Plain and simple can be smart and strategic

Good morning everyone,
 
Our theme for this month: “Be smart, be strategic”
 
Our Bible verse for today: “But we encourage you, brothers and sisters, to do this even more, to seek to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you …” 1 Thessalonians 3:10-11 (CSB)
 
Our thought for today: “Plain and simple can be smart and strategic”
 
In order to be smart and strategic in how we live our lives, there are two fundamental pieces that have to be in place. The first is our relationship with Christ and the daily practice of our faith. Everything else in life has to grow out of that. The second involves the structure of our lives. We have to be smart and strategic – intentional. This pertains to the framework of activities and daily routines within which our life is lived.
 
By way of example, I’ll share a bit of my personal story. I do so with the understanding that you may be in a different season of life than me, and your circumstances may be different than mine. But this is one example of a way in which my wife and I tried to be smart and strategic regarding the structure of our lives.
 
Almost ten years ago Linda and I came to the realization that we needed to make some strategic changes. For more than fifteen years now, Linda has bravely battled a degenerative disability, and she has needed more and more of my attention and assistance. We knew this would be the case and so we decided to structure our lives in a way that would allow us to live fully and well, while staying focused on the people and things that mattered most. We decided that Linda’s health needs would be our first and highest priority. My role as the pastor of Oak Hill Baptist Church would be second. We would focus on those two areas, and every other thing that would take us away from or distract us from those two, needed to go.
 
So, we simplified and downsized. Over the course of the next three years we sold our large house and bought one less than half the size, requiring much less attention and upkeep; we sold or gave away approximately 70% of our possessions; we cut our living expenses by well over one-third; I resigned from my part-time work on the staff of an international mission agency so I could focus just on the church; and we also eliminated other activities and obligations that would take us away from, or distract us from, our two main points of focus.
 
It’s true that in some ways our lives constricted or narrowed. But in the process, we found that life is actually richer and more rewarding because we are more focused on the people and things that truly matter to us, and less distracted by those which were less important.
 
That’s our story. Yours is probably different. But the point holds that in order to be most effective in life, we have to be smart, strategic and intentional. For us, at this season in life, plain and simple is smart and strategic.
 
God bless,
Pastor Jim 
Copyright © 2022 Oak Hill Baptist Church, All rights reserved.

Busy can be close to bad

Good morning everyone,
 
Our theme for this month: “Be smart, be strategic”
 
Our Bible verse for today: “Be very careful then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” Ephesians 5:15-16 (NIV)
 
Our thought for today: “Busy can be close to bad”
 
It has often been said that if the devil can’t make you bad, he will make you busy, because busy can be close to bad. Busy isn’t the same as bad, but it can have a similar net effect for Satan’s purposes. Being bad can directly achieve an objective of Satan’s. Being busy at the wrong things, or with too many things, can limit our effectiveness for God. Either way, Satan wins.
 
In Ephesians 5:15-16 Paul urges us to “Be very careful then, how you live …”. He’s telling us to be smart and strategic. He’s telling us to think carefully about what we will do, why we will do it, how we will do it, and what the likely outcome will be.
 
“… not as unwise but as wise …” He’s referring to godly wisdom. He’s speaking there about being wise in the ways of God and structuring our lives accordingly.
 
“… making the most of every opportunity …” Again, smart and strategic. This involves seeing an opportunity to in some way advance God’s agenda in the situation you are in at that moment, and then making the most of that opportunity.
 
“… because the days are evil.” Uh huh, don’t get me started. We’ve been over this. This is an Alice in Wonderland world we’re living in – up is down, black is white, good is bad, bad is good, and some people don’t which bathroom to use.
 
The point is that Satan doesn’t necessarily need to get us to be bad in order to advance his purposes. It is possible to fill our lives with lots of good things – but too many good things. When that happens, we could find ourselves doing lots of things poorly rather than a few things well. That’s not smart and it’s not strategic. We have to make good choices. We have to learn to say “no”. Sometimes even to good things. When Paul wrote that we are to be very careful how we live, he wasn’t just talking about avoiding things that are obviously bad. His lesson can also be applied to too many good things as well.
 
Being too busy isn’t necessarily the same thing as being bad, but in some ways it can come close.  If we aren’t careful, busy can be close to bad.
 
God bless,
Pastor Jim
 
Copyright © 2022 Oak Hill Baptist Church, All rights reserved.

Thank God for godly mothers

Good morning everyone,
 
Our theme for this month: “Be smart, be strategic”
 
Our Bible verse for today: “Don’t let your beauty consist of outward things like elaborate hairstyles and wearing gold jewelry, but rather what is inside the heart – the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For in the past, the holy women who put their hope in God also adorned themselves in this way.” 1 Peter 3:3-5 (CSB)
 
Our thought for today: “Thank God for godly mothers”
 
When it came to being smart and strategic, my mom had it down to a science. She raised six kids in a very small house and on a very small income. My dad worked long hours as a common laborer in a smelting and refinery plant, and then he worked a part-time job in the evenings stocking shelves in a grocery store, just to earn enough to keep us all housed, clothed, and fed.
 
But my mom was the one who worked the magic of stretching every dollar, keeping us all clean and clothed and fed, and maintaining some semblance of order in the home – two adults, six kids, three cats, a dog, and a duck all in a small house! (The duck split her time between a pen in the backyard and long soaks in the bathtub).
 
But the characteristic of my mom that stood out through all those years, and which endures all these years later, was her godliness. She was the woman Peter was writing about in 1 Peter 3:3-5 (above). She was unconcerned with things like fashion, trips to the beauty shop, ornate jewelry, or other outward things to enhance beauty that women sometimes focus on excessively. Her primary concern was for matters of the heart. She loved the Lord and she lived like it – and she taught that faith to her children.
 
My mom went home to heaven in April of 2012. Three weeks after her death I observed the first Mother’s Day of my life without my mother being present for me to honor. So, instead, in her honor, I preached a sermon based upon 1 Peter 3:3-5 entitled “What Makes a Woman Truly Beautiful?” I then turned that sermon into an essay with the same title. Although it was written with my mother in mind, it pertains to all godly women down through the ages. If you would like a copy of that essay let me know and I would be happy to send it to you.
 
On this Mother’s Day 2022 I would like to wish all of the mothers out there a happy and blessed Mother’s Day. We love you and we appreciate you. Thank God for godly mothers!
 
God bless,
Pastor Jim
Copyright © 2022 Oak Hill Baptist Church, All rights reserved.

If you want the one, you will have to do the other

Good morning everyone,
 
Our theme for this month: “Be smart, be strategic”
 
Our Bible verse for today: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.” Matthew 6:33 (CSB)
 
Our thought for today: “If you want the one, you will have to do the other”
 
So far in our study of being smart and being strategic, I have focused our thinking on the first and most important thing we can be smart and strategic about – our relationship with Jesus. That’s the starting place for a life that is balanced, with our priorities in proper alignment. Jesus has to be on the throne in your heart, and all the rest of life has to revolve around Him. Next week we will move on to other applications of being smart and being strategic, but we have to get this settled first.
 
In Matthew 6:33 Jesus said that if we make the kingdom of God and His righteousness our first priority in life, “all these things” will be provided for us. What “things” was He talking about? He was talking about all the rest of life. I encourage you to take a moment and read that passage, Matthew 6:25-34. It’s commonly known as “the do not worry passage” because in it, Jesus urges us to stop worrying so much about the cares and issues of life, and to focus more on God and His concerns. It’s a comforting and encouraging passage and it reinforces our point about being smart and strategic with respect to how we structure our lives. Put God first and He will then help us to get the rest of life settled and in order.
 
Now, you don’t have to do this. You do not have to be smart and strategic in the ways I’ve been writing about. You can continue living in whatever way you are currently living, giving your first and best attention to whatever other things are most important to you. However, if you want to be living in right relationship with God; if you want your life to be unfolding according to His plan rather than your own; if you want to experience the full blessings of God in your life; then you will have to do this. You will have to really put Him first.
 
Author Annie Dillard once observed, “You don’t have to stand outside in the dark. If, however, you wish to look at the stars, you will find the darkness necessary.”  Likewise, you don’t have to wisely and strategically structure your life in such a way that God and His ways are your clear number-one priority. However, if you want the life God wants to give you, then you will have to do that. There’s no getting around it, if you want the one, you will have to do the other.
 
God bless,
Pastor Jim
 
Copyright © 2022 Oak Hill Baptist Church, All rights reserved.

Put first things first

Good morning everyone,
 
Our theme for this month: “Be smart, be strategic”
 
Our Bible verse for today: “So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” Colossians 3:1-2 (CSB)
 
Our thought for today: “Put first things first”
 
Back in the 1990s the #1 self-help book in the nation was “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey. It was not a Christian book but it was insightful and it was helpful. According to Covey, habit number three of highly effective people is that they have learned to put first things first. In other words, they have identified those things in life that are most important to them, and they make sure those things get their first and best attention. Everything else comes after that.
 
In 2002 the best-selling self-help book was “The Purpose Driven Life” by Pastor Rick Warren. This was a Christian book, and it too was based upon putting first things first, but this one identified for us what the most important thing in life is (or “who” it is). The most important person in our life is Jesus Christ, and the most important thing in life is our relationship with Him. Everything else comes after that. Everything else comes out of that. It’s not until Jesus is first in our life that everything else in life will find its proper place.
 
For decades the most popular evangelistic tract was “The Four Spiritual Laws” published by Campus Crusade for Christ. That tract used an illustration of a circle, representing the human heart, with a throne in the center of the circle. In one example we see “self” on the throne in the heart, and all the rest of the things in life (illustrated by small dashes) were depicted in an unorganized and chaotic swarm all around the throne. In the second example we see Christ on the throne in the heart, and all the other things of life are surrounding the throne, but now aligned in perfect order. The lesson was that when Christ occupies His proper position on the throne in your heart, all the rest of life can then assume its proper place.
 
If you’re simply seeking worldly success, then Stephen Covey’s book might be all you need. But if your desire is to have the life that God wants for you, then you need Jesus. This is the first thing. Get this right and all the rest of life can then assume its proper place.
 
I encourage you to put first things first. Put Jesus first.
 
God bless,
Pastor Jim
Copyright © 2022 Oak Hill Baptist Church, All rights reserved.

Sometimes you just have to say no

Good morning everyone,
 
Our theme for this month: “Be smart, be strategic”
 
Our Bible verse for today: “But the Lord replied to her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered and anxious about so many things; but only one thing is necessary …” Luke 10:41 (Amplified Bible)
 
Our thought for today: “Sometimes you just have to say no”
 
I was in a conversation the other evening with a young Christian couple who are strong in their faith and enthusiastic about being on-mission with Jesus. They’re faithful in their church attendance, they participate in several small group Bible studies, and they are active in multiple ministry activities. In our conversation the young woman said that they had gotten so busy that they realized they had to cut a few things out, but they had trouble deciding what to cut. With a laugh she asked, “I mean, how to you say no to “Jesus things”?”
 
It was funny but also true. It is easy to fill our lives up with good things, to the point that the good things are spilling out over the edges of our lives. We then become overwhelmed and worn out. I once wrote an essay about this entitled “Room for the Singing of Angels”. The point of it was that if we aren’t careful, we can fill our lives up to the point that there’s no room left for quietness and relaxation. We have to leave room in our lives so we can hear the singing of angels. If you would like a copy of that essay let me know and I will be happy to send it to you.
 
How do we say “no” to good things? Well, the fact is that the world is full of good things we could be involved in, but there’s no way any of us can be involved in all of them, or even in a lot of them. Nor does the Lord expect us to.  And so, we have to set boundaries. We have to be smart and strategic about what’s enough and what’s too much. One of the best resources I’ve ever come across to help us establish healthy boundaries in all areas of life is the book and workbook series “Boundaries: When to say yes, and how to say no to take control of your life” by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. I recommend it to you.
 
You’ve probably heard the phrase, “I have too many irons in the fire.” Do you know where that phrase came from? It’s from the days before electric irons when people used to use a “flatiron” to iron clothes. It was like a modern-day iron but in order to heat it you would place it in the fireplace close to the flames. Then, when it was good and hot, you would take it out and use it to iron clothes until it cooled. Typically, a housewife would have multiple irons in the fire so when one cooled, another would be ready. Sometimes she would overestimate how many irons she needed and she would end up with leftover heated irons. Therefore, she had too many irons in the fire.
 
Many of us today have too many irons in the fire and we need to remove some of them. We do that by setting better boundaries. You don’t have to say yes to everything – not even to “Jesus things”. It’s okay, and good, and necessary, to set good boundaries. Sometimes you just have to say no.
 
God bless,
Pastor Jim
Copyright © 2022 Oak Hill Baptist Church, All rights reserved.

Biblical principles are the guardrails of life

Good morning everyone,
 
Our theme for this month: “Be smart, be strategic”
 
Our Bible verse for today: “How happy are those whose way is blameless, who walk according to the Lord’s instruction! Happy are those who keep his decrees and seek him with all their heart. They do nothing wrong; they walk in his ways. You have commanded that your precepts be diligently kept.” Psalm 119:1-4 (CSB)
 
Our thought for today: “Biblical principles are the guardrails of life”
 
I once read a story about a pastor who led a young man to Christ and then told him to go read Psalm 119. When an old deacon in the church heard about it, he went to the pastor in confusion and asked, “Why in the world did you tell him to read Psalm 119? Why didn’t you send him to the Gospel of John?”
 
It was a good question. Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible, 176 verses, and it’s not typically where we send a new believer in order to acquaint them with the basics of the Christian faith. But in the case of this young man, the pastor was right on. He was a thoughtful, inquisitive, student-type of person who loved to read and who valued learning. Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible, but it’s also all about the Bible. It is 176 verses about the beauty of God’s Word and the importance of knowing it well. For instance, in verses 9-11 we read, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping your word. I have sought you with all my heart; don’t let me wander from your commands. I have treasured your word in my heart so that I may not sin against you.”
 
Yesterday we considered the sad life story of King Solomon, as recorded by him in the book of Ecclesiastes. There we learned that Solomon did not do what the writer of Psalm 119 was urging, he did not treasure God’s word in his heart, and he did not use the principles of God’s word as guardrails to keep him on track in life. And as a result, much of Solomon’s adult life was messy, sinful, and wasted.
 
When it comes to being smart and strategic with respect to how we structure our lives, we have to begin with knowing the Word of God and then living by it. Biblical principles are the guardrails that keep us on track in life. They keep us from falling off the cliffs that border the path of righteous living that God has mapped out for us. It is the good and safe path through life that keeps us in the center of God’s will.
 
Biblical principles are learned by means of practices like daily personal Bible study, participation in small group Bible studies (like Sunday school), regular faithful attendance in worship services (including paying close attention to the sermon), and reading good Christian books.
 
Biblical principles are the guardrails of the Christian life. I encourage you to have those guardrails in place, and then stay within them.
 
God bless,
Pastor Jim
Copyright © 2022 Oak Hill Baptist Church, All rights reserved.

Don’t get lost like Solomon

Good morning everyone,
 

Our theme for this month: “Be smart, be strategic”
 

Our Bible verse for today: “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” Ecclesiastes 12:13 (NIV)
 

Our thought for today: “Don’t get lost like Solomon”
 

The book of Ecclesiastes is essentially eleven and one-half chapters of remorse and regret, ending with the insightful and succinct observation from King Solomon recorded in 12:13 (above).
 

Solomon was not only the richest and most powerful man of his day, but at an early age he had also been endowed with godly wisdom beyond that of anyone else. He was the wisest, richest, most powerful man in the world – but he blew it. Instead of staying focused on honoring God and blessing others with the way he used his wisdom, power, and riches, he instead lost his way and spent much of his adult life pursuing worldly pleasures. In today’s culture we would describe it as a life of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Ecclesiastes was written towards the end of his life and is essentially his memoir. In it, he writes mostly about the foolishness of his choices.
 

What was Solomon’s problem? How did he get so off track in life? The answer is that he wasn’t smart or strategic. He didn’t have a strategy designed to keep him focused on the things that really mattered and which were most important. A “strategy” is simply a plan designed to help us achieve a desired end. To be “strategic” means that we have identified our overall aim, we have a plan in place to achieve it, and we are then intentional about sticking to that plan. Doing that is smart. Not doing it is not smart (see Solomon’s story).
 

We live in a world today where the pace of life for most people is impossibly busy, and therefore most of us are trying to juggle far too many things at the same time. Beyond that, our world is noisy and cluttered with loud voices, blaring advertisements, and competing agendas. We’re overwhelmed with information, under great pressure from many different and often opposing forces, and stretched way too thin. In such an environment it can be very difficult to stay focused on the things that matter most.
 

All this month we will consider the importance of intentionally staying focused on the things that should matter most to us in life. None of us wants to lose our way and end up wasting years of our lives on worthless pursuits like Solomon did. But to avoid that, we will have to be smart and we will have to be strategic. We’ll spend the month of May considering ways we can do that.
 

God bless,
Pastor Jim  
Copyright © 2022 Oak Hill Baptist Church, All rights reserved.

Be a light in the darkness

Good morning everyone,
 
Our theme for this month: “Steadfast and immovable”
 
Our Bible verse for today: “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16 (CSB)
 
Our thought for today: “Be a light in the darkness”
 
I recently came across two short stories shared by Robert Wicks in his book “The Simple Care of a Hopeful Heart”, which touched my heart. The first was about Gerda Weissman Klein, a holocaust survivor. She told of something a friend in the concentration camp did for her: “Isle, a childhood friend of mine, once found a raspberry in the concentration camp and carried it in her pocket all day to present it to me that night on a leaf. Imagine a world in which your entire possession is one raspberry and you give it to your friend?”
 
What a tender expression of love and kindness! In the middle of that dark and sinister world in a concentration camp, Isle was a ray of light and love for Gerda. This is the kind of act Jesus was referring to in Matthew 5:16 in the Sermon on the Mount. There He urged His followers to go out into this dark world of ours and to be a ray of light and love – to shine the light of God’s love into the dark places of the world. And please note that He said to do it through good works, through simple acts of kindness and love.
 
The second story came from the same book. It too came from a scene in a concentration camp, and it too had to do with shining light into dark places – only this time, the act of simple love and kindness came from a surprising source. This story involved a group of men who had adopted a stray dog that had somehow wandered into the camp and taken up residence with them in their bunkhouse. One day, as the group was returning after an impossibly long day of brutal labor, the dog greeted them as they returned. The pup was vigorously wagging his tail, yipping and yapping, and even spinning in circles in joy at the return of his friends. The men said that dog brought indescribable joy into their otherwise dark lives.
 
As a dog owner and dog lover, I can especially relate to the dog story, but both of them remind me of a challenging statement I came across one time, and which I wrote down and keep in my Bible. It reads, “As I go through life, do I leave blessings in my wake; do I leave a trail of gladness behind? Let it be said that, ‘He went about doing good and blessing people.” This is what Jesus calls us to. In a dark world, we are to shine the light of the love of Jesus – and we are to do it through our good works.
 
I encourage you to be steadfast and resolute in your determination to be a force for good in our broken and bleeding world.
 
God bless,
Pastor Jim  
Copyright © 2022 Oak Hill Baptist Church, All rights reserved.

Don’t look to Egypt

Good morning everyone,
 
Our theme for this month: “Steadfast and immovable”
 
Our Bible verse for today: “Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariots and in the great strength of horseman, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel, or seek help from the Lord.” Isaiah 31:1 (NIV)
 
Our thought for today: “Don’t look to Egypt”
 
Currently, in my personal Bible study, I’m using “The Every Man’s Study Bible” and I’m reading through the Old Testament book of Isaiah. In one of the side articles to go along with the text, the editors noted that Isaiah ministered at a time when the Israelites were experiencing great material prosperity, but also even greater spiritual apathy. They were safe, secure, and affluent, but their thoughts were focused on enjoying a life of ease rather than on honoring God and blessing others.
 
In those days, Egypt was the dominant regional power both militarily and culturally, and for the most part, the Israelites had a comfortable relationship with them. They thought they could rely on Egypt for protection, and they were also indulging in many aspects of Egyptian culture. That’s what Isaiah was referring to in chapter thirty and thirty-one. And as a result, as a nation they were rapidly descending into spiritual decay.
 
The situation for the Jews in the days of Isaiah is not so different from the situation we find ourselves in today in our nation. Many Christians are way too comfortable with the culture we live in. We’re looking to the things of the world for joy and fulfillment far too much, rather than to God. As a result, there’s great spiritual decay in our land. But not just in the nation, not just among “them out there”, but in our churches and in the personal lives of individual Christians. The spiritual decay is taking place among God’s people. In many cases and in many ways we, the people of God, are looking to Egypt rather than to God.
 
For the remaining two days of our series on being steadfast and immovable, I want to return us to the subject of serious discipleship. Our nation, our communities, our churches, and our families need Christians who are passionately committed to following Christ, and who have incorporated the full range of spiritual disciplines into the daily practice of their faith. You know what those are. We’ve thought about them throughout this month. At a minimum such practices include prayer, Bible study, fellowship with other Christians, service in ministry, and full participation in the life of a good church. There are more, but those are the basics.
 
We need to do this. The allure and the influence of Egypt (the culture) is subtle but strong. If we aren’t intentional and determined in the practice of our faith, steadfast and immovable in our determination to faithfully follow Christ, then we will end up, over time, looking more to Egypt than to God.
 
The words of warning from Isaiah to the Jews pertains us much to us today as it did to them back then, “Don’t look to Egypt!”
 
God bless,
Pastor Jim  
Copyright © 2022 Oak Hill Baptist Church, All rights reserved.