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.

Make the most of it

Good morning everyone,
 
Our theme for this month: “Steadfast and immovable”
 
Our Bible verse for today: “Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people.” Genesis 25:8 (NIV)
 
Out thought for today: “Make the most of it”
 
I recently had another birthday. I turned sixty-eight. Birthdays always put me in a reflective mood. I find myself thinking back over the years, savoring the life the Lord has allowed me to have, and looking forward to what lies ahead.
 
In Genesis 25:8 we read of the death of Abraham. He died at a good old age, an old man full of years and content with his life. How fortunate he was. So many people don’t get to live a long life. I have a nephew who was killed at the age of five and a younger brother who died at the age of only sixty. I’m so grateful for the sixty-eight years I’ve had, and I pray that maybe my life can end as Abraham’s did, an old man full of years and content with his life. Abraham made the most of the life God gave him.
 
Doing so is not always easy. It takes intentionality and steadfast determination. I have a friend who turns sixty-three today. He’s had a few health challenges in recent years, including cancer and a couple of other surgeries. But today he is once again healthy and physically fit. He takes care of himself, works out, and plays basketball in a senior men’s league. He even competes in the Senior Olympics. When faced with his health challenges he simply got the treatments and surgeries he needed, did what he needed to do to recover, and got on with living a full and robust life. The point is, my friend lives his life. He makes the most of it – and he does it despite occasional health issues and other obstacles and challenges life typically brings from time to time. 
 
The singer Jimmy Buffet once sang, “I’d rather die while I’m living than live while I’m dead.” Yes. Too many people live as if they’re more dead than alive. They shuffle through their days, moaning and groaning, always seeking and taking the path of least resistance, and just sort of surviving. What a shame. Each day of life is a gift meant to be embraced, enjoyed, and lived to the fullest.
 
Every day that you’re alive is one more day than many other people were granted. Don’t waste it. I encourage you to be steadfast in your resolve to make the most of your life.
 
God bless,
Pastor Jim     
Copyright © 2022 Oak Hill Baptist Church, All rights reserved.

Growing older but not old

Good morning everyone,
 
Our theme for this month: “Steadfast and immovable”
 
Our Bible verse for today: “Here I am today, eighty-five years old. I am still as strong today as I was the day Moses sent me out. My strength for battle and for daily tasks is now as it was then.” Joshua 14:10-11 (CSB)
 
Our thought for today: “Growing older but not old”
 
A few weeks ago, I ran into a friend who I hadn’t seen in a long time. He is ninety-three but looks and acts like a healthy and vibrant seventy-three. He is healthy and physically fit and very active. A few years ago, at the age of ninety, he got married to a woman who is probably ten or more years younger than him and who is also healthy and fit. They’ve been acting like newlyweds on an extended honeymoon ever since. They’ve been on a trip to Israel, and on a Caribbean cruise, and this summer they’re going on an extended tour of northern Europe. My friend looked at me with a grin on his face and a twinkle in his eye and he said, “Jim, I spent my whole life earning all this money, now I’m going to have a lot of fun spending it before I die.”
 
Right on, brother! Three cheers for old folks who are young at heart!
 
In his book, “No Wrinkles on the Soul: A Book of Readings for Older Adults”, Richard Morgan explains that all of us are actually three different ages at the same time. First, there is our chronological age, which is measured by years on the calendar. Then there is our biological age, which is a factor of our overall health and fitness. And then there is our psychological age, which is a measure of how old a person feels and acts.
 
Our chronological age is fixed and there’s nothing we can do about that. Obviously, there are things we can do to impact our biological age; but it’s our psychological age that we have the most control over. That’s a matter of attitude and perspective. It’s the understanding that you may be getting older but you don’t have to get old. You don’t have to retire to a rocking chair and long naps. You don’t have to think of yourself as infirm and incapable. You can work to stay as healthy as you can for as long as you can, and you can make it a point to stay as active as your circumstances allow for as long as you can. Some people age faster biologically precisely because they think and act old psychologically.
 
There’s something winsome and appealing and fun about a newlywed ninety-three-year-old with a grin on his face, a twinkle in his eye, on an extended honeymoon, and thoroughly enjoying life. The artist Pablo Picasso once quipped, “It takes a long time to become young.” – meaning that older people who have learned to relax, enjoy life, and live each day to the fullest, are younger at heart than many people half their age.
 
You may be getting older but you don’t have to grow old. I encourage you to embrace life with joy and eager expectation, and then live each day to the fullest.
 
God bless,
Pastor Jim  
Copyright © 2022 Oak Hill Baptist Church, All rights reserved.

There’s a strong spiritual current working against you

Good morning everyone,
 
Our theme for this month: Steadfast and immovable”
 
Our Bible verse for today: “If you don’t stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.” Isaiah 7:9 (NIV)
 
Our thought for today: “There’s a strong spiritual current working against you”
 
Last year a couple of friends and I were kayaking in whitewater. At one point, I hit a particularly rough patch of rapids and I capsized. Suddenly I was underwater being dragged along the rocks by a very strong current, while my kayak and paddle were swept away downriver. Fortunately, although I’m a strong swimmer, I always wear a lifejacket, and therefore I was only underwater for a moment before the buoyancy of the lifejacket brought me to the surface. But still, I couldn’t get my footing. The current was so strong and the rocks were so slippery that every time I tried to stand up, I got knocked right back down. The only thing I could do was let the current carry me downriver until it finally let up enough for me to stand, move to the bank, and go retrieve my kayak and paddle.
 
What I experienced physically in that river on that day is true for all of us spiritually all the time. There’s a strong spiritual current rushing through this world that is swift and potentially dangerous. It’s a cultural current propelled by Satan and if we aren’t careful, it will sweep us up and carry us away. The only way to protect ourselves from that happening is to heed Isaiah’s words of caution in Isaiah 7:9 (above). If we do not stand firm in our faith – if we don’t have a strong and secure footing, we will not stand at all.”
 
Oh, I know we think we can get away with being only marginally faithful, sorta-kinda active in the practice of our faith, and that will be enough. But no, that’s not true. If you aren’t standing on solid ground, firmly rooted and secure, you will be carried along by the cultural current. It could be in some dramatic fashion, like my experience in the whitewater; or, even more likely, it could be subtle and therefore much less noticeable. But you will be carried along nonetheless.
 
My experience in the whitewater happened on a Monday, a workday for most people, and aside from myself and my two friends, there was nobody else on the river who could have helped us if we had needed it. Fortunately, I was prepared (lifejacket), and my friends were experienced kayakers, and I recovered from my momentary loss of stability just fine. Likewise, God has provided similar help for us in life. It’s called Christian community. Sometimes we all hit the rapids of life and get caught up in the whitewater, sometimes we even capsize. Dependable Christian friends and a good healthy church are provided for us by God to help us through the turbulent times in life.
 
There’s a strong spiritual current working against you in this world, and you cannot be steadfast and immovable, standing securely with firm footing, on your own. If you try to, you will be swept up and carried away. Therefore, I urge you to maintain firm footing on solid ground in a good church and with dependable Christian friends.
 
God bless,
Pastor Jim      
Copyright © 2022 Oak Hill Baptist Church, All rights reserved.

Serve God in your generation

Good morning everyone,
 
Our theme for this month: “Steadfast and immovable”
 
Our Bible verse for today: “For when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep …” Acts 13:36 (NIV)
 
Our thought for today: “Serve God’s purpose in your generation”
 
I’ve preached a lot of funerals over more than twenty-five years as a pastor, but as far as I can remember, I’ve only used Acts 13:36 as my text on one occasion. It was for the funeral of Dick Foster. Dick was a member of our church for most of his adult life. He served as a deacon for decades, and as Chairman of the Deacons for many years until his death.
 
The thing that Dick is remembered for most in our church, is his strong and steady leadership during numerous difficult years of church life. Sadly, as is true in many churches, there were some turbulent times in the history of Oak Hill Baptist, sometimes with rapid turnover of pastors. But through it all, Dick provided the steady hand of leadership which helped to hold the church together through the worst of times. He loved the church and he served it well, right up until his dying day. By then, things had settled down considerably. The church was stable, there was an entirely new leadership team in place, and so, like David, Dick had served God’s purpose in his generation and it was time for him to go home to heaven. He had been steadfast and immovable in his resolve to serve and protect the church.
 
Dick’s story has been repeated multiple millions of times down through the ages. Christian history is built upon the faithful service of determined Christians who were steadfast and immovable in their resolve to just hang in there and do what God had called them to do.
 
How about you? Are you serving God’s purpose for your generation? Are you firmly rooted in a place of service, steadfast and immovable, weathering the storms, and doing your part to pass The Christian faith and a strong church on to future generations? I hope you are.
 
Let me say it again, Christian history is built upon the faithful service of multiple millions of Christians who just hung in their and did their jobs. May you be remembered as having been one of those.
 
God bless,
Pastor Jim
Copyright © 2022 Oak Hill Baptist Church, All rights reserved.

In time, all things come to pass

Good morning everyone,
 
Our theme for this month: “Steadfast and immovable”
 
Our Bible verse for today: “And it came to pass …” Luke 2:1 (NKJV)
 
Our thought today: “In time, all things come to pass”
 
“And it came to pass …” is one of the most oft repeated phrases in the Bible. In the New King James Version, it appears 120 times and is applied to many different people and in many different situations. In Luke 2:1 it was used in reference to the birth of the long-awaited Messiah. The Jews had waited patiently for over 1000 years and finally, in those days, it came to pass …
 
In time, all things come to pass. Days turn into weeks, weeks turn into months, months turn into years, and over time, all things come to pass. Are you anxious and impatient because your political party isn’t currently in power? Me too. But time will pass, new elections will be held, and power will change hands. It always does. Are you going through a difficult season in your personal life and you’re eager for some relief and resolution? I can relate. In time, that too will pass. Nothing lasts forever. In time, circumstances will change and life will be different. That’s not meant to diminish or minimize the importance or severity of current events, it’s only meant to illustrate that nothing lasts forever.
 
When it comes to being steadfast and immovable – especially when times are hard or things aren’t as we would like them to be, the most important thing we can do is to just keep on keeping on. Hang in there, don’t give up, and just outlast the thing. Also, if you are a resilient and determined person, the kind of person who simply will not give up or give in, that will be evident not just with respect to difficult times, but it will be a character trait that is evident in all aspects of your life. And that’s a good thing.
 
As a Pastor, I see and value this in our church life. There are people who have stuck with the church for decades, through thick and thin, hanging in there no matter what. They’re people who are consistently present, always ready to help, reliable and dependable, rock solid, steadfast and immovable. They’re a large part of the reason our church is now into its ninth decade of faithful witness and service in our community.  
 
Likewise, I interact with tough and durable people all the time who have difficult life situations but who refuse to give up or to give in. Marriage problems, health problems, wayward children, the list goes on. Christians who are steadfast and immovable work through such things knowing that time will pass and things will change.
 
If you’re dealing with a situation that just seems to be dragging on and on, and you wonder if it is ever going to change, I encourage you to grab a Bible concordance (or even Google the phrase “Bible verses that say, “and it came to pass …”) and note all the instances when something did indeed come to pass. Soon you’ll realize that eventually all things pass, and therefore your situation will as well.
 
God bless,
Pastor Jim
 
 
Copyright © 2022 Oak Hill Baptist Church, All rights reserved.