We become like those we associate with

Good morning everyone,
 
Our theme for this month: “Living by faith”

Our Bible verse for today: “The one who walks with the wise will become wise, but a companion of fools will suffer harm.” Proverbs 13:20 (CSB)
 
Our thought for today: “You become like those you associate with”
 
I was taught a very important lesson shortly after I came to faith in Christ. It happened at a men’s conference. The speaker read Proverbs 13:20 (above) and he said, “If you want to become a wise godly man, find some wise godly men you can spend time with and learn from them. Because over time we become like those we associate with.”
 
I had never heard that verse before but it hit me hard and I asked God to help me find some older men I could learn from and spend time with. In the years to come He brought men like Oren Teel, John Baker, and Dick DeGrow into my life, as well as some others. I also discovered that I could learn a lot and be influenced by authors whom I had never met, but who had a big impact on me through their writings. C.S. Lewis, Henry Blackaby, Philip Yancey, Eugene Peterson, and Dallas Willard all filled that role in my life.
 
Recently I came across a statement about this that caught my attention. It said, “Learning from others is the great talent of the truly wise.” There it is again. Wise people become wise by learning from others. That’s was Solomon’s point in Proverbs 13:20.
 
I don’t consider myself to be in the category of the truly wise, but I do know that I’m a better man today than I would have been had it not been for my association with and being influenced by men like Oren Teel, Dick DeGrow, Henry Blackaby, Eugene Peterson, and the others.
 
This same principle applies to learning to live by faith. If you want to learn to live by faith, associate with those who already know how to do it. Surround yourself with people who live by faith and soon you will find yourself living by faith too. Part of the wisdom of the wise is that they have a deep and settled faith that guides them and sustains them, and they learned how to live like that from others. None of us figures this out for ourselves.
 
If you walk with the wise you will become wise. If you surround yourself with those who know how to live by faith, you will soon learn how to live by faith too. We become like those we associate with.
 
God bless,
Pastor Jim  
Copyright © 2022 Oak Hill Baptist Church, All rights reserved.

Get your heart right, then get moving

Good morning everyone,
 
Our theme for this month: “Living by faith”
 
Our Bible verse for today: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV)
 
Our thought for today: “Get your heart right, then get moving”
 
Last week a friend at church gave me a picture to hang on the wall of my office. It included Proverbs 3:5-6, which happens to be one of my personal life-verses. A life-verse is a Bible verse or passage which is especially meaningful and helpful to you, and which you therefore rely on frequently for guidance, assurance, and peace.
 
Proverbs 3:5-6 is one of those passages for me. First of all, it reminds me to focus on God first and most. I am to put my trust in Him and to the best of my ability surrender my heart to Him. Then, I must remember that my own thinking often lacks clarity; it is sometimes uninformed or misinformed; and my personal desires frequently get in the way. That being the case, I must genuinely want to know God’s will, seek God’s will, and obey God’s will.
 
However, what do I do when I have done all of that but I still don’t have clear guidance about what to do? Let’s say I’m in a situation where a decision must be made, action must be taken, and there is no longer room for delay, but I don’t have a clear word from God about what to do or which direction to take? That’s where the true beauty of this Biblical principle shows itself.
 
The fact is that God wants my obedience even more that I want it. He wants me to be in the center of His will even more than I want to be in the center of His will. Therefore, He has a vested interest in helping me to achieve that. However, He also doesn’t want to have to direct my every step. He gave me a mind, He has developed spiritual maturity in me, and He wants me to be able to make good decisions for myself.
 
So, in such cases, I make sure my heart is right and that I truly am seeking His will. I spend the time to seek Him in prayer and Bible study. I get counsel from trusted Christian advisors. I carefully consider the circumstances and look for the hand of God in them. I wait patiently for the Lord to speak to me or to show Himself in some way in the middle of all this. And then, when I get to the point that delay is no longer an option, I make the best decision I can and just get moving, confident that God will guide me and keep me from going astray because after all, He wants me to be in the center of His will even more than I want to be there.
 
When it comes to living by faith, do your very best to seek God’s will in every way you can and then be obedient to it. And when you have to take action and you can delay no longer, but you still don’t have a clear word from Him, make sure your heart is right, make the best decision you can, and simply get moving.
 
God bless,
Pastor Jim
Copyright © 2022 Oak Hill Baptist Church, All rights reserved.

It’s a settled fact

Good morning everyone,
 
Our theme for this month: “Living by faith”
 
Our Bible verse for today: “So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:18 (CSB)
 
Our thought for today: “It’s a settled fact”
 
Before we continue our thinking about how to live by faith in actual practice, day-by-day, there is one more point that needs to be made regarding the nature of our faith. Our faith in the existence of God, and our faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins, is a settled fact for us.
 
We began our study this month by considering Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen.” In other words, our faith is based in a reality that we know to be true even though so much of it cannot be verified by our physical senses. In today’s verse the Apostle Paul said something similar when he reminds us to focus not on what is seen but on what is unseen. We have faith in the reality of God and of the spiritual dimension, and we don’t need to actually see it in order to believe it.
 
We have also spent a couple of days thinking about “blind” faith, and whether or not belief in God and in the Christian faith falls into that category. I hope you have come to the conclusion with me that it most certainly is not blind faith.
 
The evidence for God’s existence, and the pure beautiful logic of placing your faith in Christ, makes the truth of the Christian faith simply a settled fact for us. Jesus modeled this certainty for us in His own life. When we examine the Gospel accounts, we realize that Jesus never argued in favor of the existence of God. In all that He said about God, Jesus never felt it necessary to try to convince anyone that God exists. Everything Jesus said about God was based in the understanding that God simply “is”. For Jesus it was a settled fact and therefore there was nothing to argue or debate about. God was simply there. Period.
 
 I hope at this point in our study your faith in God is exactly where Jesus’ was. God simply is. Period. There’s nothing to argue or debate about. It’s a settled fact.
 
God bless,
Pastor Jim
 
 
Copyright © 2022 Oak Hill Baptist Church, All rights reserved.

But wait, maybe it is blind faith

Good morning everyone,
 
Our theme for this month: “Living by faith”
 
Our Bible verse for today: “Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.” Romans 12:2 (CSB)
 
Our thought for today: “But wait, maybe it is blind faith”
 
This morning I want to return us to our discussion from yesterday regarding blind faith. In that devotional I made the case that real faith in Christ is not blind faith. Instead, it is a well-informed and thoughtful decision based upon a preponderance of good evidence. Placing your faith in Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and then living a life as a faithful disciple of His, simply makes good sense.
 
But sometimes Christians are in fact guilty of having blind faith. Some Christians are not thoughtful. Instead, they’re thoughtless. They spend little time trying to understand their faith and not only can they not do a good job of explaining what they believe, they also can’t really explain why they believe it. They’re simply believing in something they have been told they should believe in, but their faith isn’t any deeper than that. That’s awfully close to being blind faith.
 
Christians also sometimes demonstrate blind faith with respect to cultural and political issues. They allow themselves to get caught up in and carried along with cultural trends, without really giving much thought to how those trends and practices correlate to Biblical truth. Likewise, Christians sometimes get so deeply immersed in radical political movements (on the left and on the right) that they end up endorsing extreme views or actions that are inconsistent with Christian faith and practice. That too can result from blindly following without really thinking.
 
In Romans 12:2 the Apostle Paul gave us a rule-of-thumb that should be applied to all of life. There he urges us to not simply conform to what others are thinking, saying, and doing, but instead to use our minds, engage our intellect, and compare everything to Biblical truth. Then we can make wise choices about our beliefs and conduct that truly do honor God and which are consistent with His Word.
 
Let’s not be too quick to give ourselves a pass and conclude that we’re not guilty of blind faith. Maybe, sometimes, we are. But God expects us to be wise, discerning, and intelligent individuals who think for ourselves and who do not blindly follow crowds or trends.
 
God bless,
Pastor Jim 
 
 
Copyright © 2022 Oak Hill Baptist Church, All rights reserved.

Is it blind faith?

Good morning everyone,
 
Our theme for this month: “Living by faith”
 
Our Bible verse for today: “The simple believe anything, but the prudent give thought to their steps.” Proverbs 24:15 (NIV)
 
Our thought for today: “Is it blind faith?”
 
According to the dictionary, the term blind faith means to have unquestioning faith in something or someone when doing so is obviously wrong and despite strong evidence to the contrary. This is what happens in cults of personality. The members give unquestioning loyalty and obedience to a leader despite numerous obvious reasons that they shouldn’t. It’s also true of groups like The Flat Earth Society. There really is a group that truly believes the earth is flat not round and they cling to that belief despite all evidence to the contrary. That’s blind faith.
 
So, is Christian faith blind faith? In yesterday’s devotional I made the statement that sometimes we have to have faith first and we experience second. Therefore, we have to step out in faith even if we don’t have full understanding. Is that an example of “blind” faith?
 
The answer, of course, is “no”. That does not constitute blind faith. On the contrary, as we have been learning all month, God has provided us with an overwhelming amount of evidence to support our call to faith. So much so that the leap of faith which is sometimes referred to really isn’t a leap at all. It’s more like a small step over a thin line. That’s why Jesus said multiple times in the Gospels that even a small amount of faith is sufficient to get us started on the path to God.
 
God has given us so much convincing evidence! He created us with a sense of eternity in our hearts; He revealed Himself in His creation; He gave us the miracle of the Bible; then there’s the powerful proof that comes from millions of transformed lives over thousands of years; and we haven’t even talked yet about the physical evidence proving that Jesus lived, died, and was resurrected.
 
Believing in God and having faith in Jesus is anything but blind faith. Quite the contrary. Prudent people do what Solomon wrote about in Proverbs 25:15, they give careful thought to the evidence and they arrive at intelligent conclusions. It’s simple-minded thoughtless people who have blind faith and are consequently easily led astray. True believers in Jesus are prudent people who gave careful thought to the evidence and came to the only conclusion that makes good sense. No, that most certainly is not “blind” faith.
 
God bless,
Pastor Jim   
Copyright © 2022 Oak Hill Baptist Church, All rights reserved.

Why do you not eat and drink?

Good morning everyone,
 
Our theme for this month: “Living by faith”
 
Our Bible verse for today: “Taste and see that the Lord is good. How happy is the person who takes refuge in him.” Psalm 34:8 (CSB)
 
Our thought for today: “Why do you not eat and drink?”
 
In the devotional book “Finding God in Narnia”, the authors relate a scene from the fifth volume in the series, “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader”. At one point in that story C.S. Lewis created a scene that was reminiscent of his own tentative journey to faith in Christ. In that scene, Edmund and his companions had been on a long journey, drawn in search for something related to Narnia (heaven) and Aslan (a Christ-figure), and yet unsure of themselves. Finally, they arrive at a mysterious island, tired and famished, where they find a beautiful table ladened with heaps of food and cool inviting wine.
 
Yet, rather than partaking of the feast set before them they hesitate, unsure of themselves, suspicious and convinced that what they’re seeing is too good to be true. So, they sit there – mouths watering, stomachs grumbling, wanting so much to indulge and yet unwilling to do so because they didn’t fully understand. Finally, out of the shadows approaches a lovely young woman (an angel), holding a candle. Perplexed, she looks at the weary, hungry travelers and asks, “Travelers who have come to Aslan’s table, why do you not eat and drink, is the food not to your liking?”
 
The seekers had found the very thing they had been searching for but once they did, they were afraid to partake of it because they didn’t fully understand it. What they needed to do was trust and partake – and once they did, they found that the feast was indeed very, very good.
 
C.S. Lewis created that scene as a reflection of his own journey to faith in Christ. Christianity sounded too good to be true to him and so, he doubted. But then he found Psalm 34:8 to be true. Once he put his doubts aside and began to partake of the feast that is a relationship with God, he discovered that life with God is indeed very, very good. “Taste and see that the Lord is good. How happy is the person who takes refuge in him.”
 
Yesterday we learned that living by faith involves taking control of our will and making ourselves do the things necessary in order to experience God and to grow in our relationship with Him. Once we do that, we then discover the truth that we must trust first and experience second. Once we take that initial step of faith, we quickly begin to experience the joys and wonders of life with God, and then we want more and more of it.
 
Psalm 34:8 really is true. Taste and see that He is good. If you do, you will quickly want all of Him that you can have.
 
God bless,
Pastor Jim  
Copyright © 2022 Oak Hill Baptist Church, All rights reserved.

It’s a matter of the will

Good morning everyone,
 
Our theme for this month: “Living by faith”
 
Our Bible verse for today: “In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.” Psalm 5:3 (NIV)
 
Our thought for today: “It’s a matter of the will”
 
More than twenty years ago an old friend gave me a wonderful little devotional book as a gift. The title is “Disciplines of the Inner Life” by Bob Benson and Michael Benson. On the flyleaf in the front of the book, to set the tone for the study, they offered this observation, “If you wish to live richly, deeply and spiritually, you must cultivate the “world within.” It is a thrilling world … with the Heavenly Father as our companion …” 
 
They go on to say that, “Down through Christian history various spiritual principles, rules, disciplines and practices have aided the believer in the quest for a deeper knowledge of God.” The rest of the book is all about putting those time-proven principles and disciplines into practice.
 
One entire section of the book is dedicated to identifying and overcoming common obstacles to developing that deeper life with God, and the number one obstacle is gaining control over your will. Our human will is a stubborn thing. We want what we want and we are usually determined to have what we want, and one of the things our nature leads us to want is the path of least resistance. That means avoiding things that are hard or which take extra effort (like developing the habit of getting out of bed early to spend 30 minutes with God in prayer and Bible study or, being in church on Sunday instead of doing something else or going somewhere else). Gaining control over your will, disciplining it and making yourself do the things you know you should do, is a key element to living by faith.
 
Now, as we will learn in coming days, once we develop the habit of practicing the faith on a regular and consistent basis, we discover that we love living this way and we wouldn’t want to go back to our old habits. But initially, breaking old patterns and developing new ones can be hard work.
 
Coming to faith in Jesus is relatively easy. Living by faith is much harder. It’s a matter of gaining control over your will and training yourself to do the things necessary to experience the spiritual growth you need in order to live by faith. We’ll think more about this tomorrow.  
 
God bless,
Pastor Jim   
Copyright © 2022 Oak Hill Baptist Church, All rights reserved.

He rewards those who seek Him

Good morning everyone,
 
Our theme for this month: “Living by faith”
 
Our Bible verse for today: “Now without faith it is impossible to please God, since the one who draws near to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Hebrews 11:6 (CSB)
 
Our thought for today: “He rewards those who seek Him”
 
“A long obedience in the same direction” is a life principle that has been around for ages. It simply means that to succeed in any area of life we have to be committed to it and we have to apply ourselves to it over the long-term.
 
More than forty years ago Pastor Eugene Peterson wrote a book by that title in which he showed us how to apply that principle to the Christian life. The Christian life is not an endless series of ecstatic mountaintop spiritual experiences. Instead, it consists of daily discipline and discipleship. It is the steady and repeated practice of basic spiritual disciplines, applied on a daily basis, which help us to stay spiritually healthy and to grow.
 
It’s the habit of beginning each day with a quiet time of prayer, Bible study, and devotions (and doing so even if you’re tired and even if don’t feel like doing it). A long obedience in the same direction also consists of things like faithful attendance at the gatherings of your church family; participation in acts of ministry; and intentionally sharing your faith with others; all participated in on a regular and consistent basis. It’s an act of the will. We do it precisely because we have made a decision to believe in God and to trust Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins. We do it because we want to know Him better and we want to please Him.
 
The first step to living by faith is to trust Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins. The second step is to incorporate the practices of the faith into your life. Make them part of your daily routine. This is the gift you have to offer God; this is what you bring to Him – your heart, and the daily demonstration of your faith in Him.
 
I encourage you to make it your habit to demonstrate your faith to God by spending time with Him daily. Don’t allow excuses or distractions to deter you. In return, He will honor your faithfulness. Remember, as Hebrews 11:6 reminds us, He rewards those who seek Him.
 
God bless,
Pastor Jim
Copyright © 2022 Oak Hill Baptist Church, All rights reserved.

If I were a betting man …

Good morning everyone,
 
Our theme for this month: “Living by faith”
 
Our Bible verse for today: “Simon Peter answered, ‘Lord, to whom will we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” John 6:68-69 (CSB)
 
Our thought for today: “If I were a betting man …”
 
I don’t know if Blaise Pascal was a gambling man or not, but I do know he is famous for something known as “Pascal’s Wager”. Blaise Pascal was a famous French mathematician, philosopher, physicist, and theologian who lived in the 1600s. He was a great Christian thinker and he wrote many books, articles, and pamphlets designed to make the case for Christianity, and to help strengthen the faith of believers.
 
His last great work, which was published after his death, was titled “Pensees” (Thoughts). It was a collection of his notes and thoughts about probability theory (which helps us to decide if something is probably true or not, and if it is likely to happen or not). In that work Pascal applied probability theory to the question of whether it makes sense to believe in God or not.
 
When applying probability theory to that question Pascal concluded that a rational person should live as though God exists and should seek to believe in God. They should do so because if God does not exist, such a person will have only a finite loss of some pleasures and luxuries in this lifetime. Whereas, if God does exist, the person stands to gain an eternity of blessings and rewards (as opposed to an eternity in hell).
 
That line of thinking has become known as “Pascal’s Wager”. It makes more sense to wager on God’s existence and to live accordingly, than it does to deny His existence. If I’m wrong and God doesn’t exist, so what? But if I’m right and He is real, then yay for me! I won the lottery.
 
As we’ve learned in our devotionals in this series up to this point, God has gone to great lengths to convince us that He is real and that we should have faith in Him. He created us with eternity in our hearts; He has shown Himself in the wonders, splendors, and complexity of His creation; He has gifted us with the miracle of the Bible which, as Luke tells us in Luke 1:1-4, is a thorough and orderly account; and now we learn that believing in Him is a better bet than not believing. What you lose for being wrong is miniscule compared to what you will gain if you are right. So, when it comes to living by faith, we choose to put all our chips on God.
 
Tomorrow we’ll begin exploring what this “living by faith” looks like in actual practice in everyday life.
 
God bless,
Pastor Jim  
Copyright © 2022 Oak Hill Baptist Church, All rights reserved.

Don’t apologize, but do be a good apologist

Good morning everyone,
 
Our theme for this month: “Living by faith”
 
Our Bible verse for today: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” 1 Peter 3:15 (NIV)
 
Our thought for today: “Don’t apologize, but do be a good apologist”
 
“Apologetics” does not mean apologizing. It’s exactly the opposite. Apologetics is actually a form of discourse and debate that involves providing well-reasoned arguments in justification of something. It’s an explanation and defense of a position or belief. Although this form of discourse is very common and is used to explain and defend virtually every subject, the term “apologetics” is most commonly used in reference to explaining or defending religious theory and doctrine.
 
Christian apologetics is the discipline of explaining and defending the Christian faith by means of systematic, logical, and well-constructed lines of reasoning. It’s what Peter was referring to in 1 Peter 3:15 (above) when he told us we should always be prepared to explain our faith, and it’s something every Christian should learn to do at some level. We should all be able to provide a clear explanation of what we believe and why we believe it.
 
It’s true that there is a formal field of Christian apologetics that is advanced, and for which men and women receive years of training. It’s actually a subspecialty in the world of Christian ministry for which colleges and seminaries award advanced degrees. But you don’t need a Bible College education to do this. Any time we explain or defend our faith we’re engaging in apologetics. A clear, thoughtful, logical explanation of Christianity is the way in which many people need to be approached. For them, the faith has to make sense on an intellectual level.
 
For people like that, Lee Strobel’s book “The Case for Faith” will be helpful. It is an excellent, clear, and easy-to-read case for faith in God. It would be a good book to give as a gift to the people you know who are struggling to believe.
 
We don’t have to apologize for our faith, but we do need to be good apologists for it.
 
God bless,
Pastor Jim  
 
 
Copyright © 2022 Oak Hill Baptist Church, All rights reserved.