COMMUNITY VOICES: Do You Need Your Soul Restored?

— By Pastor Paul Witkop —

The 23rd Psalm is, perhaps, the most well-known scripture passage. My second-grade teacher, in a public school, even had us memorize it as classical poetry. I have been with people who suffer from advanced dementia, who do not know even their own adult kids — and yet, when I begin reading Psalm 23, they join with me. There is something very personal and comforting about the shepherd psalm. It is calming promise when our soul is troubled. It is a reminder of God’s goodness even in the midst of this time of a pandemic. The psalm reminds us we can trust God, no matter what.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside still waters,
He restores my soul.
(Psalm 23:1–3a)

Shepherds were everywhere in King David’s day when he wrote it. Shepherds live to protect the sheep. The sheep do not have to fear because they trust the shepherd.

Where is your soul today? Does it need restoring? We are living in crazy and fearful times. The fear of catching the virus, the loss of a job, the loneliness caused by social distancing can all drain us. We worry. Sometimes, just the chaos of a busy schedule drains our soul. So, we ask, “Is the Lord really our shepherd or it is just a cute idea for a painting or a poem?”

Jesus, who called himself the good shepherd, said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Jesus wants to restore your soul…to give you hope, to rejuvenate your spirit and to revive your God given potential. You are his unique creation and he has a plan for you that fits you perfectly. He wants you to know the security of unfailing and unconditional love. “For the Lord is good. His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation” (Psalm 100:5).

For the stresses of each day, take some time to read Psalm 23 — one verse a day. As you do, you will be drawn closer to the Lord who wants to shepherd you toward real solutions and real peace. More than anything, Jesus wants to restore your soul.


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COMMUNITY VOICES: God, Are You Sleeping?

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— By Pastor Paul Witkop — 

One of my favorite accounts from the life of Jesus is when Jesus and the disciples are traveling on the Sea of Galilee. A gigantic storm erupts, and everyone is afraid, that is everyone except Jesus, who happens to be sleeping in front of the boat. The disciples woke him up, shouting, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?” —Mark 4:38

This is one of the places where I can really relate to the disciples?

“Jesus, I am in the middle of a terrible storm, and you are sleeping…or at least is sure seems like you are.”

“Jesus, there is a pandemic virus going on in the world. I am praying, but it’s bad. People are losing their jobs. The vulnerable are being isolated. Jesus, don’t you care?”

In verses 39-41, we read: When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Silence! Be still!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm. Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

Putting myself in the disciples’ place, they were simply remembering past experiences and imagining what could happen. Maybe they had heard about, even friends, other fishermen…who had been caught in a storm like this and drowned.

Verse 41 tells us: The disciples were absolutely terrified. “Who is this man?” they asked each other. “Even the wind and waves obey him!”

The disciples are beginning to process this event. They feared for their lives in the storm. They feared a WHAT. But now, they ask, “Who is this man? Even the winds and waves obey him.” This WHO is very different.

In our world today, there is a huge WHAT that is causing fear, there is a WHO that says, “I want you to look at me.”

Does this mean that we sit back and just wait for Jesus to work a huge miracle and eradicate the virus? I think not. He has given us creative minds and many opportunities to help others. Social distancing, looking out for the vulnerable, are some of the ways that we love God by loving our neighbors.

Ultimately, we have a choice. Every day when we wake up, do we live in fear of this huge WHAT? No, we research medical solutions, we work together, we take the paths and work the options that are provided. But ultimately, we trust the future into the hands of the greatest WHO, Jesus. There is an old cliché sounding truth, that has now taken on new significance for me.

I don’t know the details of what the future holds, but I know WHO holds the future.


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COMMUNITY VOICES: Rock Solid in Turbulent Times — By Pastor Paul Witkop

Pastor Paul Witkop

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By Paul Witkop –

We live in difficult times. The financial and housing markets go up and down. The coronavirus is an unknown force that is causing chaos. We look to the government and the next election for hope — and it’s not there.

We live in the most educated, the most technologically advanced culture ever. Yet there are so many people seemingly holding on by a thread. I spoke with a man whose wife had just left him to go live with another man. He told me that he was holding onto life with a “white knuckle” grip. Another person confessed hopelessness because his company was going out of business. Still another mom and dad are struggling with a son who is taking drugs. Junior high and high school students are discouraged and overwhelmed because of the pressure to achieve.

Challenging times happen to all of us. They make us stand back and truthfully ask the question “What/who am I counting on?” Is the foundation of my life so solid that in circumstances beyond my control, I can still navigate life?

Easter is the celebration that there is someone we can count on, someone who is the rock-solid foundation on whom we can build our lives. History records that Jesus Christ lived on this earth with a group of followers, predicted that he would die and rise from the dead, and then actually did die and rise from the dead after three days. No one has ever done this except for him. He claimed to be the Son of God and his invitation to all of us is to confidently place our faith in him now and forever.

You might be going through a very difficult time and feel like everything you used to count on has eroded away. God wants to turn your heart from discouragement to hope. He wants us to take a step of faith, put our trust in the resurrected Jesus.

“I can do all things through Christ who gives me the strength.” —Philippians 4:13

The truth is, your circumstances may or may not change. However, there is power available that is greater than your own wisdom and your own resources. In his time and in his way, God will give you power for living, the same power that raised Jesus from the dead, to help you through whatever seems to be defeating you today. May you receive his gift of strength and be encouraged that, with Christ, there is hope.


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God is Greater Than any Challenge I Have

Pastor Paul Witkop

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By Paul Witkop –

What is your challenge today? We all have them. The older we grow, the more we realize that despite all of our education, expertise and experience, we don’t have the answers to every problem we encounter. Sooner or later, there comes a challenge that will bring us to the humbling conclusion that we are not invincible.

One of my favorite accounts from the Bible is David and Goliath in I Samuel 17. All the odds were against David. He was young and inexperienced. Goliath was gigantic, bigger than anyone had ever seen before. I have been to the place where the battle took place. Even the geography was against David. Goliath seemed invincible.

It could be that the Goliath in your life is a medical problem, yours or someone close to you. Maybe you need a job or wisdom to decide your college major and your life’s direction. It might be a relationship challenge with your spouse, your child or a friend. Maybe it is more personal, a struggle with unhealthy habits with drugs, alcohol, food or even sexuality.

Whatever our challenge, we have two choices. We can move away from it and avoid or deny it. Or we can run toward it armed with the appropriate resources.

David told Goliath, I Samuel 17:45 You come to me with sword, spear, and javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord Almighty.

David’s strength did not come over night. He had spent lots of time with God. His heart had been fortified so that he knew that his strength was not in his own cleverness or his own weaponry. His strength and boldness came because he knew he was never alone. He attacked every challenge, armed with the power of the Lord Almighty.

God calls each of us to grow in our strength which is, in fact, not our strength at all. Our strength is the presence and power of the Lord. Always begin with prayer and the acknowledgement of our need for God’s guidance. Then, with God’s help, we invest the time, do the hard work, and go after it. God, with your help, we are going to conquer that giant.

Whatever your Goliath is today, there is no challenge on earth against which the power of God and your willing open heart cannot prevail.


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What Do You Feed Your Mind?

Pastor Paul Witkop

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By Paul Witkop –

I am reading a very informative and convincing book by Dr. Mark Hyman, a nutritional expert. He has reminded me that anyone who wants to be an Olympic athlete would probably not adopt a diet of donuts and Twinkies. If you wanted to create a gourmet meal, would you start with inferior ingredients?

Most of us understand that what we put into our bodies is vital in determining our daily performance as well as our ongoing health. Even though we know this, eating intelligently is a battle.

The same principle applies to the most important part of our lives, our minds. Like our bodies, what we allow into our minds is a constant battle. I have learned these three truths:

  • You are what you think.
  • Your mind will think about what you put in it.
  • Your actions result from your thoughts.

How do we win the battle for our minds? The Apostle Paul wrote these words: And fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely and admirable —Philippians 4:8

Long before the age of computers and smart phones, Paul knew the input-output principle of “garbage in-garbage out.”

  • Where are your thoughts these days?
  • What food are you feeding your mind?

Think with me about some healthy alternatives on which our minds could feed.

  1. Respect true heroes — Instead of revering the opinions of overpaid Hollywood actors and sports players and misleading politicians, make it a point to notice authentic heroes who are making a real difference in the world…devoted teachers, principled businessmen and women, diligent people working to feed the hungry, tireless behind the scenes volunteers, self-sacrificing community leaders etc.
  2. Replace screen time — Television and smart phones all reinforce passivity and seduce us to adopt values which are not ours. Don’t just automatically revert to your smart phone during idle time. How about a good book? How about some time to talk with God?
  3. Substitute face to face conversations for social media — Conversation is becoming a lost art. Yet, we have so much to learn from each other.
  4. Spend time with older people — Schedule time with a few older people whose lives, wisdom and attitudes are refreshing and inspiring.
  5. Listen to Jesus — The greatest source of positive input is Jesus. We can get to know Jesus by reading about him in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. We can discover Jesus’ plan for our lives, one that is full of joy and purpose. He wants us to know his plan and to know him personally.

… let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. —Romans 12:2

Join me in asking God to transform you, your family, your workplace and the world, one mind at a time, starting with you.


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Envy Will Make You Miserable

Pastor Paul Witkop

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By Paul Witkop –

When I was about 12, my close friend Jeff had a gold colored Schwinn Stingray bicycle with a banana seat and 3-speed stick shift. I wanted one too…very badly. It is called envy and it starts young.

Experience has shown me that envy is a very destructive force. It is a relationship killer. It is impossible to envy someone and love them at the same time. King Solomon wrote in Proverbs 14:30, “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” James, Jesus’ brother, also wrote, “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” (James 3:16)

Comparison is at the root of all envy. Nothing good ever comes from comparing. Comparing leads to either pride or envy. If I compare my looks, my accomplishments, my possessions to yours, two things can happen. I might think, “I am doing better than you,” and that will lead to pride. I could also think, “You are doing better than I am,” and that will lead to envy. Neither are helpful. Both are very destructive. Many times, when we compare ourselves with others, we don’t know the whole story behind their success or their hardship. If we knew the whole story, the sacrifices they have made and the hurts they have suffered, then we might not want it.

Envy is resenting God’s goodness to others and ignoring God’s goodness to me. The remedy is to start enjoying God’s gifts to others and his gifts to us. Somehow in our minds we think the world is some big giant raspberry pie and it’s all divided up into slices. If somebody’s slice gets a little bit bigger, then that must mean my slice is going to get smaller. That kind of thinking is wrong. God’s got all the pie filling in the world. God doesn’t run out of blessings. He doesn’t run out of grace. There’s more than enough to go around. When God blesses somebody else, it does not mean there is not enough blessings for you. He blesses all of us in different ways.

Instead of asking, “Why them and not me?” God teaches us to appreciate his undeserved blessings. Instead we ask, “Why me?”


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This is the Day

Pastor Paul Witkop

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By Paul Witkop –

You and I have been given one life. We do not know how many years will be given to us on this earth. That is why I try to live with the mindset that “every day is a gift.” In Psalm 118:24, the psalmist writes, “This is the day that the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.” How are you going to live this day? Really, today is the only day that is yours to effect. You cannot change the past and you do not know what will happen the future. CS Lewis said, “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” Today is your day…so make it count.

There is nothing wrong with planning for the future. Most of us work hard to plan our careers, our relationships, our finances and our pursuits in the next chapter of life. God cares about them too. God loves you very much and wants to help you to be prepared for the future. But God is also very concerned about what you are doing with today. Every choice you make today is important…and it’s in the little choices that the bigger ones take shape. Rather than dwelling on trying to know the future, God calls us to focus on what we know to be true today.

  • Live thankfully: I Thessalonians 5:16–18
  • Live to serve: Matthew 20:25-29
  • Do the right thing, not the easy thing: Micah 6:8
  • Stop worrying: Philippians 4:6–7
  • Be yourself: Ephesians 2:8–10

When we remember to focus each day on these basic truths and pursue them, God will reveal his plans for the future, in his time. Everything you have in your life today is a gift from God. The next breath you take, the next meal you eat, the next sunset you enjoy, the next hug you treasure — all of them are gifts. He is very generous with his provision. As we trust him, he will help us to best use each day. Today is your day…it is a gift…so make it count.


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Full of Faith or Full of Fluff

Pastor Paul Witkop

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By Paul Witkop –

Author Ken Davis tells this story… A woman happened to be looking out of the window of her home one day. She was horrified to see her German shepherd shaking the life out of the neighbor’s pet rabbit. Her family had been quarreling with these neighbors; this was certainly going to make matters worse. She grabbed a broom and ran outside, pummeling the pooch until he dropped a rabbit now covered with dog spit — and extremely dead.

After a moment’s consideration, the woman lifted the rabbit with the end of the broom and brought it into the house. She dumped its lifeless body into the bathtub and turned on the shower. When the water running off the rabbit was clean, she rolled him over and rinsed the other side.

Now she had a plan. She found her hairdryer and blew the rabbit dry. Using an old comb, she groomed the rabbit until he looked pretty good. Then, when the neighbor wasn’t looking, she hopped over the fence, snuck across the backyard, and propped him up in his cage. There was no way that she was taking the blame for this.

About an hour later, she heard screams coming from the neighbor’s yard. She ran outside, pretending she didn’t know what was going on.

What’s happened? She asked innocently. Her neighbor came running to the fence. All the blood had drained from her face. Our rabbit, our rabbit! She blubbered. He died two weeks ago, we buried him — and now he’s back!

There are so many people in our world who really want to believe that God loves them, but they have had their hope for the future taken away because of a huge disappointment. They are a lot like that rabbit. They fluff themselves up to look okay on the outside, but inside their hope and their confidence that God cares has really died. God wants us to know his guiding hand every day, not just once in a while or not just about the big stuff of life. God wants you to know his presence and power every day. He wants to restore our hope for the rest of our life so that we can be fully alive.

In this Easter month, I invite you to reaffirm God’s love and care for you. Here are two promises from God that make me very optimistic about the future…

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done. If you do this, you will experience God’s peace… Philippians 4:6-7. God instructs us to pray when we feel anxious. We can pray about anything and everything and God will bring us peace.

There is a hope that does not disappoint… Romans 5:5. People, governments and things will disappoint us. But we need something or someone who we can always trust. Who do you trust when all your other hopes don’t pan out? Well, of course, it is risen Jesus Christ! He conquered death, the greatest challenge there is…so we do not have to live in fear of anything.

We don’t have to be like that rabbit — all clean and fluffed up on the outside but dead on the inside. We can live each day full of faith and confidence. May this Easter season remind us that Jesus is the one we can always trust.


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God is Greater Than Any Challenge I Have

Pastor Paul Witkop

Click to read more about Paul Witkop

By Paul Witkop –

What is your challenge today? We all have them. The older we grow, the wiser we become if we realize that despite all our education, expertise and experience, we don’t have the answers to every problem we encounter. Sooner or later, there comes a challenge that will bring us to the humbling conclusion that we are not invincible.

One of my favorite accounts from the Bible is David and Goliath in I Samuel 17. All the odds were against David. He was young and inexperienced. Goliath was gigantic, bigger than anyone had ever seen before. I have been to the place where the battle took place. Even the geography was against David. Goliath seemed invincible.

It could be that the Goliath in your life is a medical problem, yours or someone close. Maybe you need a job or wisdom to decide your college major and life’s direction. It might be a relationship challenge with your spouse, your child or a friend. Maybe it is more personal, a struggle with unhealthy habits with drugs, alcohol, food or even sexuality.

Whatever our challenge, we have two choices. We can move away from it, avoid it or deny it. Or we can run toward it. Always begin with prayer and confessing our need for God’s guidance. Then we invest the time, do the hard work and go after it. God, with your help, we are going to conquer that giant.

David told Goliath, I Samuel 17:45 You come to me with sword, spear, and javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord Almighty.

David’s strength did not come overnight. He had spent lots of alone time with God. His heart had been strengthened so that he knew that his strength was not in his own weaponry. His strength and boldness came because he knew he was never alone. He attacked every challenge, armed with the Lord Almighty.

God calls each of us to grow in our strength, which is, in fact, not our strength at all. Our strength is the presence of the Lord. Whatever your Goliath is today, there is no challenge on earth against which the power of God and your willing open heart cannot prevail.


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God Directs Our Paths

Pastor Paul Witkop

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By Paul Witkop –

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your path straight.” —Proverbs 3:5-6

This verse is one of my favorites. At first glance, it seems like a logical formula for getting God to do what I want him to do. It works like this:

Trust in the Lord

+With all your heart

+Lean not on your own understanding

+In all your ways acknowledge him

= and the Result will be straight paths

A+B+C+D= a straight path

When I think of a straight path, I think of the one that is the most direct, downhill and no effort or sweat. We say, “God, I did my part, now you do yours. Make it easy.”

However, as I listen to God through the Bible, what I learn is the straight path that he promised is a straight path where we go on a journey with Jesus. It’s not about the destination. It’s all about the journey. On this journey we will climb mountains and we will trudge through valleys. The valleys are the place where God builds our faith and character. It seems like we are more receptive in the valleys. Every problem has a purpose. God does not cause evil, but he can and does use even the evil done to us by others and turn it around to accomplish good.

Our natural reaction to problems is fear and discouragement. You probably have several items on your list right now.

Jesus promised us that there will be valleys. In John 16:33 he said, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

He has never been closer than when I have been in a valley. His promise is to walk with us and lead us straight to God. I have learned that trying to control and manipulate God is not a great idea. God is very uncooperative. Instead, I want to do the journey with him. Every day, I need a reminder that Jesus is the light of the world. When we are in dark valleys, remember that his light never stops shining.


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