. With God's help, we can raise the spiritual temperature around us.

Pastor Steve Willis

Wednesday June 29, 2016

When I was a young boy, I really liked singing "I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart!" This line was followed by someone calling out "Where?", and then the line is sung again. I really enjoyed being the "Where?" Actually, if the truth be known, I still like to sing this song, and I still like to be the "Where?" Once a ham, always a ham, one might say.

Sometimes things happen in life that make us ask, "Where is the joy?" Instead of singing about joy in our hearts, we are feeling down in our souls. Joy is something we can seek through any circumstances when we focus on some unchangeable truths that can lead to joy.

Romans 5 contains many reasons why we should have joy. Paul writes in Romans 5:1 - 5: "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us."

Paul tells us in these verses that since we have been justified though Christ, we have peace with God. He tells us that we can rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. He tells us that we have a hope that will not disappoint, which is a source of joy. He tells us that we have the Holy Spirit, who can produce joy in our lives. When you are struggling with feeling joyful, think about these reasons you have to be joyful. Meditating on what we have through our faith in Christ will bring us joy.

Pastor Steve Willis

Tuesday June 28, 2016

When my girls were young and I wanted to communicate something to them that I didn't want them to miss, I would say, "Look at my face." I did this to make sure they were listening to me and understood what I was saying. Sometimes I did this for a corrective measure; sometimes I did this to communicate something of a positive nature, like telling them I loved them. I did this because what I wanted to say to them was what they needed to hear at that moment and I didn't want them to miss what I was saying to them.

When you look at someone face to face, the communication is so much more intense and effective. What is being said is what is getting through because distractions are eliminated. The message is enhanced through the verbal and the non-verbal statements.

This is true in our relationship with God. David writes in Psalm 27:8, "My heart says of you, 'Seek his face!' Your face, LORD, I will seek." To have a close relationship with God, we need to seek his face. We need to look directly at him and allow him to communicate what we need. Sometimes it will be positive words of encouragement and statements of love and concern. At other times, it may be words of correction and discipline that we need to hear. Of course, this is just the point, God will always communicate to us what we need. He will always be open and truthful in what he says to us. This is why we should "look him in the face." What he has to say to us is what we need to hear.

Pastor Steve Willis

Monday June 27, 2016

The bridge construction project really couldn't be in a much worse location. It is where it is because that is where the bridge is, of course; but it really is in a place that, at least from one direction, is an invitation to disaster. The bridge is located at the bottom of a hill that has a curve in the road at the top just before the descent. This means you are almost at the bridge before you even see the bridge. The highway department has done a really good job with warning signs and warning "bumps", but if drivers ignore these warnings, then a wreck will be the result.

I have witnessed this first-hand. Let me say right off the bat that the wreck was avoided, but it was a near-miss. I was stopped on the descent just past the curve at the top of the hill because of cars ahead of me. As I looked in my rear-view mirror, I had a bad feeling. Sure enough, as I kept nervously glancing back, I saw a semi round the curve full-bore. When the driver saw the line of stopped traffic, he slammed on his brakes. He did not have enough room to stop, so I moved to the median as far as I could. He hit the ditch and finally stopped inches from our bumpers. Yeesh.

Things like this happen when you ignore warning signs. Signs are there for a reason. And there are many situations where you have signs other than literal warning signs along the road or other places. We have signs with regard to health situations. We have signs with regard to behavior situations. We have signs with regard to our spiritual condition. There are signs to tell us we are going the wrong direction or doing the wrong thing. Ignoring these signs is not a good idea.

Saul ignored the signs during his decline as king and his life ended badly (I Chronicles 10). David ignored the signs about Bathsheba (II Samuel 11). Jonah ignored the signs about the call of God (Jonah 1). Israel as a nation ignored the signs, leading God to exclaim, "Every time I gave Israel a fresh start, wiped the slate clean and got them going again, Ephraim soon filled the slate with new sins." (Hosea 7:1-2)

Proverbs 2:1-5 gives the benefits of heeding God's signs: "My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God." Don't ignore signs - they are there for a reason!

Pastor Steve Willis

Sunday June 26, 2016

In his book, "The Pursuit of God, " A.W. Tozer wrote, " Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned not to each other but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshipers [meeting] together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be were they to become unity-conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship.

Tozer's comments were designed for worship experiences, but what he said is true in all facets of our relationships with other believers. When we are in tune with Christ and walking with him, it is difficult to find ourselves at odds with other believers. Turning your focus upon Christ can help avoid much of the petty things that tend to cause friction with others. Developing a rich relationship with Christ helps us to develop our relationships with others and allows us to see the insignificance of our differences with others.

Paul reminds us in I Corinthians 12:12-13, "The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free and we were all given the one Spirit to drink." When we are connected to the Head, then everything else works as it should. Keep in tune with Christ, and you will keep in tune with others!

Pastor Steve Willis

Saturday June 25, 2016

Some of you may have had an experience in a flight simulator. A flight simulator is set up so that an individual can have the experience of flying an aircraft as a training event without actually flying an aircraft. The simulator mocks the actual flying experience as closely as possible, even trouble scenarios, to help potential pilots learn how to fly. The obvious advantage is if the pilot makes a mistake, there are no actual consequences. You simply hit reset and try again.

Wouldn't it be great if our lives were like that? Wouldn't it be good to have trial runs and then be able to hit reset? The thing is you can't. As followers of Christ, we know we can have a fresh start when we come to him and are forgiven. We know God forgives us for what we have done; however, we need to remember that we can still experience the consequences of our mistakes. Therefore, we need to take care of how we live. We can't just go around saying, "I'll live how I want because God will forgive me." I find that there aren't many folks who would actually say that, but there are those who live as if what they do in their lives will not bring about consequences. Yes, there is forgiveness with God, but there are still consequences to actions.

Consider the case of David. God forgave him for his terrible choice of sleeping with Bathsheba and then having her husband killed, but David still experienced the consequences of losing the child (II Samuel 12) and facing family strife (II Samuel 13) as a result.

We cannot view God as a "cosmic flight simulator" and all we need to do is simply hit reset. We should not presume upon the forgiveness of God. God is a God of love, grace, and mercy, but he is also just. He will forgive us for our bad choices, but not keep us from the consequences of the choices we make.

Paul wrote, "What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means!" Watch what you are doing as you live your life; there are consequences to your choices that can't be reset.

Pastor Steve Willis

Friday June 24, 2016

In a number of his writings, Paul tells us to offer encouragement to each other. This is usually not a difficult thing, as we know others who need encouragement, and we know we appreciate supportive words and deeds when we are in a position of need. However, Paul also tells us to offer words of correction when necessary. This is a little bit stickier. For a great many reasons, corrective encounters can be difficult. Still, they can be helpful and can be a form of encouragement.

In I Thessalonians 5:14-15, Paul tells us, "And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else." Here we see Paul giving instructions to offer words of correction where correction is needed and words of support where support is needed. He also tells us a little about the spirit in which this should be accomplished, "Be patient with everyone." In other words, don't withhold correction, but don't rush to judgment either, and make sure you do this in the right way.

When correction is needed, three things need to be kept in mind: 1) The nature of the problem must be considered; 2) Our motive and approach for correction must be thought through, and 3) God needs to be involved from start to finish. Galatians 6:1-2 offers further comment on this, "Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ." In both of these passages, we see Paul's comments on not only what should be done, but how it is to be accomplished.

Correcting others is usually more difficult than encouraging others, but in Paul's mind they are linked. Both should be done with a view to helping someone else grow in their faith. We all have times when correction is necessary because we all are prone to mistakes. When we find ourselves on one end or the other of this scenario, remember to make room for God's involvement. In this way, correction can be corrective without causing controversy.

Pastor Steve Willis

Thursday June 23, 2016

Isn't it amazing how much we let money control our lives? Whether we have money, or don't have money, it seems to occupy a prominent place in our existence. With the state of the economy, money certainly has a prevalent spot in media circles. This only serves to enhance its position in our thinking. Money is necessary, but we really need to get a grip on it, rather than let it get a grip on us.

Paul wrote to Timothy about this. He said, "But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is at the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows. (1Timothy 6:9-10 NLT) He makes a point here about money mastery instead of being mastered by money.

Whether you have money or whether you don't, keep it in perspective. Don't allow it to be THE focal point of your life, or you will wake up one day wondering what has happened with your life and where it went. Take steps to be good stewards with what you have; learn to be content with what you have (or what you don't have) and you will find a much more joyful and peaceful existence. God wants your focus, so don't allow money, whether it is money woes or "Money! Whoa!", to block your view.

Pastor Steve Willis

Wednesday June 22, 2016

"It is no longer enough that we pray that God may be with us on our side. We must learn to pray that we may be on God's side." Isn't that a great statement? Do you wonder who made it? Think it might have been some well-known theologian or a popular preacher? Well, actually it was one of the most famous scientists of the 20th century - Wernher von Braun. He developed the V-2 rocket for Germany which was used in warfare in WWII (no, he didn't design the rocket for this application). He later emigrated to the United States where he became the father of the space program. He had a profound effect on the history of the 20th century. While his intelligence is obvious from his accomplishments and contributions, equally obvious is his profound understanding of his relationship with God.

Many times we pray to try to "change God's mind" and to ask him to cause something to happen in a way we think is best. Instead, we need to be pray that we learn to come into conformity with what God desires and what he has designed. We need to let him act in the way he knows is best. Praying in this way shows that we trust him and that we understand his concern and commitment to our well-being.

Matthew 7:9-11 gives a commentary on this understanding, "Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!"

Von Braun understood this. He knew we should trust God and get on the same page with God, instead of trying to convince God to get on the same page with us. This isn't "rocket science" (oh, I couldn't resist that). It is just a matter of trusting God!

Pastor Steve Willis

Tuesday June 21, 2016

Often we struggle in our faith because of the suffering we see in the lives of others and the suffering we experience in our own lives. We often wonder what we did to cause the pain we have, or why we are enduring the struggle we are facing. The writer of Psalm 10 asked, "Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?" Maybe you have felt that way at times, or perhaps even now have a similar question in your heart.

Philip Yancey wrote an excellent little book on suffering entitled "Where Is God When It Hurts?" In this book, he gives some thoughts about the reasons that God allows suffering:

1. Suffering helps us realize our urgent need for redemption.

2. Suffering helps us experience our dependence on God and our interdependence with one another.

3. Suffering helps us distinguish between necessities and luxuries.

4. Suffering helps us respond to the call of the gospel because we may have become so desperate that we cry out to God.

God does not allow suffering for no reason. The reason, or reasons, may not be clear to us when we are surrounded by the struggle, but we know we can trust God to be with us and to see us through for his glory.

There is abundant evidence in Scripture about the presence and provision of God in the midst of trials and tribulations. Turning again to Psalms, we find this statement: "When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all." (Psalm 34:17-19)

This psalm plainly states that we should not expect to be free of afflictions; but we can expect God's presence and help in the midst of afflictions. I don't know what you are facing today, but rest assured as you continue to trust in the abundant resources of our loving God, he will provide a way for you to find strength in your struggle and to ultimately be delivered from your pain.

Pastor Steve Willis

Monday June 20, 2016

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

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis

Sunday June 19, 2016

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

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis

Saturday June 18, 2016

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

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

We've got a great big wonderful God

A great big wonderful God

A God that loves every one of us

Done so much for all of us

A great big wonderful God!

Pastor Steve Willis

Friday June 17, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis

Thursday June 16, 2016

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis

Wednesday June 15, 2016

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

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis

Tuesday June 14, 2016

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis

Monday June 13, 2016

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

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis

Sunday June 12, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis

Saturday June 11, 2016

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

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis

Friday June 10, 2016

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

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis

Thursday June 09, 2016

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

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis

Wednesday June 08, 2016

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

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

Something beautiful, something good

All my confusion, He understood

All I had to offer Him was brokenness and strife

But He made something beautiful of my life.

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

Pastor Steve Willis

Tuesday June 07, 2016

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis

Monday June 06, 2016

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis

Sunday June 05, 2016

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis

Saturday June 04, 2016

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

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis

Friday June 03, 2016

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis

Thursday June 02, 2016

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis

Wednesday June 01, 2016

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

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis

Tuesday May 31, 2016

"Who's in charge here?" This is a question that is asked to determine the person who is in control and is probably the best one to answer a question, provide information, take care of a problem, or to give an explanation as to why things are as they are. Some may ask that after events in our world leave us wondering who is in charge. Of course, we know who is in charge, and we know that God will bring things about according to his perfect plan.

A story found in I Kings 1 reminds us that indeed God is in charge. David was old, and a potential successor was taking steps to ensure his place on the throne. David's oldest living son, Adonijah, had gathered a sizeable constituency to promote his position as the next king. However, David, through God's leadership, had chosen Bathsheba s son, Solomon, as his successor. Adonijah's actions posed a serious threat to the plans that had already been made. In I Kings 1, you can read and see how God's choice is preserved through his sovereign ordering of events that lead to Solomon being placed on the throne.

God is indeed in control. We need to follow the advice given in I Kings 2:2 and "observe what the LORD your God requires: Walk in his ways, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and requirements, as written in the Law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go." We need to walk in God's ways and trust in the sovereign Lord. Doing this will keep us from wondering just who is in charge.

Pastor Steve Willis

Monday May 30, 2016

Today is Memorial Day. This day has its roots in the Civil War, when people started getting together to lay flowers on the graves of those who were killed in the conflict. On May 30, 1868, Gen. John Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic issued a proclamation that May 30 be a day of remembrance of those who gave their lives in battle. May 30 was chosen as there were no battles fought on that day, and it would be a time of year when flowers would be abundant. It was actually first known as Decoration Day, and those of my generation and older probably remember using this term for this holiday. It was not until 1971 that it became an official holiday of the U.S., and the observance was set to be the last Monday in May. This year, of course, the observance falls on the actual date of the original celebration. At 3 p.m. local time, individuals are to stop for a moment of silence. The day has broadened to be an observance of all of those who have died.

I don't know how you will spend today, but I hope you do take some time for a "memorial." Remembering death can bring sadness, but we as followers of Christ know that death need not be feared. We know that those who die in the Lord live on. So, we can take time today not just for a memorial, but for a celebration. I placed flowers on about 20 graves the other day - loved ones and family members, some of whom I never met in this life. However, because of our shared hope in Christ, those I "remembered" will be those I will someday meet and for those I knew, I will see them again. I Thessalonians 4:13-18, Paul reminds us, "Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore, encourage each other with these words."

This Memorial Day, I am encouraged by the knowledge of our hope in Christ. My desire for you is that you are as well. Happy Memorial Day!

Pastor Steve Willis

Sunday May 29, 2016

I enjoyed Dr. Seuss as a kid, and I enjoyed reading Dr. Seuss books to my girls when they were young. I now am getting to read them to my granddaughter. I always admired the way "Dr. Suess" used the English language. The rhyming schemes were so appealing, making you want to read more and more. They just sounded so good! One of Dr. Seuss' classics is "On Beyond Zebra" (1955). In this book, the narrator of the story explains the alphabet to his young friend Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell, "most people stop" with the Z . . . . "BUT NOT ME!"

In the places I go

there are things that I see

That I never could spell

if I stopped with the Z.

I'm telling you this

'cause you're one of my friends,

My alphabet starts

where your alphabet ends!

It is all well and good for Dr. Seuss to go "beyond the alphabet" to make new words and express new ideas, but we certainly shouldn't do that with the Scripture. Revelation 22:18-19 says, "I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book." In spite of this plain warning, there are many groups today who tell us we need something more than Scripture to fully understand God's message to us. God has given us all we need to know in the Scripture. Don't think you need something more to fully understand God's message.

Many use the English language in such a way that it just sounds so good to hear about "other" revelation, "more" scripture. However, sounding good and actually being good can be two different things. It may work for Dr. Seuss to add things, but it doesn't work with Scripture! Rely solely upon the only Word God has given us - the Bible.

Pastor Steve Willis

Saturday May 28, 2016

One of the saddest stories I have ever heard in my life is the story of Humpty Dumpty. I think you remember it - "Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty together again." This story always bugged me when I was a kid. I would think of other ways for the story to end - having the men fix him, having the king fix him, even somehow changing the story so Humpty didn't fall. Just think of it: to be broken in such a way that repair is impossible. How sad that would be.

We often feel as if our life is in pieces. Circumstances occur that cause us to feel as if we are falling apart. Sometimes decisions are made that leaves lives in pieces. It may seem as if the pieces will never go back together again. However, this isn't Humpty Dumpty, and the king's men aren't the ones responsible for putting the pieces together. They couldn t do it anyway. There is someone who can, though. He has the ability, he has the desire, and he knows what to do. Christ can take your brokenness and restore you completely. He gave his life to mend broken lives.

Do you feel as if your life is in pieces? Do you know someone who is shattered or broken and needs Christ's love? Joanie Yoder writes "What the king's men couldn't do, the king can!" Psalm 31:12-16 talks of God's restoration, "I am forgotten by them as though I were dead; I have become like broken pottery. . .But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, 'You are my God.' My times are in your hand. . .Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love." Let Christ put things back together again.

Pastor Steve Willis

Friday May 27, 2016

In his book, "The Pursuit of God, " A.W. Tozer wrote, " Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned not to each other but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshipers [meeting] together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be were they to become unity-conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship.

Tozer's comments were designed for worship experiences, but what he said is true in all facets of our relationships with other believers. When we are in tune with Christ and walking with him, it is difficult to find ourselves at odds with other believers. Turning your focus upon Christ can help avoid much of the petty things that tend to cause friction with others. Developing a rich relationship with Christ helps us to develop our relationships with others and allows us to see the insignificance of our differences with others.

Paul reminds us in I Corinthians 12:12-13, "The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free and we were all given the one Spirit to drink." When we are connected to the head, then everything else works as it should. Keep in tune with Christ, and you will keep in tune with others!

Pastor Steve Willis

Thursday May 26, 2016

In a number of his writings, Paul tells us to offer encouragement to each other. This is usually not a difficult thing, as we know others who need encouragement, and we know we appreciate supportive words and deeds when we are in a position of need. However, Paul also tells us to offer words of correction when necessary. This is a little bit stickier. For a great many reasons, corrective encounters can be difficult. Still, they can be helpful and can be a form of encouragement.

In I Thessalonians 5:14-15, Paul tells us, "And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else." Here we see Paul giving instructions to offer words of correction where correction is needed and words of support where support is needed. He also tells us a little about the spirit in which this should be accomplished, "Be patient with everyone." In other words, don't withhold correction, but don't rush to judgment either, and make sure you do this in the right way.

When correction is needed, three things need to be kept in mind: 1) The nature of the problem must be considered; 2) Our motive and approach for correction must be thought through, and 3) God needs to be involved from start to finish. Galatians 6:1-2 offers further comment on this, "Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ." In both of these passages, we see Paul's comments on not only what should be done, but how it is to be accomplished.

Correcting others is usually more difficult than encouraging others, but in Paul's mind they are linked. Both should be done with a view to helping someone else grow in their faith. We all have times when correction is necessary because we all are prone to mistakes. When we find ourselves on one end or the other of this scenario, remember to make room for God's involvement. In this way, correction can be corrective without causing controversy.

Pastor Steve Willis

Wednesday May 25, 2016

When I was a youngster, I found a cocoon hanging in a little tree. My mom told me to leave it alone and it would change into something really pretty. Well, my impatience got the best of me as you might imagine, and I tore into the cocoon one day, thinking I was helping the process and would discover this thing of beauty. Instead, I found a mess. My impatience caused that mess. Letting our impatience get the best of us usually does cause a mess.

In this day and age, it is easy for use to forget the virtue and the results of patience. We are so used to instant gratification. We want to be able to see results now; we want to be able to contact others with no waiting; we can pick up what we need at stores that are open 24 hours a day (we even have one right here in our little town). We don't want to have to wait.

Waiting, though, is often the best thing that can happen. Patience is often the means by which we can witness the full power of God. Waiting patiently for the process going on inside that cocoon and allowing it to break open on its own would have allowed me to witness something spectacular. Instead, all I have is a memory of an ugly mess. That is what can happen in our lives when we try to force issues and demand results before the time they are ready to appear.

Proverbs 19:11 tells us, "A person s wisdom yields patience." Paul wrote about patience a number of times, including Galatians 5:11, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience." Patience produces perseverance. Patience allows us to let God do what he wants in our lives so that the end result is something of beauty, not a mess.

I have often seen the phrase "Be patient - God isn't finished with me yet!" on t-shirts, bumper stickers, and other places. We need to practice what we preach.

Pastor Steve Willis

Tuesday May 24, 2016

There is a lot of work being done in the fields right now. This is a usual activity at this time of year for those who live in farm country; however, this year the activity currently taking place has special significance. Our spring has been cold and wet - conditions that are not conducive for planting crops. Now that there is a window of opportunity to get crops planted, farmers are working feverishly to take advantage of it. And when I say window, that is just what I mean. More rain is in the forecast in the next couple of days, so they need to take advantage of the conditions now.

This is a statement that is true of our lives. We need to look at our lives as a window of opportunity that at some point will close. We should take advantage of the "dry conditions" while we can as there will be a time when conditions will change. This can refer to specific opportunities that come our way at certain times in our lives, and it certainly refers to our lives in general.

Parents need to enjoy and spend time with their children while they can. Kids grow up and become adults (now that was an earth-shattering revelation wasn't it?). We need to take advantage of job opportunities. We need to be good stewards of our finances as there will be a time when our earning ability is not there. I could go on and on with examples. Paul gives this advice, "Be very careful, then, how you live not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity." (Ephesians 5:16)

As I said, this refers to our lives in general as well. We only have so much time on earth, have you prepared for the time when you will leave? An example of how not to live is found in Luke 12:16:21, The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.' Then he said, 'This is what I ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I'll say to myself, You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry. But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?' This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God."

Make sure you take advantage of the window of opportunity you have been given. Accept the Gift that God has for you in Jesus so that you will be ready when the window of opportunity closes.

Pastor Steve Willis

Monday May 23, 2016

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

Paul acknowledged this and tells us, "To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong (II Corinthians 12:7-10)."

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

Pastor Steve Willis

Sunday May 22, 2016

One way that firefighters attempt to extinguish a wild fire is by setting back fires. The strategy is to use these controlled fires to burn out the areas ahead of an uncontrolled blaze so that when this latter blaze gets to the already burned out area, it too will burn out because of a lack of fuel. Now, this idea of "fighting fire with fire" might be a good thing to do when trying to control wild fires, but it is not a good idea in other areas.

If we try to fight "fire with fire" in our relationships, we will do more harm than good. When we use anger to counter anger, or answer an unkindness with an unkindness, or answer hatred with hatred, we make matters worse and are ignoring what Christ taught us. In Luke 6:27-31, we read his words, "But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you."

Fighting fire with fire has its place, but not in our relationships with other people. Treat others as you want to be treated, Christ said. This is a much more desirable means of handling interpersonal "fires" that often come up. Use your reservoirs of grace to put out the flames of anger when there is a flare-up. This is a better way of "fire-fighting."

Pastor Steve Willis

Saturday May 21, 2016

Have you seen anyone with a semicolon tattoo or maybe just have a semi-colon drawn on their wrist? They aren't just enamored with a particular punctuation mark; the colon is a mark that identifies them with a movement called "Project Semicolon." This organization was founded by Amy Bluel, a young lady in Green Bay, Wisconsin, who suffered through the suicide of her father as a young girl and then faced abuse from her step-mother. Her faith in Christ helped her to persevere through the depression and struggles that followed.

To help others who struggle with addiction, depression, and self-harm, she founded Project Semicolon. Their message is simple, "A semicolon is used when an author could have chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to. The author is you, and the semicolon is your life. By encouraging people to share their marks and stories, Project Semicolon seeks to instill hope and open up a dialogue about mental health. The goal is to provide support for those who are struggling.

Whatever struggles you face, remember that there is always hope. When we are in Christ, we always have hope. Paul wrote, "We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed." (II Corinthians 4:8-9)

We will always face situations in life that make our life difficult. Some face more hardships than others. A constant reminder of how one can have hope is important to help us cope with the stress we face. The presence of Christ in our lives is a perpetual source of hope on which we can depend without question.

Hope involves believing that God can draw good things from bad circumstances. There are many examples of this in the Scripture, and there are many who have experienced this in their lives. Project Semicolon seeks to bring people together so that these stories of hope can be shared. We can have hope because God is a God of hope. God makes a semicolon a really appropriate symbol in our lives.

Pastor Steve Willis

Friday May 20, 2016

This is the anniversary of one of the greatest events in aviation history - the beginning of Charles Lindbergh's solo Atlantic crossing in "The Spirit of St. Louis." The 33 1/2-hour flight was a landmark in aviation history and paved the way for growth in the aviation industry. In our day and time of "frequent flyer miles", sometimes it is hard for us to realize the enormity of this accomplishment.

A barnstormer with a St. Louis-based company, Lindbergh became committed to making the flight. It would require a great deal of ingenuity and a great deal of faith. First, the plane only had one engine. I don't think I have to elaborate on what this meant. Secondly, he would have to "fly blind." In order to carry enough fuel, extra tanks were added that obscured his straight-on line of sight. This meant he would have to trust the instruments on his panel. During the flight, he would often have to fight off the effects of fatigue that caused him to struggle with the use of the gauges as his guide. He needed to rely upon them completely or he would veer off course, run out of fuel, and crash in the Atlantic. His survival depended on his trust in his instruments.

This is another aspect of Lindbergh's experience that is taken for granted today. Pilots of modern aircraft must constantly look to instruments to know where they are and how they are flying. Trusting one's own thinking leads to flying off-course, maybe even flying upside down, and not being able to realize your error. You can't use "landmarks" as guides; "turn right when you get to the third cloud on the left" doesn't work. I remember watching the biopic "The Spirit of St. Louis" when I was a kid and being absolutely enthralled with this concept of "flying blind." How can you do this? It is something that simply must be done.

This is the way it is for followers of Christ. We need to trust our Guide completely in order to stay on course. Sometimes we feel as if we are "flying blind." At those times we know we can trust Christ's navigation. Actually, we should trust Christ's navigation at all times and avoid saying, "I have this." We never "have it" without his leadership.

Proverbs 3:4-5 tells us, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not to your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your path." Paul gave this admonition, "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ." (I Corinthians 11:1) We need to trust Christ even more fervently than Lindbergh trusted his instruments. Our survival depends on it.

Pastor Steve Willis

Thursday May 19, 2016

Whoever first coined the phrase "Don't sweat the small stuff" had a good idea, but we need a little balance here. The idea behind this advice goes to stress relief - we shouldn't worry about little details that are not that significant. Richard Carlson has even written a book about this - "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff - And It's All Small Stuff." I appreciate the book and its intention, but there needs to be discernment.

I can think of three circumstances where "small stuff" proved very consequential - the Apollo 11 mission was saved by a felt-tip ink pen; the Challenger space shuttle was doomed by a little O-ring; and the Titanic was compromised by inferior rivets. I don't have time to go into all the details about these events so if you are curious you can do some research on your own. However, in each of these situations it was "small stuff" that played a big role.

I am all for stress relief, but I do know that there are scenarios where we very much need to take care of the small details. A little crack in a dam can lead to big problems. A little inattention to our personal and spiritual habits can lead to big problems. "Oh, it isn't that big of a deal, this little lie isn't going to hurt anyone." This thinking is not wise. We need to be aware that little things can have a big impact.

Christ tells us, "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much." (Luke 16:10) Small things matter - make sure you gain some perspective here. Yes, there are times when we don't need to "sweat the small stuff," but there are times when we do. Pay attention and pray for discernment to know when to take care of the small stuff.

Pastor Steve Willis

Wednesday May 18, 2016

Dwight D. Eisenhower experienced the winding, narrow roads of Europe during World War II, as he made plans to move troops, equipment, and supplies from one place to another. So, when he became president, he used these experiences to persuade Congress to pass the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 leading to the construction of our present-day interstate highways.

Can you imagine what travel by automobile would be like had this not been done? Well, some of us can remember what travel was like before interstates; however, there weren't nearly as many vehicles then as there are now. A way was prepared for future access.

This is what we need to be doing as followers of Christ. We need to be preparing access for others to find Christ. It was said of John the Baptist that he was the "voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.'" (Matthew 3:3) We need to be doing this as well. We need to do what we can to level out the roads, take down the mountains, build bridges over obstacles, and whatever else needs to be done so that others may see the way to Christ. How are you doing in your spiritual engineering?

Pastor Steve Willis

Tuesday May 17, 2016

I have said it before and I will say it again - technological advances and social media are wonderful tools but they can be a detriment to proper interpersonal communication. This is nowhere any truer than in the area of appropriate confrontation. There are times when confrontation is necessary, but with the advent of social media sites, we are losing our ability in this area.

Social media sites allow one to vent, and even rant, on issues or people without the usual features, and even constraints, that face to face communication brings. This can result in "under done" or "over done" episodes. Employers can now send lay-off notices via email. Corrective missives can be sent without the possibility of immediate feedback that is often helpful in scenarios where confrontation is needed. We need to be aware of this and ask ourselves hard questions before we take to the "airwaves" to share our concerns or to communicate with others about an issue that needs to be addressed.

Confrontation is rarely an easy thing to do, but we see from scripture that it is often a necessary thing to do. Paul had the unenviable task of confronting Peter because of the error that Peter had allowed to creep into his ministry. We read in Galatians 2:11-14, "But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, 'If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?'"

This was the sort of issue that needed to be dealt with directly and not on Facebook. There are times when this is the case today. Use your discernment before you sign in.

Pastor Steve Willis

Monday May 16, 2016

Do you have the courage to say "surprise me" when you are ordering at an ice cream shop, or a restaurant, or some other place where you are asked for a choice? I read a story once about a wife who always said to her husband "surprise me" when they were ordering ice cream at a dairy bar. This usually takes a little bit of courage on the part of the one who asks for the surprise, and a little bit of faith as well. You need to trust that the person whom you ask to do the surprising will not select something that is bad, or perhaps even harmful.

We can do this with God, you know. This takes courage and faith, but we can tell God to surprise us and we know that what we will receive will be more that what we expected. Actually, if we do this with God, we can usually expect to experience something unexpected. Throughout the Bible, we read how God delights in doing the unexpected for his people. This may mean holding back waters so you can pass on dry ground (Exodus 14:25-31). It may mean being thrown into a den of lions and witnessing the closing of the lions' mouths (Daniel 6). It also means watching him forgive and embrace those who confess their sins (Psalm 130:1-4)

God delights in doing the unexpected and asks us to trust him as he works in our lives. He is not confined by our limited imaginations or our meager expectations. He is pleased when we demonstrate trust in him and show our faith through times when we are "surprised." We can have faith in him because we know he will never do anything to harm us and has nothing but our best interests in mind.

Christ reminded his followers, "If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!" (Matthew 7:11) He wants to bless us more than we can ever imagine and will do so to the ones who demonstrate faith by saying, "Surprise me!"

Pastor Steve Willis

Sunday May 15, 2016

I am sure you have heard the familiar adage "what goes around comes around." This refers to the idea that a person's actions, whether good or bad, will often have consequences for that person. Lee Atwater, a former Republican National Party Chairman and chief strategist for George H. W. Bush's successful presidential bid in 1988, found this out the hard way. In 1980, while devising campaign strategy for a congressional candidate in South Carolina, Atwater learned that the opposing candidate had once been treated for depression with electro-shock therapy. He published this information and did a great deal of damage to the image of the candidate. When the candidate tried to contact him, he rebuffed his attempt by saying that he had no intention of communicating to a man "hooked up to a jumper cable."

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

This reminds us of how we must be careful with our actions and our words. Statements made today or actions pursued today in the "heat of the moment" can cause us pain at some point down the road. Think carefully before you use those choice words or inflammatory actions against someone else. Your words and/or your actions could come back upon you.

Read Christ's words in Matthew 12:33-37, "Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. . .The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned." Indeed, "what goes around comes around."

Pastor Steve Willis

Saturday May 14, 2016

I read an article recently that reported on a "taste test" of hamburgers from different franchises. What amazed me about the article was that there are so many hamburgers to compare. We are so used to having choices in so many areas of our life. We get used to the opportunity to "pick and choose" when it comes to hamburgers, laundry detergent, cars, vacation getaways, and so many other things. I remember a certain peanut butter commercial that acknowledged there were choices available, but stated that "Choosy Moms choose Jif."

This may be good when it relates to these areas of life, but we must remember we don't have that option when it comes to what God asks of us and what is necessary for pleasing him. We can't just "pick and choose" what we want from God's Word and expect to please him. We certainly can't do this with regard to our eternal life - there is only one way to heaven as Christ made plain in John 14:6, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." It is great to be able to pick and choose in many areas, but remember not to apply this mindset to our relationship with God.

Just before his death, Joshua challenged the people, "choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve. .But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD (Joshua 24:15." He went on to remind the people, "You are not able to serve the LORD. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you (Joshua 24:19)."

God wants what is best for us and knows that there are areas where it is fine to have choices, but when it comes to serving him, a restriction of choice is necessary. So, go right ahead and experiment with those hamburgers. Just don't experiment with God.

Pastor Steve Willis

Friday May 13, 2016

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 detail in the hands of God. This is called faith. When God provided for his people when 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 Willis

Thursday May 12, 2016

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

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis

Wednesday May 11, 2016

I am always impressed when a store employee actually takes me to what I am looking for when I ask where to find something rather than just pointing out the correct aisle. Now, I don't actually expect this, and I am not disappointed when this doesn't take place; I just am really grateful when it does.

As I think about this, it reminds me about the outlook I should have as a follower of Christ who would like to see others embrace the truth of Christianity. Since this is the case, I need to be willing to do more than just vaguely gesture in the general direction of Christ. I need to be willing to spend the time to walk along the way with others and do what I can to take them to Christ. Now, it is not up to me to do the convicting, and it is not up to me to do the convincing, but it is indeed my role to be a guide to others to help them find the right path.

When some inquisitive disciples expressed an interest in Christ's work, Christ said to them, "'Come,' he replied, 'and you will see.'" (John 1:39) Later when Philip's testimony was met with a skeptical response from Nathanael, Philip replied, "Come and see." (1:46) We should be willing to walk with others to help them come to belief in Christ. When others express a desire to know more about Christ, we need to be willing to say "Let me take you there!"

Pastor Steve Willis

Tuesday May 10, 2016

I recently came across a trivia question that read "In the human body, there are a) 60 miles; b) 600 miles; c) 6,000 miles; d) 60,000 miles of blood vessels." Which would you pick? Well, if you chose "d", you chose correctly. Can you imagine that? Our tiny little 11-ounce heart pumps 2,000 gallons of blood through those 60,000 miles of vessels each day. At a rate of 70-75 beats a minute, that is a rate of over 80 gallons an hour. Every day, the heart uses an equivalent of enough energy to drive a truck for 20 miles. Over a lifetime, that would be the same as traveling to the moon and back. A healthy heart can do amazing things. On the other hand, a heart that is not healthy is a problem. Both my wife and I have experienced this.

The same can be said of our spiritual heart. Throughout the scripture, the term "heart" is used for the center of one's being, the real you, the force within you that makes you who you are. If our spiritual heart is neglected, we suffer. Proverbs 4:23 says, "Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it." While this may indeed apply to our physical heart, the context makes it plain that our inner heart is the subject of this advice.

How can we keep our heart healthy? The writer goes on to give some practical tips for this: "Keep your mouth free of perversity; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil." (vss. 24 - 27) He had already given the advice of heeding his words (vs. 20)

Heeding God's words and following God's ways leads to a healthy heart. Following this advice can help us avoid a spiritual heart attack.

Pastor Steve Willis

Monday May 09, 2016

I am a Trek fan. Not the bike, the TV and movie series, STAR TREK. In the second Star Trek movie, "Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan," Spock enters a radiation-filled room to make a necessary repair so that the Starship Enterprise can continue to operate and the crew can be saved. A dying Spock says to Captain Kirk, "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one."

I have always thought it interesting that similar words are found in Scripture. The words of Caiaphas about Christ found in John 11:50 are "You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish." My, what a statement. Yet, even though Caiaphas was speaking in malice, this was exactly what Christ did. Verses 51 and 52 continue, "He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one." The needs of the many took precedent - Christ died for the many.

We know this to be true, and we know we have hope because of Christ being willing to sacrifice himself for the needs of the many. We praise God for this, yet we often fail to apply this principle to guide our lives in the church. We forget that often the needs of the many may outweigh the needs of the one - especially if we are the one, and it is our need that should be tabled for the greater good of the church. When it involves our need, we sometimes push the issue to the point of disrupting the unity of the body so that our "rights" are preserved, our needs met.

The ministry of the church is more important than one's personal desires or wants. We must consider the unity of the body and the welfare of the "many" when considering our personal actions. Ask yourself this question, "How is what I am doing affecting the church and the ministry of the church?" We really need to consider the welfare of the church over our personal desires. Live for the good of the body of Christ. It's the logical thing to do. More importantly, it's the biblical thing to do!

Pastor Steve Willis

Sunday May 08, 2016

In reading about Mother s Day once, I found something which surprised me. Towards the end of her life, Anna Jarvis, the lady who had championed the idea of a Mother's Day, became disillusioned with how Mother's Day was being observed. Just before her death in 1923, she said, "I wish I had not thought of a Mother's Day." Why? She felt as if people had lost their focus in their observation of Mother's Day and that the observance had become too commercial. Sound familiar?

Whether or not this was true about Mother's Day, it does show a flaw that exists within our character about which we should be aware. We can easily lose our focus upon that which is important and go after "rabbit trails," or even follow a path that is detrimental to our spiritual lives. We see so many examples of this in scripture. We see so many people who forget their spiritual heritage and then focus on something that is contrary to true belief in God.

Take Ahaz for example. We read about him in II Kings 16. Ahaz became king of Judah when he was 20. His father Jotham had been a godly king, as was his grandfather Uzziah. However, Ahaz forgot his godly heritage and "did not do what was right in the sight of the Lord his God. . .But he walked in the way of the kings of Israel (16:2-3)." We are not sure why he changed, but one thing we can say with certainly is that he lost his focus. As a result, he was a failure. The rest of chapter 16 tells of his struggles and his continued wrong doing. He cultivated unholy worship and made unwise political alliances. All because he forgot his heritage and lost his focus.

Don't forget that we have the same tendency. We can easily forget our spiritual heritage, our need to follow God, and lose our focus. If this happens, we will indeed fail. I feel for Anna Jarvis, it shows the tendency of mankind. Buck the trend - stay true to God!

Pastor Steve Willis

Saturday May 07, 2016

No one likes conflict, and yet conflict comes into our lives on many occasions. Some people take the stance that all conflict is bad, and that Christians should avoid conflict at all costs. Well, conflict isn t pleasant, but not all conflict is bad. Positive things can arise from conflict, if handled properly. The apostle Paul wrote in Romans 12:18, If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Now, this is indeed good advice, but we know from other scriptures that Paul was no stranger to conflict.

Acts 15:37-39 records one disagreement, Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus. . . We also read in Galatians 2:11, written by Paul, When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. As you read further about these situations, you find that both had positive outcomes. Why? Because the conflict was handled correctly. Mark became a trusted friend of Paul s, and the conflict in Galatians helped Paul, Peter, and the early church to get on the same page regarding the doctrine of salvation by faith alone.

Stephanie Zonars gives some tips on handling conflict:

1- remain calm: when we attack, others are more likely to attack back; when we are calm, others are more likely to follow suit.

2- give personal examples: when you _________, I felt __________ ; stay away from you always or other accusatory statements

3- listen: give the other person an opportunity to be heard it s amazing what you might learn!

We don t like conflict, and conflict that is handled badly can be very destructive. However, many constructive ideas and actions are born from conflict that is handled correctly. When the inevitable happens, use it as an opportunity to build!

Pastor Steve Willis

Friday May 06, 2016

Can you believe we are already a month into the 2016 baseball season? As we exist in the present and look to the future, let me tease you with a name from the past - Bernie Carbo. Now, unless you are a Cincinnati Reds or a Boston Red Sox fan, you probably won t recognize this name. He came up with the Reds in 1969, had a great rookie year in 1970, hitting 21 home runs. Carbo didn t fit the conservative mold of the Reds because of his flamboyance, so he was traded, eventually ending up with the Red Sox. There, he did some things in the 1975 World Series (against the Reds, as many of you remember) that has made him the answer to a couple of sports trivia questions: Who holds the record for the most pinch-hit home runs in a series? (Carbo, 2. actually shares this record) and Who hit the home run which tied the game and set up Carlton Fisk s famous game winning home run in the 6th game of the 1975 series? (Carbo).

What I think is more interesting is what Carbo is doing now - he is an evangelist who travels and speaks at churches across the nation. In a TV interview sometime back, he told of how he wants to impress on as many people as he can that God loves them and wants to have a relationship with them. He also speaks in schools on anti-drug themes and positive self-image emphases. It is interesting to see the impact he is having on folks now.

I was a Carbo fan, and was disappointed when the Reds traded him in 1972, but it is nice to see that we are indeed playing on the same team now. As many people as he might have influenced as a professional baseball player, more are being influenced by his current ministry. And the message he now conveys has a greater impact - we can live forever with God if we make the right decision.

God asks the question in Isaiah 6:8, Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" And I (Isaiah) said, "Here am I. Send me!" It is good that Bernie Carbo answered God s call. But we don t have to be a former professional ballplayer to be used of God - he wants to and can use you, if you say yes to him. I hope that you do because it is indeed time to play ball!

Pastor Steve Willis

Thursday May 05, 2016

Today is Cinco de Mayo. This is celebrated as a holiday in Mexico and by many in the United States, although many do not know why. Some think this is Mexico s Independence Day, but that is not the case. This is a celebration of the Mexican Army s defeat of invading French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. The Mexican Army was led very capably by General Zaragoza, and turned back the French who were intent on occupying Mexico City and taking over the entire country.

As stated earlier, many people of Mexican descent living in the United States celebrate today as well. However, it may be a day that should be celebrated by the all of the U.S. Why? Well, the French, under the command of General Napoleon III, had more than Mexico in mind. They wanted to create a means of supplying the Confederate Army during the U.S. Civil War. Had they been successful, who knows what might have happened? They had invaded Mexico under the pretense of wanting to collect Mexican debts to France, but they had an ulterior motive because of Napoleon III s hatred of the U.S. Deception was at the heart of the French effort.

This should not be too surprising. Deception has played a huge part in human events throughout history. We as believers face an enemy who is the Master of deception. Satan s trickery is what causes us to constantly be on the alert. Paul comments on this is II Corinthians 11:13-14, 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.

We need to be aware of Satan s propensity to used disguises and deception to trick us into doing and believing things that are not true. How do you avoid these? The best offense is a good defense, a coach once said, and that is true in our Christian life. Know the Word, continue fellowship with other Believers, exercise your prayer life, and you will be prepared for this deceit. Say, since today is a holiday, official or not, let s celebrate our independence in Christ! Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Pastor Steve Willis

Wednesday May 04, 2016

What are you known for by those who are close to you? Is it your intelligence? Your passion for golf? Your love of music? Your love of your family? If someone interviewed the ten people closest to you and asked them, "What does he really like?"; what would they say? I read about a man who seemed to be consumed with a desire to build up frequent flyer miles. He once bought $3000 of the same kind of pudding because there was a promotion offering frequent flyer miles for purchasing this brand of pudding. He received 1.2 million miles for this. It seemed he was consumed with the acquisition of frequent flyer miles, and he was known for his desire to build up the miles.

What about you? What are you known for? What do others see as being the most important thing in your life? There was no way to mistake the burning passion of the apostle Paul - he loved Christ and he wanted others to know Christ the way he did. Listen to what he says in Philippians 3:7-11, "But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead."

So, for what do you want to be known? Do you want to be known for your love of pudding, or your love of the Savior? Let others see your love of Christ in how you live for Christ.

Pastor Steve Willis

Tuesday May 03, 2016

Herbert Vander Lugt writes about Pat Fillmore: "Pat Fillmore has been a pioneer missionary in Irian Jaya for 40 years. She taught people to read and brought them medications and medical techniques. She maintained airstrips, built septic systems, and repaired generators and appliances. In addition, she established and managed a quality Bible school, and translated parts of the Bible and many study courses into the language of the people to whom she ministered."

Those are some significant accomplishments! You've surely heard of Pat Fillmore, haven't you? If you have, great, but I must say that I hadn't heard about her until I read Mr. Vander Lugt's article. There are so many people who have many great accomplishments, yet we never know about them. There have been many of these people throughout history - there are many even now who fit into this category.

Sometimes we feel like we may be laboring in a "vacuum" as what we do goes unheralded. Keep a healthy attitude about what you do. On the one hand, don't feel like what you are doing is "insignificant" because you don't attract a lot of attention and on the other hand don't feel like you need to be "noticed." Put yourself in the shoes of Paul's anonymous colleagues he refers to in Philippians 4:3, "the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life." Who are these people? Well, we don't know. However, God does - and that is what matters. What we do for God does not go unnoticed by God. Colossians 3:23-24 tells us, "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving."

Always keep in mind we are serving God. This helps keep the "attention" factor in perspective.

Pastor Steve Willis

Monday May 02, 2016

We are blessed with a lot of young children in our church, and I have also been blessed with two marvelous grandchildren. It is so fun to watch them grow and develop. I especially love to watch the kids go from the crawling stage to the walking stage. That is always such a big change - it is certainly a significant milestone for the child, the parents, everyone! What is neat is you don’t see the little ones sitting around debating the merits of walking - “Do you really think walking is superior to crawling?” “Do you think there is truly any merit in walking? What is in it for me to move from crawling to walking?” “You know, I am just not sure I want to head that direction.” “What if I fall?”

What a laugh! Of course, there is no debate - the kids just simply walk! They don’t let what might be “concerns” keep them from doing what they want to do - walk! They especially don’t let the last concern stop them - yes, they will fall. But they get back up and go at it again.

Don’t let “fear of falling” keep you from moving into a new stage in your spiritual development. Sometimes you will find that you will stumble - but don’t let that be an excuse for not trying, for not growing, for not moving ahead. Psalm 37:24 tells us, “though he stumble, he will not fall, for the LORD upholds him with his hand.” God is there for us - so walk! Run! Jump! Grow! Go forward with God - and just watch and see where those steps take you!

Pastor Steve Willis

Sunday May 01, 2016

Well, today is the first of May, May Day. There are a number of holidays in various countries associated with this day. So, it is a significant date on our calendar. Of course, there is another kind of May Day, the mayday distress signal that is used in air, sea and boating emergencies.

According to Wikipedia, the Mayday call sign was originated in 1923 by Frederick Stanley Mockford. A senior radio officer at Croydan Airport in London, Mockford was asked to think of a word that would indicate distress and would easily be understood by all pilots and ground staff in an emergency. Since much of the traffic at the time was between Croydon and Le Bourget Airport in Paris, he proposed the word "Mayday" from the French m'aider.

There are times in our lives when may feel like sending out a mayday signal. We feel like things are crashing down around us, we are trying to hang on as best we can, we feel like the waves are crashing in over the bow of our boat. Rest assured - our mayday signals are heard by God. He is there for us in the crisis events of our lives. Psalm 46:1-3 reminds us, God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.

Your mayday signals are not falling on deaf ears - God hears you and knows your distress. He will not let you keep flailing around helplessly. God will not fail you!

Pastor Steve Willis

Saturday April 30, 2016

Little Timmy was really troubled. He had broken his Grandpa's reading glasses, and he didn't know what to do. No one had seen him take them from the table by his Grandpa's favorite chair. He had been told not to bother the glasses but he enjoyed pretending he was Grandpa, and the glasses added to the effect. Now, he didn't know what to do because he had dropped them and watched helplessly, as both of the lenses popped out. What was he going to do? He could put them back on the table and say he didn't know how they got that way. He could hide them, and then Grandpa would just assume he had laid them somewhere else (he was always losing them anyway). But he knew the right thing to do was tell his Grandpa what he had done and tell him he was sorry. If he did this, he knew his conscience would be clear. That is what he did and Grandpa wasn't too mad after all. Of course, the best part was the fact that he had a clear conscience.

There is something to be said about a clear conscience, isn t there? When we do things we shouldn t, and then try to cover up our error, there is always something inside of us saying, Hey, you know better! We read of folks in the scripture who were stricken in their conscience because of something they had done. After an ill-advised accounting of his fighting men, we read of David, David was conscience-stricken after he had counted the fighting men, and he said to the LORD,"I have sinned greatly in what I have done. Now, O LORD, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing"(II Samuel 24:10). David did the right thing by confessing to clear up his conscience. Job 27:6 says, "I will maintain my righteousness and never let go of it; my conscience will not reproach me as long as I live".

Keep your conscience clear! Do the right thing, and if you fail to do the right thing, ask for forgiveness. If you break Grandpa's glasses, own up to it! You will feel better, and you certainly will be happier!

Pastor Steve Willis

Friday April 29, 2016

A minister was visiting with a man whose family had just experienced a severe finanacial setback. "Everything is gone," the man said.

"You mean your wife is dead?" asked the minister.

"Well, no," replied the man.

"What about your children? Are they well?" the pastor continued.

"Yes, yes, they are fine." the man said.

"What about your health? Have your friends deserted you? What about your faith in God?" the pastor asked.

"No, no, none of those are lost," the man said.

"Then you have lost nothing of real value. You have lost nothing of lasting importance."

We often have trouble seeing things in this way. A value could be placed on all that the family had lost. The things that are priceless remained. We struggle with this perspective, but we need to do all that we can to develop the proper priorities. We need to know the difference.

Christ said, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:19-21)." Where is your treasure?

Pastor Steve Willis

Thursday April 28, 2016

There does seem to be a lot to worry about, doesn't there? However, for the believer, worry is one of the silliest activities. The scripture comments quite a bit about worrying, and why we shouldn't worry (read Matthew 6:25-34). It has been demonstrated that excessive worry can cause physical problems. Much of what we worry about does not come to pass, and much of what we worry about cannot be changed by our worry. So, why do we worry?

I believe strongly Satan knows if he can get us to worry about something, he can keep our minds from being involved in healthier, spiritual activities. That is one cause. Another cause is we simply do not keep our eyes on the Savior in the way we should. Focusing upon God is something that can help us keep our minds from worry. Also, worry demonstrates a preoccupation with self and causes us to neglect to think about others.

If you have read some of my recent columns, you know that my oldest daughter just gave birth to her second child. I have been privileged to be with her and her husband and I have watched as they have held the baby, fed the baby, rock the baby, and cuddle the baby. I have had the fun of participating in some of these activities myself.

Some folks treat worry as a mother treats a newborn baby. They cuddle it, hold it, rock it, feed it. When someone wants to take it, they jealously guard it. They want others to believe that their worries are worse than anyone else's. What is actually happening here is a preoccupation with one's self that can be remedied by looking to our Father in heaven and focusing upon others instead of ourselves. When we get our minds on something other than us, many of our worries will go away.

Quit "babying" your worry! Trust in God! Psalm 55:22 tells us to "Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall." Let God sustain you, let him encourage you. He will take good care of you!

Pastor Steve Willis

Wednesday April 27, 2016

I have always found it interesting to observe the steps atheists take to keep "God thoughts" out of society. Individuals and organizations find themselves being sued over activities that seem to be in violation of "the separation of church and state." If God doesn't exist, then why go to such extremes trying to prove his non-existence? Some atheists spew anti-God language with vitriolic hatred in their rants.

In his book, "Can Man Live Without God?", Ravi Zacharias cites a statement made by Svetlana Stalin, the daughter of Josef Stalin, about her father's death. According to his daughter, "As (my father) lay dying, plagued with terrifying hallucinations, he suddenly sat halfway up in bed, clenched his fist toward the heavens once more, fell back upon his pillow, and was dead." To whom was he gesturing? Whom did he hate? If there is no one there, then why are there such strong displays of emotion and hatred against nothing? It seems as if even the very anger vented by many who disbelieve is evidence of the existence of God - how can you hate nothing?

Of course, many objections and many arguments can be laid against the statements I have made. Then again, if God doesn't exist, why go to the trouble arguing with me? The scripture tells us, "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands." (Psalm 19:1) We also read in Romans 1:20, "For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse." If this is not true, there is no need to go to any great lengths to try to disprove it. There is nothing to disprove. Maybe Stalin would have something to say about that if he were here.

Pastor Steve Willis

Tuesday April 26, 2016

I have always been fascinated by the Argiope aurantia. You probably know this creature by its more common name - the yellow garden spider. These black and yellow arachnids are the ones that weave very intricate, precise, circular webs that serve as the stereotypical spider web. I hope you have had the opportunity to see one of these webs up close, and maybe even had the chance to watch one being created.

My first experience with one came when I was a young boy at my grandparents' home. I remember sitting on the steps of their large front porch and watching a web being spun in a bush right next to the steps. I was fascinated watching the web being created. These webs are a marvel of engineering, yet are created without any rulers, transits, levels, or anything that humans would need to use to get the measurements accurate to allow for the proper spacing and levels. At night, the spider will consume the inner circle of the web and then rebuild it during the day.

When I observe phenomena such as this in nature I gain new appreciation for the marvelous creativity of our wonderful God. These little displays are simply microcosms of his grand ability and skill. I believe God has placed these little reminders in our world to say to us, "Don't forget who I am or what I have done or what I am going to do." We shouldn't need any reminders, but frankly I am glad they are there. As we view them, they should instill within us a sense of awe and wonder of the grandeur of God and his marvelous work.

Psalm 40:5 says, "Many, LORD my God, are the wonders you have done, the things you planned for us. None can compare with you; were I to speak and tell of your deeds, they would be too many to declare." Isn't that the truth? Let the spider webs of the world speak to you about the wonders of our God!

Pastor Steve Willis

Monday April 25, 2016

I have been watching sports channels a little more than usual recently because of all the coverage of the upcoming NFL draft. I really enjoy the game of football, and following this news is simply an interesting pastime for me. A program that is found on the NFL network at various times is entitled "Gamechangers". The title eludes to the content of the show. It features players in the upcoming draft that are viewed to be good enough to have a great impact in games in which they play. They are said to have enough talent to be able to "change the game", that is, have the ability to influence the outcome of the game in which they are playing because of their high level of performance.

You know, God needs individuals such as these "gamechangers." He needs disciples who have a great influence on those around them for the sake of Christ. We find examples of such gamechangers throughout the scripture, but one reference that comes to my mind particularly is found in Acts 17:6, "But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some brethren to the rulers of the city, crying out, 'These who have turned the world upside down have come here too.'" My, what a testimony to the influence Paul and Silas were having on those they encountered in their ministry for God. Now, this statement was not made in a positive context, the speaker was referring to their efforts in a derogatory way, but it actually was a "back-handed" compliment as it spoke to the impact they were making.

Wouldn t it be good if people would say that about us? Wouldn't it be great if we were actually accused of turning the world upside down for the cause of Christ? We need to pray that we have this sort of effect on our world. We need to pray that we are true "gamechangers."

Pastor Steve Willis

Sunday April 24, 2016

St. Paul's Cathedral in London is the second largest church in England, behind only the Liverpool Cathedral. It was designed by Sir Christopher Wren in the 17th century and has been the location for many famous weddings, including Prince Charles and Lady Diana.

The cathedral has a unique feature that has garnered it the nickname "The Whispering Room." If you are under the dome of the cathedral, you can carry on a conversation with someone on the other side of the dome by simply facing the wall and whispering. The design of the dome is such that one's voice is carried clearly to the other side even if you simply whisper.

This feature of architectural design should serve to remind us of how quickly and clearly our gossip can be spread. If you don't want something you say to get spread to others, the best thing to do is not say it, especially if what you have to say could be characterized and derogatory or destructive. We should be guilty of neither inventing or spreading gossip.

Proverbs 10:19 tells us, "Sin is not ended by multiplying words, but the prudent hold their tongues." If what we have to say to others needs to be said in a whisper, then it most likely should not be said at all. Be wise in what you say!

Pastor Steve Willis

Saturday April 23, 2016

The place that brought you "Pizza! Pizza!" now is offering another improvement to this American favorite: cheese in the crust. Cheese in the crust is really not all that original an innovation. Pizza Hut used to make crusts with cheese around the edge. However, Little Caesar's now offers pizza with cheese throughout the crust. Innovations in design is the name of the game in consumer products, even pizza. Companies are always looking for an edge; always looking for that improvement that will increase sales and make more money. "New! Improved!" is the name of the game.

I know something for which there is no improvement - the grace of God. God's grace is as marvelous as can be and is absolutely priceless. There is no improvement necessary or possible for the grace of God. Titus 2:11 says, "For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people." How can you improve on that? You can't. There is no need for anything else, and there is no room for improvement.

And what is the result? II Peter 1 tells us, "His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires." God's grace is perfect, and there is no improvement for perfection.

Pastor Steve Willis

Friday April 22, 2016

As I wrote yesterday, we are with my oldest daughter's family for the birth of their second child. We are doing the usual grandparent things - taking care of the other kids while Mom and Dad are in the hospital. Hopefully they will be home tomorrow. We have worked on the nursery, washed clothes, and done other chores.

Near where my kids live there is a large road construction project taking place. Actually "large" is an understatement. The project is huge. A bypass is being constructed to connect U.S. Route 52 with U.S. Route 23 and allow motorists to go around the city of Portsmouth. What makes this project so mammoth is that they are having to move several large hills to make the road. Large bridges will need to be constructed and a lot of dirt is being moved. As you look at the machinery working on the project, you wonder "How can they get all this done?" As big as the machines are, they are dwarfed by the enormity of the surrounding landscape they are working to alter. However, a great deal of progress has already been made, and they are at a stage where it is evident that the job can be accomplished.

Watching the work helps me realize how it is that we should not be intimidated when we face large jobs. First, the workers didn't "look before they leapt" - a great deal of planning was done ahead of time so that a work strategy was developed. Secondly, it is understood that all the work couldn't be done at once. It would take a number of men and a lot of equipment doing their tasks at various locations to bring it all together. Finally, the workers realize everyone needs to do their jobs to reach the goal that is before them.

All this sounds like something we would be smart to emulate in the church. These principles are seen in the book of Nehemiah when the people encountered the task of rebuilding the wall. Nehemiah made plans ahead of time regarding the work that needed to be done: "so I went up the valley by night, examining the wall. Finally, I turned back and reentered through the Valley Gate." (Nehemiah 2:15) Groups of people divided the work, each group working on different parts of the wall (read chapter 3). Finally, everyone did their job, and the task was completed. Nehemiah 6:15 says, "So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days." Let's put these principles into practice, then the daunting task before us may not loom so large.

Pastor Steve Willis

Thursday April 21, 2016

Three years ago I wrote an article the day after birth of my first grandchild. The reason I am bringing this up is because today is the first day after the birth of my second grandchild - a boy. My first grandchild was a girl. There are a number of other differences as well. My daughter's first delivery was fraught with a good bit of anxious moments as she manifested the symptoms of HELLP Syndrome, a rare occurrence that is fatal 25% of the time. However, due to the fast actions of the medical team, and the marvelous grace of God, my daughter now has a beautiful three-year-old daughter and a beautiful one-day-old son.

This time around was a good deal different. She had to have a C-section, but this was planned and was part of the process due to her first child being delivered by an emergency C-section. This was also part of the plan to help avoid the occurrence of HELLP Syndrome again. Precautions were taken, and followed, and it made all the difference in the experience.

My daughter could have chosen to ignore the medical advice given her in light of her first birth experience to avoid a repeat problem. She could have said, "I am just going to go the way I want and that is that." Of course, you can also jump out of an airplane flying at 10,000 feet without a parachute and say, "No, I don't think anything bad is going to happen." There are simply times when we need to follow good advice.

Most often we follow without too many questions advice given us by others who are skilled and have expertise in areas where we do not. We do so because we trust their ability and skill and doing something different would not be a good idea. It would not have been a good decision for my daughter to avoid the advice given her, especially in light of past experience.

Why is it we fail at giving God the same response and respect when we receive his advice? Why are there so many who live without any thought of following God's advice when the consequences of not doing so have been made manifest time and again? Ecclesiastes 5:1-2 offers this advice that is certainly worthy of being heeded, "Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong. Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few." Good advice that needs to be followed.

I am going to follow some advice tomorrow and enjoy my grandchildren while I can. I thank God for them and do not take for granted their presence in my life in the least. Neither should I take for granted the presence of God in my life.

Pastor Steve Willis

Wednesday April 20, 2016

The European Cuckoo is really "cuckoo." A female cuckoo will invade a nest built by another bird and lay an egg, then will abandon the egg. The unsuspecting actual resident of the nest hatches the egg along with her own. Then, after the chicks have grown a bit, the cuckoo chick will force the other chicks out of the nest in order to receive undivided attention from the mother.

Paul warns against such freeloading behavior among believers, "For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: 'If a man will not work, he shall not eat.' We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat. And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right (II Thessalonians 3:10-13)."

Make sure you pull you own weight! You may say, "Well, I'm not a freeloader." I can respect that, but what about how you treat other? Be concerned about others, but don't interfere in the lives of others. Busybodies are unwelcome and unhelpful. We should never tire of doing the right thing, as Paul tells us. In actuality, busybodies are just plain "cuckoo!"

Pastor Steve Willis

Tuesday April 19, 2016

Twenty years ago, we did a renovation to our church. There were two phases too this update - one was to expand our fellowship hall and the other was to build a balcony in the church to provide more seating. A member of the church drew some plans for the project and we contacted a local contractor to do the work.

As the contractor began the construction, he came to me and said, "Come with me. I want to show you something." We walked into the church and he said. "You see that back wall? Well, we have discovered that it doesn't go straight across. It has a slight curve. This was the way it was built. Now, that will not pose a big problem. We will just adjust our work accordingly, but I just wanted to point that out."

I thought this was rather interesting. No one, not even the person who drew the plans, had noticed the curve. It was an architectural feature that went unnoticed until you placed a "straight edge" on the wall. Then it was obvious that the wall did not go straight across.

This can happen in our spiritual lives as well. We can experience curves that are imperceptible to the "naked eye." That is why we need to constantly depend upon the "straight edge" of God's Word and the leadership of the Holy Spirit to make sure we keep going the right way.

In the matter of the wall in our church, that was not a great problem, but it did require some adjustments for the alterations. In our lives we can experience curves that are of greater consequence and need to be avoided. That back wall looked so straight to us when we were looking at it. So it is with our spiritual walk. We think we are proceeding along a path that is as straight as can be, but in reality there are dangers and difficulties that we don't perceive. Proverbs 14:12 warns, "There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death." Don't just "eyeball" your spiritual walk; let God direct you through his Word and through his leadership.

Pastor Steve Willis

Monday April 18, 2016

My grandfather used to have a phrase he would use when he heard people complaining or arguing: "Quit your molly grubbing!" We have a tendency to complain or argue, don't we? When Moses was leading the Israelites from Egypt to the Promised Land, he heard one complaint after another - "We don't have any water!", "We're going to starve!", "We can't get our disputes heard!" (see Exodus 18), even "We wish we were back in Egypt!" We can really be good at this as well.

God is not really pleased with complainers. You need to read Numbers 11:1-5 to see how he dealt with some of the "rabble." Philippians 2:14 tells us to "Do everything without complaining or arguing."

We need to go against the grain of complaining and arguing. We need to do this because being a complainer really hinders our effectiveness as followers of Christ. When we give in to complaining, we are unable to channel the light and love of God in the way he would like. I would imagine God has times when he wants to say to us just what my Papaw used to say, "Quit your molly grubbing." So, quit it! Buck the trend! The choice is yours!

Pastor Steve Willis

Sunday April 17, 2016

Are there things you use in your life, perhaps at home, at work, or at other times, that you really don t have a clear understanding as to how they work? I am sure that if you thought for just a few moments, you could come up with quite a list. For one thing, I am not sure exactly how the color printer that is attached to this computer works. I mean, I put text, pictures and graphics on a project that is on the screen, hit the print control, and out pops a printed project with all the right colors where they should be, text where it should be, and so forth. Now, I understand fundamentally that ink is sprayed on the page in just the right amounts and colors to produce the project, but exactly how does the printer know all the right information? That I don t understand. However, this doesn t keep me from using the printer for things I need to produce!

Many folks don t follow the Lord because they say they don t understand how what the Bible says could be true. They don t understand the miracles, the resurrection, Christ s teachings about heaven and hell. And they use their inability to understand as a barrier to following Christ. I don t mean to sound too simplistic here, but I do think there is a simple answer - there are many things we don t understand and yet our lack of understanding does not hinder the benefit we receive from what we don t understand. Case in point: the illustration I used above. Ecclesiastes 11:5 tells us, As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother's womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things. God s Word tells us there are many things about God we do not, and actually cannot, understand. He tells us in Isaiah 55:8, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. . ."

Don t let your inability to understand all you think you need to understand about the Lord stand as a barrier between you and the Lord. There are many things in life we don t fully understand. There are many times we put our trust in things we don t fully understand. So, what is keeping you from fully trusting God?

Pastor Steve Willis

Saturday April 16, 2016

Richard De Haan once wrote about Hudson Taylor: "During one of his sermons, Hudson Taylor, pioneer missionary to China, filled a glass with water and placed it on a table in front of him. While he was speaking, he pounded his fist hard enough to make the water splash onto the table. He then explained, 'You will come up against much trouble. But when you do, remember, only what s in you will spill out.'"

So, what spills out when you encounter a troublesome situation? Let's say you are mistreated or misunderstood, do you respond calmly with patience, or do you respond loudly with anger? Living under the control of the Holy Spirit can help us with our response when we encounter one of life's jolts. We are encouraged in Ephesians 5:18 to "be filled with the Spirit." When we are controlled by the Spirit of God, our response to life's little surprises will be dominated by patience and kindness.

We cannot control our situations, but with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can control our response to our situations. Let your inner being be dominated by God's Spirit.

Pastor Steve Willis

Friday April 15, 2016

Today is the anniversary of the death of Abraham Lincoln. He died on April 15, 1865, as the result of a gunshot from a pistol yielded by John Wilkes Booth. Lincoln was watching a play entitled "My American Cousin" on the night of April 14th when Booth stole into the box where he sat and fired directly into his head. Lincoln was carried to a house across the street owned by a family named Peterson and there he died in a back bedroom of the home the next day.

There are many "what-if's" associated with this story. What if the Lincoln's had decided not to go to the play? Lincoln's wife had tried to persuade him not to go as she was not feeling well. What if the box had been secured? What if there had been a guard posted outside the door? Pinkerton security had been established and had worked to guard Lincoln on earlier occasions. Where were they? What if Booth's aim had not been good? What if there had been better detective work to uncover the conspiracy? Lincoln had received many death threats as a result of the outcome of the recently-ended War Between the States. Of course, these "what-if?" questions are all pointless. They are what-if's because they didn't take place, and there is no way to go back and make any of them happen.

We often find ourselves in circumstances where we ask "what if?" There is even scholarly research being done to explore "alternate histories" based upon the simple question "what if?" "What if?" discussion topics range from simple everyday events to complex theological ideas. A popular one is "What if man didn't sin?" The bottom line is that asking "what if?" is not going to lead to a solution and is ultimately pointless as reality cannot be changed.

Asking what if is normal, but we must take care to not dwell in this realm to the extent that it prevents us from working through consequences that are actually there because of what has taken place. Sometimes this is unpleasant - it certainly was for the Lincoln family, as well as for the nation at large, but it was the course that needed to be pursued.

As followers of God, we can be assured that God is with us at all times and will help us in our struggles with what actually is. And another aspect of following God is to realize that he is in control, nothing escapes him, and he will work out all things to ultimately bring good to us. Paul writes, "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) This helps us with our "What if's".

Pastor Steve Willis

Thursday April 14, 2016

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

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Willis

Wednesday April 13, 2016

How often have you planned things only to see the plans unravel, change, fall flat, or just simply not take place in the way you envisioned? "How much time do you have?" you might say in reply to my inquiry. All of us have had this experience, sometimes in inconsequential matters, sometimes in matters that are really critical. Robert Burns wrote "To a Mouse," in 1785. There is a line from that poem that goes, "The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men, Gang aft agley." This line has come into our modern vernacular in this fashion - "The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry." This is so true.

Often our plans do go awry. This is why we need to follow the plans of someone who knows how to make plans that will not fail. Psalm 33:8-11 tells us "Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the people of the world revere him. For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm. The LORD foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples. But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations."

We know God's plans will take place just as he wants. This is why it is important for us to bring our plans in line with his. This is why it is important that we allow him to inform our plans. In other words, make sure you invite God to your planning sessions! This is a best laid plan that will not go awry!

Pastor Steve Willis

Tuesday April 12, 2016

In 1975, Marabel Morgan wrote "The Total Woman." The book went on to become the best selling book of that year. She wrote the book to put into print some ideas that she says saved her marriage.

Morgan wrote about beginning to look at her husband with the "Four A's" in mind - accept him, admire him, adapt to him, and appreciate him. This is sound advice that works both ways. If one would work to apply these "Four A's" in how one view's their spouse, it would certainly bring about a stronger, healthier relationship. Keeping this in mind can help both those who are struggling in their relationship and those who are not. This is a philosophy that is founded in biblical principles regarding relationships. It seems to be good advice in any relationship, not just marriage.

As we think of marriage and marital relationships, Paul gives this charge in Ephesians 5:33, "However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband." Utilizing the "Four A's" can help us keep this charge. And when we do this, we are not only obedient to God, we also find true happiness and joy in our marriage.

Strengthen your marriage by following a little advice found in the Scripture and defined by Marabel Morgan. Doing this will truly help you cultivate your marriage and see it grow in Christ. Remember the "Four A's!"

Pastor Steve Willis

Monday April 11, 2016

The two-headed skink is a tiny salamander found in a variety of places. The name is derived from its appearance. The shape of the tail is similar to the head, a defense mechanism to help it avoid potential enemies. Upon occasion, however, there have been specimens that actually had two heads. This is rare, and the little amphibian really can't survive that long. With two heads, the animal works against itself and is a pretty frustrated critter.

At times, this can describe the state of believers. We have two natures within us. We are born in sin, but when we trust Christ we receive a new nature that is contrary to what we were. Even after we receive this new nature, our old nature still exists and continually wants to "rear its ugly head" (pardon the pun). If we don't completely yield to the work of the Spirit in our lives and obey God, we can be pretty frustrated.

Paul talks about this in Romans 7:18-20 where he writes, "For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do, this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it."

This conflict can be pretty frustrating. How do we deal with the tension? We obey Christ. Paul tells us when we submit to Christ that we gain victory over our sin nature. He writes, "Thanks be to God who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (vs. 25) This is the way to avoid the frustration of the two-headed skink!

Pastor Steve Willis

Sunday April 10, 2016

Most of us are really ready for spring. The winter was relatively mild, but it just doesn t seem to want to go away. I had to pull my long-sleeved shirts back out. We are really wanting to see the brown give way to green, some flowers instead of dead sticks, and the trees leafing out. But even as I say this, I can hear my Mom's voice, "Don't wish your life away."

We so often say, "If only this would happen then I could. . ." or "When this takes place, I will. . ." or "I would be happier if only. . ." Does this sound familiar? In longing for a future event, we often forget to enjoy the gift of today. Each day is a gift from God and is filled with opportunities to serve him. When we spend time longing for the cloud with the silver lining, we miss the golden moments we have now.

Ron Ash wrote, "We are where we need to be and learning what we need to learn. Stay the course because the things we experience today will lead us to where He needs us to be tomorrow." Solomon shares with us this wisdom, "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens." (Ecclesiastes 3:1) We need to keep this in mind and apply this wisdom at those times when we find ourselves wishing for a better something down the road.

Psalm 118:24 reminds us, "This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it." Do just that! Rejoice in what today has for you and glorify God with what you do!

Pastor Steve Willis

Saturday April 09, 2016

A mother and her little girl were visiting friends. The friends owned a bulldog, and the mother noticed the little girl making angry faces at the dog. "Don t do that, honey." the mom said. "But, Mom," replied the daughter, "He started it!" The little girl was sort of correct, considering the natural scowl of a bulldog. But making faces at the dog was a pointless exercise.

Desiring to seek revenge when one feels wronged is just as pointless. Yet, that is the attitude some have - when you are wronged, don't get mad, just get even! If you think you need to repay every angry word or deed that is directed towards you, you will have a never-ending task.

As followers of Christ, we need to be a little more gracious when we face those who do us wrong. This is a hard task, but it is what Christ lays out for us. Christ tells his followers in Matthew 5:43-46, "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?"

Don't make faces at bulldogs! It's pointless and won't get you anywhere. Turn the tide by showing love, not anger, when you are mistreated. This is truly showing the mind of Christ!

Pastor Steve Willis

Friday April 08, 2016

It almost seems as if one's sense of smell returns in the spring. When you go outside during the winter, usually there are no particular smells that catch your attention. In the spring, you start smelling the aroma of newly-cut grass, flowers that begin to bloom, and soon we will begin to pick up the scent of backyard barbecues. These are a few of the things that we notice that have been absent over the past few months.

Paul speaks of being a fragrant aroma to God. Now, he isn't referring to producing aromas with incense as was done in the tabernacle and then in the temple during worship in the Old Testament. He isn't talking of producing smells through the offerings of sacrifices of animals and grain. He is speaking about producing the scent of service through our actions towards him and towards others. He writes, "They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God." (Philippians 4:18) He is referring to the offerings that have been made to help others both through service and through monetary giving.

We produce fragrant aromas through our gifts to God, through our service for God in helping others, and through our service to God in reaching others for him. Our acts of kindness that are aimed at others produce a sweet smell that is pleasing to God. Even as the tabernacle and the temple were filled with the scent of the incense that represented continued worship, prayer, and praise being offered to God, our lives should continually produce an aroma of service that is lifted up to our Lord.

I Corinthians 2:14 - 15 tells us, "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. For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing." Let's make sure we smell good!

Pastor Steve Willis

Thursday April 07, 2016

I was speaking with my secretary yesterday about an incident she experienced recently. She had attended a dance recital to watch one of her granddaughters. While she was leaving, a young lady was holding the door open. A number of people ahead of her exited through the door. When she passed her young benefactor, she said "Thank you for holding the door open!" The young lady replied, "You're welcome! And you are the first person to thank me for doing this!" Isn't that a shame? Yes, it is, but not surprising.

Folks have had problems with gratitude all the way back to the time of Christ. Do you remember the incident involving ten lepers whom Christ healed? You can read about this in Luke 17:11 - 19. Ten men afflicted with leprosy sought help from Christ. Christ healed all of them, and he told them to go show the priests that they were healed. Only one of them took the time to thank Christ for his healing. Christ responded, "'Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?' Then he said to him, 'Rise and go; your faith has made you well.'" (17-19)

Isn't that something? And as we saw earlier, this behavior is still common today. Well, don't let it be common with you. Don't be the one to not say thanks. Others may not thank you when thanks are deserved, but you can't cry over spilled milk. And you can't control the actions of others. What you can control is your own behavior. Make sure to give thanks when thanks are due; and make sure you thank God! It's what should be done.

Pastor Steve Willis

Wednesday April 06, 2016

One of my pet statements when I get a little impatient, especially when I am behind a slow moving car where a driver seems to be hesitant in making a decision, is "Even if it is wrong, do something!" Now, of course, I don't take this phrase literally and I don't propose that anyone should apply it literally. We shouldn't do things haphazardly, and we certainly shouldn't do something wrong just for the sake of doing something. However, there are times when action is mandated.

There is a parable of Christ that encourages action from the followers of Christ. In Matthew 25:14 - 30, we read the story of a man who entrusted three of his servants with differing amounts of his personal wealth. One man was given five bags of gold; a second man was given two bags of gold, and a final person was given one bag of gold. The master went on a journey and upon his return asked for an account from his servants as to what they had done with their allotments. The first two reported they had invested wisely and doubled the amount they had received.

The final servant who had received one bag replied, "'Master,' he said, 'I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.'" (vss. 24 - 25) The master was not pleased and told the servant that he should have at least invested the money in a low-bearing account and received some gain. Since he didn't act at all, what was given him was taken away and given to the others.

God wants us to be good stewards of that with which we have been entrusted. His expectations are not unreasonable, and he is generous with what he gives. But he does expect us to do something with what we have received from him! He will not say, "even if it is wrong, do something," but he does say "Do something!"

Pastor Steve Willis

Tuesday April 05, 2016

Did you happen to watch the men's NCAA Basketball Championship game last night? If you did, you are glad you did. It was one of the most exciting basketball games I have watched for a long time, and maybe the most exciting championship game I have ever watched. North Carolina inbounded the ball with a little over 13 seconds left on the clock. Then, North Carolina's Marcus Paige made an incredible off-balance three-pointer to tie the game with 4.7 seconds left. Overtime, right? Not so fast - Villanova inbounded the ball, worked a quick play to get it to Kris Jenkins, and he proceeded to drain a three-point shot at the buzzer to win the game. Hope you had taken your heart medicine. They won the game on a last-second shot with no time remaining.

While this makes for an exciting finish in basketball, I hope you are not living your life thinking you are going to make a "last-second shot" to save the day. Many of you who have not made a decision for Christ may be thinking, "I've got time - I'll do that someday." Many of you who are followers of Christ may be putting off something you know you need to do by saying, "I've got time to take care of this." Do not live with that mentality.

What did Christ say about someone who was putting off his decision to do what he knew he should do? Read Luke 12:13-21. When faced with a decision of great consequence (read the story!), a man asked, "What shall I do?" (v. 17), and then made the wrong decision by putting off the right decision. God said, "You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you!" (v. 20).

Don't put off that decision you need to make for the Lord. Don't put off what you know you need to do. Leave the last second shots for basketball where the outcome is not so consequential. Someday there will be no time left on the clock.

Pastor Steve Willis

Monday April 04, 2016

When I taught my two daughters how to drive, I emphasized the importance of on-going maintenance of their vehicle. I told them to watch the mileage so they would know when it was time for service. As someone once said, "Oil is cheap but engines are expensive." I also told them to keep an eye on the fuel gauge and not let the fuel get too low. I don't like letting the fuel get below a quarter of a tank. I just do not understand the concept of running out of gas. Cars need gas to provide the power to go - why tempt fate with letting the gas get too low? I have run out of gas only twice in my life, and that was because of faulty fuel gauges. Believe it or not.

The same can be said about Christians letting their "fuel tanks" get dangerously low when it comes to spiritual matters. Why do we neglect opportunities to fill up our tanks on knowledge of the Lord when we know we need this to grow and develop spiritually? I Peter 2:2 tells us "like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation,"

Why do we neglect interacting with other believers at study events and gatherings when we know the benefits of helping to keep each other sharp in issues of discipleship? Proverbs 27:17 says, "Iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another." Colossians 3:16 reminds us to "Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God."

Don't let your tank get low! Running out of gas in your car takes place because of neglect and the same can be said about running out of gas as a follower of Christ! Keep your tank full!

Pastor Steve Willis

Sunday April 03, 2016

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

It is no wonder that Sallman struggled with what to paint. The New Testament does not contain any description of Christ at all. . Was he tall or short? Was his hair curly or straight? Was he homely or handsome? We really don't know. Our desire to know what he looked like is so strong that we sometimes accept images such as Sallman's as reality. This, or course, is a mistake. It really is good we don't know what Christ looked like. This makes us concentrate on what we do know something about - his ministry and his character. The New Testament says quite a bit about both of these. And since it does, these are the aspects of Christ on which we should focus. I'm glad we have no actual physical description of Christ. If we did, we would want to emphasize this in our study of Christ. We would want to imitate his physical appearance. In our appearance-crazy age, I would imagine we would do all kinds of things to "look like Jesus." I am sure that every plastic surgery would be in the mix.

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

Pastor Steve Willis

Saturday April 02, 2016

Today will be my last day to use idioms with the word "mile" in them in my articles. I am doing that for two reasons. One, the week is over and, secondly, I am out of idioms. Anyway, I didn't want to run a mile to keep from doing this. Get it? Run a mile to avoid writing an article using an idiom with mile in it? Sometimes the phrase "run a mile" is used to express a desire to avoid a situation. If you say someone would run a mile if they had to deal with a particular situation that means they would do anything they could to avoid the situation.

What situations do you have in your life that makes you want to run a mile? Sometimes we have circumstances we want to avoid that really aren't a big deal if we avoid them. Sometimes we have circumstances we would like to avoid but we can't because we have no choice. Then there are times we have circumstances we would like to avoid but shouldn't because there will be adverse circumstances if we "run a mile." This could be health issues, personal conflicts, financial issues, and other matters could fall in this category.

What can you do when you encounter these "run a mile" scenarios? First, commit the particulars to God in prayer. Focus on him through the process. Secondly, review the consequences of avoiding the situation. Would there be harmful results if you simply went the other way? Be honest in this step. There may be times when avoidance is the best option, but you need to be settled in your mind that this is the prudent path. Thirdly, if you determine you need to proceed rather than avoid, go through the steps to this action in your mind. Develop a positive plan. Seek counsel from trusted sources if this is a possibility. Finally, be honest with yourself and with others that may be involved. Follow the path with integrity.

Proverbs 2:6 - 8 tells us, "For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity, guarding the paths of justice and preserving the way of his saints." If you feel like you need to run a mile, take some time before start.

Pastor Steve Willis

Friday April 01, 2016

"You missed by a mile!" came the stinging criticism as I watched my errant shot go wide of the rim. I was playing a game of HORSE on the playground behind our school, and that was a frequent statement whenever I was up. I was never that good at basketball, not all that bad, just not very good. This is one of the reasons that I didn't play basketball in high school - I just couldn't make the shots. Of course, I really didn't miss by a mile. We're using another idiom here. However, in the game of basketball it doesn't matter by how much you miss. If you miss, you miss. There are no points given for being close. You don't hear, "That shot almost went in - you get one point!"

This is why we can't depend on our efforts when it comes to developing a relationship with the Father. We can never be good enough on our own. We can't keep from sinning, and as the scripture says, if we are guilty of the slightest transgression, we have broken all of God's laws. We indeed have missed by a mile. James 2:10 tells us, "For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it." So, it doesn't matter how close we come on our own, we still miss by a mile.

This is why Christ's provision is so important. When we come to the Father through faith in his Son, we are brought into fellowship with God. One of the definitions of sin is "missing the mark." The only way to prevent a miss is to trust in Christ.

Pastor Steve Willis

Privacy Policy & Disclaimer