What Brings Happiness?

Pastor Paul Witkop

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By Paul Witkop –

Actor Jim Carrey said, “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of, so they can see that it’s not the answer.”

Jesus told us a rather sobering and direct story to help us with this question. He said, “There was a wealthy man whose business was very successful. He asked himself, ‘What should I do for I don’t have enough space to store my goods?’” In other words, God is blessing him with a business that made him a lot of money, so much he doesn’t know what to do with all of it. Then he says, “Here’s what I’ll do. I’ll tear down my storage units and I’ll build larger ones. Then I’ll say to myself, ‘I have so many good things stored up for me. Now rest, eat, drink and be merry.’” But God said to him, “You fool. This night your life will be demanded of you and then to whom will all your things belong?” This is the way it will be for anyone who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God.

That illustration is a sobering one, isn’t it? Is Jesus really right? Is there really more to life than accumulating toys? Is there more than simply being comfortable, popular or powerful? Jesus seems to be challenging us to order our lives around what God believes is most important.

From the very beginning, we discover that God created us for a close relationship with him. He wants us to know his goodness and discover just how generous he is. In Psalm 34:8 he invites us Taste and see that the Lord is good. He wants to bless us and then teach us that there really is something much better than living to satisfy myself. God loves us and then sends us into the world to inspire and love others to realize their God-given potential. When we love someone with the love that God has first given us that person will likely be inspired to love someone too. This is his plan for transforming the world, one person at a time. Jesus challenges us, saying that living any other way is foolish and self-deceiving and will ultimately end in emptiness.

Make it first goal as you establish your fall routine to spend some time listening to God and investigate his love, through the bible and by being part of a church community. You will discover that self-satisfaction is not the goal. Your life of connecting with God and blessing others is what matters to God and will result in your greatest fulfillment. That’s how we were created to live.

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Operation Soul Restoration

Pastor Paul Witkop

Click to read more about Paul Witkop

By Pastor Paul Witkop –

The 23rd Psalm is, perhaps, the most well-known scripture passage. My second-grade teacher in a public school had us memorize it as classical poetry. I have been with people who have dementia. Their condition is so advanced that they 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 about the shepherd psalm. It really is a picture of God: 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 and Jesus’ day. Herding sheep was very common. The sheep do not have to fear when they put their trust in the shepherd.

I dare say that many of us would answer with our lips that we believe that the Lord is our shepherd.   But when tough times hit us hard — we are filled with worry.   When the bills pile up, the 401k becomes a 201k, health issues invade us, when we have problems finding work — or challenges at work, when our closest relationships are full of trouble…we worry.  So, we ask, “Is the Lord really our shepherd or it is just a cute idea for a painting or a poem?”

A few years ago, I went with a group down to Havasupai Canyon, a beautiful tributary of the Grand Canyon. The highlight of the trip was the incredible 200-foot waterfalls at the bottom. We camped, so we had to carry our food, our tents, sleeping bags and our other personal gear down to the canyon.  As we approached the day of departure, the greatest news was that our leader had contacted a mule skinner he knew, and we were able to employ several of the canyon’s finest mules to carry our gear down and most importantly, back out.   The trip was amazing…but what a different trip it would have been if we had to carry the considerable pile of gear…all by ourselves.

Maybe that’s how God sees us…all these people, carrying around burdens that are much too big for them and God is saying, “Why don’t you take it off, set it down?  Don’t you know that it will only crush you?”

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.”  He calls us to give him our burdens.  Jesus wants to restore your soul…to give you hope, to rejuvenate your spirit; to revive your God given potential.

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 be your shepherd and restore your soul.

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Easter and April Fools’ Day

Pastor Paul Witkop

Click to read more about Paul Witkop

By Paul Witkop –

In 2018, Easter was on April Fools’ Day. The last time these two notable days fell on the same day was 1956. After 2018, the next time is 2029 and then again in 2040. After that, we have to wait until 2108. (Some Gregorian calendar trivia.)

April Fools’ Day is an occasion where people play jokes on each other, sometimes harmless and sometimes very mean. Though the day has no connection to Christianity, it occurred to me that the first people who found Jesus’ empty tomb must have felt like they were the victims of a bad joke. They had hoped that Jesus was the going to be their hope for the future by becoming king. Jesus had been pronounced dead and his body placed in a tomb. His death shattered their hope. They were holding on to life by a thread. History records that hundreds of people saw the resurrected Jesus. They ate with him. They touched him and spoke with him. Their lives changed forever because of Jesus. It was no joke when they traveled all around the Mediterranean to tell people about what had happened.

Many people today think that life is a little like a bad joke. We live in the most educated, and the most economically and 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 file for divorce and 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. A recent high school graduate is discouraged because she is having a difficult time finding a job and direction. Our whole country feels helpless in the wake of shootings at schools.

Challenging times have a way of making 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 celebrates that there is someone we can count on, someone who is the rock-solid foundation on whom we can build our lives. Jesus Christ was born, lived on this earth with a group of followers, predicted that he would die and rise from the dead, and then actually be put to death and rise from the dead after three days. He claimed to be the Son of God and his invitation to all of us is to place our faith in him so that we can have confidence now and forever.

You might be going through a very difficult time right now 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 and listen to him by reading the Bible.

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

The truth is, your circumstances may or may not change. But what we do know is that he 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, all things are possible.

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Take The Step & Conquer Your Fear

Pastor Paul Witkop

Click to read more about Paul Witkop

By Paul Witkop –

It took me a long time to learn how to swim. My parents, not good swimmers themselves, faithfully drove me to swimming lessons every week for many years. They were determined that I would learn to swim. I might be the only person in history to flunk the YMCA swimming classes of tadpole and minnow twice each. The problem was fear. I was absolutely terrified to go under the water and hold my breath. However, something happened to me as I watched a trusted friend swim so effortlessly. That friend dared me to swim, to take a chance. His encouraging invitation made all the difference. Now I swim like a fish.

In the desert, a healthy fear of poisonous snakes or scorpions is good. However, there is a destructive fear that paralyzes us from stepping out and experiencing life in all its fullness. A little part of us dies when we allow fear to win. God knew that fear is a common problem. So, “Do not fear, I will be with you” is the most repeated promise in the Bible.

Are there some places in life where an unhealthy fear might be holding you back?

  • Are you holding a grudge? Is it fear of rejection or fear of admitting you are wrong that is holding you back? Ask God to give you the courage to go to that person to forgive them, and to move on.
  • Are you stuck in the wrong job but are afraid to look for a job that more fits you? Ask God to help and then prepare a resume and send it out.
  • Are you mired in the quicksand of a bad habit or bad finances? Are you afraid to ask someone for help before it further wrecks your life?

The key to conquering our fears is to tell the truth — to admit our fears. Then ask for God’s help. As we face our fears with God’s help, God has promised to renew our strength and our minds, to build our confidence and courage.

             The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. Psalm 118:6

Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him. He will direct your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6

Pray that God will give you one action step that will move you toward overcoming your fear. Then take that step in faith!

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Timeless Investing Principles

Pastor Paul Witkop

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By Paul Witkop –

We are at a time in our life where it feels like the money that comes in seems to go out just as quickly. We are parents to three high school graduates who are furthering their education with college and graduate schools. Between higher education, food, cars and clothing, our budgets have been stretched. We know that there are many others who are in our situation too.

My wife and I have to make important decisions every day concerning our finances. We wrestle with financial questions about our needs versus our wants, safe levels of debt versus unsafe, delaying purchases to another time, and investing in things versus investing in people. Our decisions are not easy but they are shaped by some investing principles that come from a place you might not expect, the Bible. You might call them “timeless and proven wisdom.”

  1. Invest in people and not things — Jesus told us that investing our relationships with God and with others were the most important commandments.
  2. Borrow only what is easily paid back — In Proverbs 22:7, the writer reminds us that too much debt becomes a ball and chain around our necks.
  3. Give generously to help others — We have been blessed with so much, so live and give with a generous attitude.
  4. Save wisely for future needs — Wise saving means that we live on less than we earn. Wise saving also realizes that excessive saving is hoarding and is living selfishly.
  5. Spend joyfully — My wife and I have found that if we live by the 10-10 -80 principle…we give away at least 10 percent of our earnings; we save at least 10 percent of our earnings and then we live on the rest. Living this way helps us with stress and the helps us keep a healthy balance.

Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount, (Matthew 6:21) that whatever we make our highest treasure, whatever we place as our highest goal, our hearts will be focused toward achieving it. Many are deceived by the popular myth that possessing more money and accumulating more things, and updating to the latest technology are the highest goals. Happiness is only found in a close personal relationship with the God who created us and the God who loves us and wants the very best for each of us. He wants to guide us to make wise decisions, even wise financial decisions. He is interested in every aspect of life.

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Come On…How Can You Believe In Someone You Cannot See?

Pastor Paul Witkop

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By Paul Witkop –

My conversation with a man recently took an interesting turn when he seriously questioned my sanity. I told him that after a careful analysis of other options available that explain life and our human purpose, I have made the personal choice to trust my life to Jesus Christ. His contention was that anything worthwhile in life came as a result of careful market analysis, wise investing, greater hustle, scientific evidence, and pure luck.

To him, trusting in God is for those who have not really considered the truth. In his opinion, natural selection and survival of the fittest explain everything we need to know about how we came about. Gathering together with others to worship God is simply a psychological crutch. He saw church as a wonderful place to meet people and make connections. However, worshipping and trusting in a God you cannot see makes no sense. Believing in Jesus is a little like believing in unicorns — it makes for a great children’s story but it does not make sense for an enlightened person of the 21st century.

There are volumes of analytical historical evidence that support the existence of God and the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Most convincing, we have the eyewitness accounts of people who actually saw the resurrected Jesus. They wrote about their experiences with him shortly after the event. If their testimony was false, they would have been exposed in their own time. Instead, their testimonies started a following that continues to grow today.

If natural selection and the laws of physics are all that there is, then I am forced to live with some troubling deductions. First, I am nothing more than a body. In addition, I have no intrinsic value because there is no one or no-thing to establish it. Also, I cannot make choices because choices assume that my mind can reason. Natural selection says that everything is pre-determined. Why do I even bother to look both ways at a stop sign if it is all determined.

Instead, it makes all the difference in the world to know that Jesus loves each of us and cares for us in a very personal way. God sent Jesus into the world so that we would better know what God is like. We don’t earn Jesus’ love by out-hustling our neighbors or by being wiser or by accumulating more good works than bad ones. God invites us to simply trust and admit that we need his help and forgiveness. He offers us a trust relationship, forever.

Some may question the logic of a God who loves like this. I question the logic of someone who has made up their mind that there is no God before really examining the evidence. I have come to believe that a God-centered existence makes the most sense.

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God Is Greater

Pastor Paul Witkop

Click to read more about Paul Witkop

By Paul Witkop –

Discouragement is rampant these days. You could be in a very tough time right now…you or somebody close could be out of work…your finances might not be adding up…your marriage might be very broken…you might have medical challenges or even challenges with your parents or your children.

None of us will escape difficult times. King David in the Bible experienced the highs and lows of life. David was a strong king, a fierce general, a talented musician and a brilliant poet. However, beginning in I Samuel 19, we see that David runs through a streak of incredible hardship. First, he loses his job. Then his wife leaves him for another man. His life-long mentor dies. Finally, he is separated from his best friend. All of this happened in a very short period of time. David is so discouraged that cannot face life so he flees to a cave, depressed, seemingly alone and questioning whether God really loved him.

Even if you find yourself in a cave today, there is the good news…God is greater than your discouragement. God met David in the cave. Though David was very depressed, he cries out to God that God would deliver him (read Psalm 142). God’s answer was not an immediate change of circumstances. Instead, God helped David identify his need. David prayed and God gave David the courage to avoid the temptation to resort to destructive behavior, to seek revenge or even to harm himself. God gave David the daily strength he needed – small step by small step.

Jesus knows about caves. People who wanted to get rid of him forever put him on a cross and then put him in a cave. They thought they had succeeded but again, God was at work in the cave. The cave is the place where God resurrects dead things – dead lives, dead hopes, dead dreams, and dead relationships. Maybe you need a resurrection in your life this Easter season. Find a faith-filled church and a person you can trust to help you. Put your trust in the resurrected Jesus who promises to lead you out of the cave and defeat discouragement if you will let Him.

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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 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. 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 over night. He had spent lots of 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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Make A Decision To Face Your Fears Every Day

Pastor Paul Witkop

Click to read more about Paul Witkop

By Paul Witkop –

The new year does not come for another three months, but I recently started a new exercise program.   The new program involves a new routine and after each workout I am completely drained. Yet, I feel strangely invigorated.  Each day, the voices in my mind wage war.  One voice tells me that I am making progress and with the pain will come some gain. The other voice is very skillful at making excuses, inventing schedule conflicts, and exaggerating the agony in an attempt to dissuade me from going on that day.

This battle goes on in every one of us, every day.  In comparison with life’s battles, my battle with this exercise routine is relatively minor.  Challenges are daily events in everyone’s lives. We all have fears, some small and some large, that have the potential to persuade us away from something healthy and helpful if we give up.  In Ephesians 6, the Apostle Paul writes, “Be strong in the Lord.”  In John 15:5, Jesus told us, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.”  From these words of wisdom, we learn that the key to fighting our battles and facing our fears comes from the two phrases in the Lord and remain in me. If we attempt to just “be strong” without the Lord, Jesus tells us that “apart from Him, we will not do anything.”   As we listen to God and as we understand God’s plan, we will meet the challenges each day in the power of Jesus.  Someone once told me “every day he makes the decision to face one of his fears.”  Jesus would agree and would add, “I will face that fear with you.”

A few years ago, I heard Bob Buford speak. He is a successful businessman whose life took an unexpected turn when his only son died in a tragic drowning accident. In his book Halftime, Buford recounts the days after the drowning…

“Here is something I can’t dream my way out of, I can’t work my way out of, I can’t even buy my way out of – it is something I can only trust my way out of.  This was truly only in the realm of God.”

In the middle of this horrible loss, Buford writes that he found the saving love of Jesus Christ. Facing his son’s death was the defining moment in his life that convinced him that he was not nearly as powerful as he thought. He realized that apart from Jesus, he was paralyzed after his son’s death.  He was dependent on God for everything.  His book, Halftime, is a challenge to all of us to take an assessment of our life to discover the real source of our power, Jesus, and the direction Jesus wants to lead us.

So what about you?  What are the battles and fears that you are fighting today?  What are the voices in your mind saying to you?  Whose voice will you allow to direct your path? Every day we need to make the decision to face our fears…listening to Jesus.  As we do, we will grow realize that we were never meant to do life alone.  He is our source of power.

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Restoring Your Soul

Pastor Paul Witkop

Click to read more about Paul Witkop

By 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.  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?  When tough times hit us hard, we can become overwhelmed with fear.   When the bills pile up, the 401k becomes a 201k, health issues invade us, when we have problems finding work – or challenges at work – when our closest relationships are full of trouble…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 unconditional love.

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, more than anything, restore your soul.

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