Believe first

Good morning everyone,
 
Our theme for this month: “Great thoughts from great Christians”
 
Our Bible verse for today: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.” Hebrews 11:1-2 (NIV)
 
Our thought for today: “Believe first”
 
I find it interesting that Hebrews chapter eleven, which is known as “The Faith Hall of Fame”, begins with a reminder that the nature of faith is based upon making a choice to believe even when we do not see. The essence of faith is that we choose to embrace what we believe to be true, even though we don’t have firm, concrete proof to base it on. Then, after making that observation, the chapter goes on to tell of extraordinary Christians who demonstrated extraordinary faith, often in impossible situations.
 
How did they do it? How did they come to be so sure of what they could not see, to the point of even sacrificing their lives for their beliefs?
 
Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109) was one of the great Christian thinkers and leaders of the early Middle-Ages in Europe. Writing about how it is that faith is achieved and then strengthened over time he said, “I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe that I may understand: for this also I believe, that unless I believe, I will not understand.”
 
What Anselm meant is that first, we have to come to the point where we will trust God enough to give Him a chance. It’s even okay to say, “God, I’m not sure if you’re real or not but I am open and I am willing to be convinced. So, convince me.” Then, with an open mind and heart, and with genuine sincerity, make an effort to seek God and to give Him a chance to convince you. He will. That’s the beginning of faith.
 
Then, each day place yourself in a position before God in prayer, Bible reading, worship, fellowship with other Christians, and in acts of service to others, and let God prove Himself to you some more. In dozens of different and subtle ways, as you continue to trust Him and seek Him, God will reveal more and more to you, and your faith will get stronger and stronger. It’s a slow subtle process that unfolds over time as you choose to continue believing and trusting.
 
Choose to believe first; understanding will begin to come after that. As Anselm said, “I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe that I may understand: for this also I believe, that unless I believe, I will not understand.”
 
God Bless,
Pastor Jim
Copyright © 2021 Oak Hill Baptist Church, All rights reserved.

Be closer to God than to the world

Good morning everyone,
 
Our theme for this month: “Great thoughts from great Christians”
 
Our Bible verse for today: “Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship. 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 12:1-2 (CSB)
 
Our thought for today: “Be closer to God than to the world”
 
This morning I want to continue our thought from yesterday regarding the desperate need today for strong Christian men and women.
 
Vance Havner was a plain-spoken, home-spun, backwoods preacher from Jugtown, North Carolina in the mid-1900s. He did not have formal Bible College or Seminary training, but he did have the hand of God upon his life from an early age. At the age of nine he was already writing Christian essays for the local newspaper. At twelve he stood on a chair behind the pulpit in his church and preached his first sermon. At twenty-two he became a pastor, and by the age of thirty-nine he was a full-time traveling evangelist.
 
One of Havner’s favorite themes for reviving backslidden Christians and churches was the need to live differently than the world around us. Strong Christians get and stay strong by refusing to conform to the culture around them. Weak Christians give-in to cultural pressures and become just like it. Here’s a portion of one of Havner’s sermons on the subject:
 
“We are often distressed by church members who ask, “Can I be a Christian and do this? Why cannot I do that? What is wrong with dancing, smoking, card playing?” etc. What they are really asking is, “How much like the world can I live and be a Christian? How near the precipice can I walk without going over? How far away from the Lord can I be and still get to heaven?” Why do they not ask, “How far from the world can I live? How near the Lord? How much like Him?” Such people prefer the Borderline to Beulah Land.”
 
Havner’s point is perceptive, and accurate. Many of us toy with the Christian faith. We try to see how much of popular culture and worldly values we can include in our lives and still be found faithful to the Lord. But the fact is that the more we’re like the world the less we will be like the Lord. The more the world has a hold on us, the less the Lord will be able to do in us and with us.
 
In Romans 12:1-2 Paul called us to holy living. He urged us to resist the allure of worldly things and to give ourselves fully to Christ. Doing so will transform us into strong and courageous Christian men and women. I encourage all of us to stay closer to the Lord than we are to the world.
 
God Bless,
Pastor Jim
Copyright © 2021 Oak Hill Baptist Church, All rights reserved.

God, give us strong Christians!

Good morning everyone,
 
Our theme for this month: “Great thoughts from great Christians”
 
Our Bible verse for today: “These are the names of David’s mighty men: …” 2 Samuel 23:8 (NIV)
 
Our thought for today: “God, give us strong Christians!”
 
After much thought and prayer, I’ve decided to continue our study from last month of “Great thoughts from great Christians.” There’s just so much for us to learn by practicing what Leighton Ford taught, “I surround myself with the thoughts of those who have thought much about God.”
 
Josiah Gilbert Holland was a poet and magazine editor in the USA in the mid-to-late 1800s. That was a period of American history (during and after the Civil War), when there was tremendous division and strife in our country. Even after the war ended, the nation was deeply divided. Our social fabric was torn, anger and bitterness prevailed, and the need for strong Christians in our society was real and urgent. Here’s a portion of one of Holland’s poems addressing that urgent need, and it speaks powerfully of the identical need in our day:
 
God, give us men! A time like this demands strong minds, great hearts, true faith, and ready hands;
Men whom the lust of office does not kill;
Men whom the spoils of office cannot buy;
Men who possess opinions and a will;
Men who have honor; men who will not lie;
Men who can stand before a demagogue and damn his treacherous flatteries without winking!
Tall men, sun-crowned, who live above the fog in public duty and in private thinking;
For the rabble, with their thumb-worn creeds, their large professions and their little deeds, mingle in selfish strife, lo! Freedom weeps, wrong rules the land, and waiting justice sleeps.
 
2 Samuel 23:8 and the following verses lead us to a lengthy description of the mighty men who served alongside King David in his day – honorable men, courageous men, faithful men. They were the kind of men Josiah Holland was calling for in his poem, and they’re the kind of strong, brave, courageous Christians needed in our day as well.
 
The segment about David’s mighty men, and the poem by Josiah Holland, were written in patriarchal times and so the focus was on men, but the truth applies equally to women. We need strong, courageous Christian men and women who will boldly stand for truth, who will willingly endure risk and hardship for the sake of righteousness and justice, and who will not flinch in the face of adversity.
 
God, give us strong Christians!
 
God Bless,
Pastor Jim
Copyright © 2021 Oak Hill Baptist Church, All rights reserved.

We have to stop being so easily offended

Good morning everyone,
 
Our theme for this month: “Great thoughts from great Christians”
 
Our Bible verse for today: “And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.” Matthew 24:10-13 (NIV)
 
Our thought for today: “We have to stop being so easily offended”
 
In 1994 John Bevere published a book which has since become something of a modern-day Christian classic. The title is “The Bait of Satan”. John’s premise is that Satan uses offense to draw people away from God and to entice them into anger, outrage, division, and conflict. The more easily you are offended, the more Satan can use you to accomplish his purposes. That being the case, offense can be a marker or an indicator regarding the depth of a person’s spiritual maturity. The more easily a person is offended, the less spiritually mature they tend to be.
 
This is Biblical. The New Testament teaches us to be thick-skinned and to resist the temptation to be offended. 1 Corinthians 6:7 urges us to be willing to simply accept a wrong rather than being offended and responding in-kind. 1 Corinthians 13:5 teaches that it is unloving and selfish to be easily angered. 2 Timothy 2:24 calls us to be patient with difficult people. And on and on the teaching goes. Christians are not to be easily offended, especially with one another. Offense is a tool Satan uses to divide us and to cause conflict. John Bevere writes, “When you resist the temptation to be offended, God brings great victory.” And all God’s people said, “Amen!”
 
We live in a time when everyone seems to be offended about something. Some people more than others but we now live in an era of outrage and offense. It seems to me that the politically-correct far-left is especially hypersensitive and ready to be offended by every little thing. But more and more, the conservative right seems to be perpetually offended and outraged too. Also, in my opinion, Christians are displaying a greater degree of offense and outrage than I can remember – and not only towards the unsaved world, but towards each other as well. There’s a lot of in-fighting in the Christian world today.
 
Granted, there are some things that should offend us and there are some things we should be outraged about. But outrage and offense as a dominant state of mind is a bad thing. It’s a tool of Satan which he uses to create conflict and division. And, as Jesus noted in Matthew 24:10-13, the closer we get to the end of the age the more widespread offense and outrage will become. Matthew 24 is all about the end of the age and how bad things will get as Satan’s influence in the world continues to grow. Widespread offense and outrage are two of those markers.
 
As the followers of Jesus, we should be the ones who are calm, cool-headed, and thick-skinned. Let us not be counted among those who are thin-skinned and easily offended about every little thing.
 
God bless,
Pastor Jim
Copyright © 2021 Oak Hill Baptist Church, All rights reserved.

You don’t have to give-in to sin

Good morning everyone,
 
Our theme for this month: “Great thoughts from great Christians”
 
Our Bible verse for today, “No temptation has ceased you except that which is common to man. And God is faithful, he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13 (NIV)
 
Our thought for today: “You don’t have to give-in to sin”
 
This morning I want to continue our thinking from yesterday about the nature of sin, and I will do so by returning to Billy Graham for another great thought. Here’s one of the many great insights Billy shared over the years about the nature of sin, and about the fact that we do not have to give-in to it:
 
“Satan is not all-powerful, nor does he directly cause every bad thing that happens to us. Sometimes we don’t know the cause – but often we are responsible, because we have turned our backs on God and deliberately followed our own sinful desires instead of His will. When we do, we pay the consequences; as the Bible warns, ‘God is not mocked. A man reaps what he sows.’ Galatians 6:7”
 
Billy was right, Satan is not all-powerful. He can’t make us do anything. All he can do is attempt to influence the Christian. And he does! Satan is brilliant. He is an expert fisher of men and he baits the hook according to the appetite of the fish. He knows what it will take to get you to sin. That’s why it’s so important for us to be wise to his ways, so we won’t be fooled. And we have to also know ourselves well enough to understand what our weaknesses are, and then take steps to avoid the situations where we’re likely to be exposed to those temptations. That’s what 1 Corinthians 10:13 is all about. We have to see the sin lurking, and then ask God to help us avoid it.
 
Also, we are often our own worst enemies. We allow ourselves to fall into sin when it didn’t have to happen. We are responsible for many of the bad things that happen to us. “The devil made me do it!” was a funny line when the comedian Flip Wilson used it in his stand-up comedy routines, but it’s theologically incorrect. The devil can’t “make” you do anything. And if you do it anyway, it’s entirely your own fault and you are fully responsible for the consequences.
 
The truth is that we don’t have to give-in to sin. Not ever. God will never allow us to be tempted in any way that is more than we can resist with His help.
 
God Bless,
Pastor Jim 
Copyright © 2021 Oak Hill Baptist Church, All rights reserved.

Sin is expensive

Good morning everyone,
 
Our theme for this month: “Great thoughts from great Christians”
 
Our Bible verse for today: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 (NIV)
 
Our thought for today: “Sin is expensive”
 
The great evangelist Charles Finny (1792-1875) once made a statement about the cost of sin that helped me to gain a better understanding about the complexity of sin and the extent to which God has gone to deal with our sins. Finny wrote,
 
“Sin is the most expensive thing in the universe. Are you well aware, O sinner, what a price has been paid for you that you may be redeemed and made an heir of God and of heaven? O what an expensive business for you to indulge in sin! Think how much machinery is kept in motion to save sinners! The Son of God was sent down; angels are sent as ministering spirits to the heirs of salvation; missionaries are sent; Christians labor and pray and weep in deep and anxious solicitude; all to seek and save the lost … What an array of toil and cost, from angels, Jesus Christ, the Divine Spirit, and living men!”
 
Jesus paid a great price for our sins. God then goes to tremendous effort to deal with our sins and to get us to repent of them. What an outrage it must be to Him for us to find entertainment in and to take pleasure from the very things that nailed Jesus to the cross! Sin is too expensive for us to toy with it like that. The effort made and the price paid to compensate for those sins is too great.
 
And beyond that, God’s real problem with our sins is not what the sins do to Him, but what they do to us. Seriously, God can handle our sins. Although our sins are an offense to Him, they do no damage to Him. After all, He is God. The damage from our sin is the damage we do to ourselves and to others by committing those sins. God loves us so much, and He cares so much about us, that He is grieved when we hurt ourselves and others like that by indulging in sin.  
 
There is great truth in what Finny wrote more than 150 years ago, “O what an expensive business for you to indulge in sin!”
 
God Bless,
Pastor Jim
Copyright © 2021 Oak Hill Baptist Church, All rights reserved.

Just love each other

Good morning everyone,
 
Our theme for this month: “Great thoughts from great Christians”
 
Our Bible verse for today: “Above all, maintain constant love for one another, since love covers over a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8 (CSB)
 
Our thought for today: “Just love each other”
 
All this month we’ve been considering “Great thoughts from great Christians” and we’ve based it upon the practice encouraged by Leighton Ford, “I surround myself with the thoughts of those who have thought much about God.” The fact is that we can learn much from those who have spent years thinking about God; people who have grown deep in their faith, and then who live their faith in practical ways that make a real difference in their own lives and in the lives of others.
 
Not all great Christians are famous. Some are just regular everyday people. My pastor, Oren Teel, was one of those. He was the one who discipled me and taught me how to be a pastor. Oren spent over fifty years as the pastor of small churches. He never wrote a book; he was never the featured speaker at a big conference; and he was not well-known outside of his small circle of influence. But he was a great Christian, and he did have some profound insights.
 
One of the best lessons he ever taught me, one which I have tried to practice for more than twenty-five years as a pastor, was advice he gave to me shortly before I went off to be the pastor of my first church. He said, “Jim, just love your people. A congregation will forgive a lot if they know you love them. They will tolerate a poor sermon; they will forgive your bad decisions; they will even put up with your ugly ties – if they know that you love them.”
 
And he was right. As I think back over two and a half decades as a pastor, in three different churches, I have to admit that I did preach a few bad sermons; and I did make some dumb decisions; and I’ve certainly worn my share of ugly ties; not to mention lots of other failures. But the people have always been kind, gracious, and forgiving, and I believe it has been because they know I love them. Despite my flaws and numerous shortcomings, they know I love them, and that seems to have made the difference.
 
This is what Peter was teaching us in 1 Peter 4:8 and it’s a lesson that applies not just to pastors and congregations, but to all of us, and in all of life. Your family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and your church family, will forgive a lot if they just know that you love them. As Peter said, “Love covers over a multitude of sins”.
 
I encourage you to concentrate on just loving people. Loving people doesn’t excuse us from trying hard and doing our best (my love for our congregation doesn’t excuse me from doing my best to preach a good sermon, or to make smart decisions, or to use better fashion-sense when selecting ties), but love is the most important thing we can do for each other, and doing so will make-up for a lot.
 
God Bless,
Pastor Jim  
Copyright © 2021 Oak Hill Baptist Church, All rights reserved.

We are united in Christ

Good morning everyone,
 
Our theme for this month: “Great thoughts from great Christians”
 
Our Bible verse for today: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28 (NIV)
 
Our thought for today: “We are united in Christ”
 
Have you ever stopped to consider how much division and hate there is between people-groups in the world? In the Mideast Muslims hate Jews. In Ireland Catholics fight Protestants. In America Democrats despise Republicans (and visa-versa). There is tremendous conflict between people based on ethnic differences, religious preferences, geographic boundaries, sports team loyalties, and an endless list of other things. I read a story once about two high school students who beat-up another student because he was wearing the wrong brand of shoes. It’s as if we humans look for reasons to be in conflict with each other because of perceived differences between us.
 
But that should not be the case among Christians. As Paul taught in Galatians 3:28 (above), we are all one in Christ Jesus. When we come to faith in Christ and join the family of God all the artificial manmade distinctions that separate us fall away, and now the only thing that matters is that we are brothers and sisters in Christ. This is what Jesus was teaching in Matthew 12:48-50 where we read, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ Pointing to his disciples he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
 
The great pastor and author A.W. Tozer once wrote that, “The people of the Lord are a people apart, belonging to each other in a sense in which they don’t belong to anyone else.” What he meant was that the spiritual tie that binds us together as Christians is stronger and runs deeper than even the biological ties that bind us to our mortal families. This is true because the biological bond ends at death but the spiritual bond lasts for eternity.
 
This Sunday (September 26, 2021) at Oak Hill Baptist Church we will celebrate our annual “Homecoming Day”. This is the day each year at the beginning of the new church year when we gather our church family and friends together for a special day of worship, feasting, and fun. We will meet for Sunday school at 9:00; there will be a special Homecoming worship celebration at 10:00; followed by a catered banquet and an afternoon of fun and games. If you’re anywhere close to Cumberland County, TN we invite you to join us in-person. If you’re not geographically close, then join us online live on the Oak Hill Baptist Church Facebook page beginning at 10:00, or on our website at www.oakhillbaptist.net.
 
As Christians we share a bond in Christ that runs deep and which lasts forever. Join us as we celebrate our unity in Christ.
 
God Bless,
Pastor Jim
Copyright © 2021 Oak Hill Baptist Church, All rights reserved.

Love is often a decision not a feeling

Good morning everyone,
 
Our theme for this month: “Great thoughts from great Christians”
 
Our Bible verse for today: “This is my command: Love one another as I have loved you.” John 15:12 (CSB)
 
Our thought for today: “Love is often a decision not a feeling ”
 
All this month we’ve been considering great thoughts from great Christians and in every case so far, I’ve been able to attribute that great thought to an identifiable great Christian. Not so this morning. This morning I want to share with you what I consider to be a great thought about the nature of love, but I cannot identify exactly who said it or where I got it from. I’ve been holding onto this thought – preaching it, teaching it, and trying to live by it, for probably close to thirty years, but I cannot remember where I got it from. Perhaps it’s a fusion of thoughts from different authors, teachers and preachers on the subject. In any case, here it is:
 
“Love is often a decision to act rather than an emotion you feel. It is an action, based on a decision, born of obedience.”
 
In other words, you can act in love towards someone even if you don’t actually feel love for that person. That’s essentially what Jesus was teaching in John 15:12. In that verse He “commanded” that we love one another. But if love is just a feeling or an emotion, how can it be commanded? Can the feeling be manufactured on demand? Can it be generated by simply flipping an emotional switch like turning on a light? The answer, of course, is “no”. Either you feel love or you don’t. You can’t force a feeling.
 
But you can force an action. You can decide to do something, and then go and do it whether you want to or not and whether you feel like it or not. You can act in love even if you don’t feel love.
 
I read a story once about a woman who had been brutally raped. The man who did it to her was caught, convicted, and sentenced to a long term in prison. But the memory of that traumatic event haunted the woman for years. It colored her personality in dark ways, it caused her to distrust other people, and it made her depressed and angry. Finally, she came to faith in Christ and discovered healing and peace in Jesus. Eventually, as a final act of recovery, she went to the prison and faced the man who had raped her. She said to him, “I forgive you. What you did to me was wrong; you caused me terrible pain, and I’m glad you are being punished for it; but in the name of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you.”
 
Later, as she was describing that encounter, she said, “It was the last thing in the world I wanted to do. I was physically sick at the thought of seeing him again. On an emotional level, I was afraid of him; I was repulsed by him, and – I have to be honest, I hated him. But my feelings were not the issue. I knew that what God wanted was my obedience. He wanted me to love that man with my will and with my words, even though in my emotions I couldn’t stand the sight of him.”
 
Jesus calls us to act in love towards others even if we don’t feel love for them in that moment. Love is often a decision to act rather than an emotion you feel.  
 
God Bless,
Pastor Jim
Copyright © 2021 Oak Hill Baptist Church, All rights reserved.

Be intentional about how you live

Good morning everyone,
 
Our theme for this month: “Great thoughts from great Christians”
 
Our Bible verse for today: “Pay careful attention, then, to how you live – not as unwise people but as wise – making the most of the time, because the days are evil.” Ephesians 5:15 (CSB)
 
Our thought for today: “Be intentional about how you live”
 
Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) was a brilliant man. He entered Yale University at only thirteen, already having a firm grasp on Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. At the age of twenty-one he was appointed pastor of a church in Northampton, Massachusetts, where God used him to ignite the Great Awakening of 1734-35. That was a spiritual revival that spread across the Colonies and resulted in tens of thousands of salvations.
 
Throughout his life Edwards was a big proponent of making resolutions and living by them. He had long-term life goals, which were intended to establish basic principles to live by; and he also kept a list of short-term goals he was working on. One of his most important and helpful life principles was, “Resolved, never to lose one moment of time, but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.”
 
Edwards was serious about using his time well. He understood that time is a precious commodity that is not renewable. We only get so much of it in life and the Lord expects us to use it well. That’s why he kept lists of resolutions and goals. Benjamin Franklin expressed the same thought in slightly different words, “Do you value your life? Then value your time; because time is the stuff life is made of.” This is what the Apostle Paul was trying to teach us in Ephesians 5:15, we must be intentional about using our time well – we must be intentional about how we live.
 
Jonathan Edward’s personal practice of writing out his lists of resolutions is similar to the common practice in our day of a personal mission statement. It’s simply a written declaration of principles and practices that become a sort of north star. It is big-picture guidance designed to keep us on track in life. Beyond that, the practice of having short-term goals is essential as well. Short-term goals ensure that we’re always in the process of learning, growing, and moving forward in life, never becoming ambivalent, lazy, or unproductive.
 
A big part of the reason Jonathan Edwards made such a powerful impact with his life is because he was so intentional about how he lived and how he used his time. His written resolutions and goals were helpful tools that kept him focused and motivated. That can be true in our lives as well.
 
Resolved, never to lose one moment of time, but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.”
 
God Bless,
Pastor Jim
Copyright © 2021 Oak Hill Baptist Church, All rights reserved.