Devotional for Saturday and Sunday February 17-18

Good Morning Everyone,

 

Our theme for this month: “Graciousness”

 

Our Bible verse for today: “I have had enough! Lord, take my life, for I’m no better than my fathers.” 1 Kings 19:4 (CSB)

 

Our thought for today: “Challenges make us humble, and humble people are gracious people.”

 

In some respects the scene recorded in 1 Kings 19:4 is sad. The great prophet Elijah was physically and emotionally exhausted and he was depressed. He was in hiding from Queen Jezebel, who was trying to have him killed, and he had given-up to the point that he wished he was dead. Considering what a powerful man of God Elijah was, and how much success he had in ministry, it’s difficult to see him in this condition now.

 

But on the other hand, it shows us that Elijah was human. It also shows that he didn’t think too highly of himself. As great as other people thought he was, Elijah knew he wasn’t really that different or any better than everyone else, “for I’m no better than my fathers.”

 

Trials, tribulations, and an occasional failure are actually good for us. They keep us humble. This is especially true when a person experiences a little more success than is probably good for them. In such cases it’s too easy to get a big head and to start thinking you’re really something special – the proverbial cat’s pajamas – too cool for school.

 

Challenges, trials, tribulations, and even some failures help to keep us grounded. We find the proof of this all throughout the Bible. Moses was too humble to believe he was qualified for the assignment God wanted to give him. Then, even once he had accepted the assignment and received empowerment from God, he continued to face difficulties he couldn’t handle and failures for which he was ashamed. Even after decades of successful leadership and ministry he was still the most humble man on the earth (Numbers 12:13).

 

We find similar stories in the lives of Joseph, Gideon, David, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, just to name a few. They were all great men of God who benefited from experiencing trials and tribulations and failures. Then of course there were others who needed to experience a big fall in order to get their heads on straight. I’m thinking of Samson, Jonah, and Peter, just to name three.

 

A little humble pie for dinner every once in a while is a good thing. It helps us to remember that we’re really no better than anyone else. Gracious people are humble people, and challenges help to keep us humble.

 

God Bless,

Pastor Jim

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Devotional for Friday February 16th

Good Morning Everyone,

 

Our theme for this month: “Graciousness”

 

Our Bible verse for today: “He gives strength to the faint and strengthens the powerless. Youths may become faint and weary, and young men stumble and fall, but those who trust in the Lord will renew their strength; they will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not become weary, they will walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:29-31 (CSB)

 

Our thought for today: “The Lord will strengthen you.”

 

I enjoy hiking. Over the years I’ve hiked in many different terrains including long miles on straight beaches, easy walks on nature trails, slightly more challenging treks in the Smoky Mountains, and I’ve even done some hiking along the ancient stone trails of Machu Picchu in the Andes Mountains of Peru.

 

Although I enjoy all types of hiking, by far the most interesting and enjoyable are those hikes with varied terrains (like in the Andes). The problem with such hikes of course, is that the level of difficulty changes frequently depending on the terrain. Some parts of it are easy and others require great effort and exertion.

 

A hike through spectacular mountains with changing terrain and varying degrees of difficulty is not unlike our walk through life. The Bible often describes our journey through this world as “walking with the Lord”. And like those hikes through the mountains, the difficulty of the terrain we encounter in our walk through life can vary greatly.

 

In Isaiah 40:29-31 the prophet gives us some advice about how to handle those times when the journey gets tough and we find ourselves struggling. We’re to look to the Lord to renew our strength and energy. If we do that, we will soar as if we are on wings of eagles. In other words, God will help us to handle even the most difficult times well.

 

This is an important point, especially with respect to our theme of graciousness. A hike through the Andes Mountains is hard, and it requires you to reach deep for reserves of strength and energy if you’re going to keep going. But the reward is the spectacular vistas you get to see and the satisfaction and sense of achievement when you’ve successfully reached the top.

 

Likewise in life. With the Lord not only can you find the strength to push through the hard places along the way, but you can soar through them as if you were being carried along on wings of eagles. Rather than trudging wearily through your days, you lift your head high, you smile and are nice to people, and not only do you find blessings for yourself even when the journey is hard, but you find ways to extend blessings to others you meet along the way. That’s graciousness in the midst of difficulty. It’s finding joy in the most difficult parts of the journey. And it comes when you turn to the Lord for strength and renewal.

 

You can be gracious even in the most difficult places in your journey through life. Turn to the Lord and He will lift you up. He will strengthen you and He will enable you to soar.

 

God Bless,

Pastor Jim

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Devotional for Thursday February 15th

Good Morning Everyone,

 

Our theme for this month: “Graciousness”

 

Our Bible verse for today: “But while the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion. He ran, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him.” Luke 15:20 (CSB)

 

Our thought for today: “God is exceedingly gracious.”

 

We have a distorted understanding of God. Truth be known, most of us see God as a stern disciplinarian who is monitoring our behavior, taking notes, and meting out punishment. That at least, is the most common perception of who He is and what He is like. Of course we say things like “God is love” and “He is merciful”, and in our head we know that’s true, but still, deep down, there’s this lingering concern that we have to perform well in order to please Him and if we don’t … well, it could get painful.

 

The idea that God is exceedingly gracious and that His love comes to us abundantly and freely, without condition, goes against our human nature. That’s why every major religious system except Christianity is performance based. The Buddhists have their eight-fold plan, the Hindus have their doctrine of Karma, the Jews have the Mosaic Law, and the Muslims have a very strict code of conduct. Only Christianity is based upon an understanding of God’s unconditional love and abounding grace. And yet, we still struggle with it.

 

To help us in our struggle God has infused the New Testament with multiple illustrations of how much He loves us and of how eager He is to forgive us. Luke chapter fifteen is a showcase of God’s unconditional love and abundant graciousness. In that chapter we read the story of a shepherd who is overcome with joy after having found his lost sheep (that’s how God felt when He recovered you). We also read about a woman who lost a valuable coin but then rejoiced when she found it (you are the valuable thing that was found by God). And then of course we read about the wayward son who left home and wandered off into the world. In Luke 15:20 we’re given a picture of the son finally coming home to the father, and the dignified father being so overcome with joy that he gathers up the folds of his robe, runs down the dusty rode, and tearfully embraces his son who has now come home.

 

The intent of those illustrations is to help you understand that you are incredibly valuable to God. He loves you more than you can ever know; He hurts when you hurt; He grieves when you wander; and He rejoices when you come home to Him.

 

That’s not a picture of a stern celestial disciplinarian. Instead it’s a picture of a heavenly Father who is the very definition of love and graciousness. God is exceedingly gracious and He wants you to know that about Him. That’s why He packed the New Testament full of such illustrations.

 

I encourage you to spend some extra time this morning meditating on the great truth of how much He loves you, how important you are to Him, and how much you joy you bring to Him.

 

God Bless,

Pastor Jim

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Devotional for Wednesday February 14th

Good Morning Everyone,

 

Our theme for this month: “Graciousness”

 

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: “I would rather convey grace than explain it.”

 

I personally think that in the public arena the Christian community today spends too much time declaring and debating “truth”, and not enough time graciously showing the love of Jesus. Not only do we vigorously and sometimes aggressively argue with the non-Christian world, but we also engage in cross-denominational squabbles within the Christian world regarding what we consider to be the best or most correct ways to practice the Christian faith. Often it all gets so ungracious in nature.

 

Let me be clear that we should contend for the truth. It’s imperative that know what we believe and why we believe it, and we should be prepared to boldly and confidently explain those beliefs to others. But people will be much more impacted by our actions than by our words. Showing love is always more effective than just talking about it.

 

Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:16 about letting our light shine is often misunderstood and misapplied. Usually we equate it with speaking an evangelistic message. We’re to let our light shine by going out and telling people about Jesus. But those words were actually spoken by Him in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, which is much more about doing than speaking, and the sermon focuses heavily on having a kind, gentle, and humble manner. If you read the verse again you will see that Jesus is urging us to shine for Him by what we do rather than by what we say.

 

I’ve been a Christian for almost three decades now. I’ve been in ministry in some capacity for more than twenty-five years. Over those years I’ve known and encountered many thousands of Christians, here in the USA and around the world. I’ve known many Christians who had strong words that they felt compelled to declare and debate at every opportunity, so much so that I’d often find myself wondering how we could get them to shut-up. I’ve also known many who simply shined with the love of Jesus in a quiet and gracious way.

 

Personally, even as a Christian, I would rather be around the quiet gracious ones rather than those who constantly declare, debate, and argue. If that’s true of me, a Christian, how much more must it be true for those who don’t yet know Jesus?

 

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus called for us to be gracious people who impact the world by shining with His love and grace. As Philip Yancey wrote, “I would rather convey grace than explain it.” I think that’s what Jesus meant too. Let your light shine – by what you do.

 

God Bless,

Pastor Jim

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Devotional for Tuesday February 13th

Good Morning Everyone,

 

Our theme for this month: “Graciousness”

 

Our Bible verse for today: “A good person produces good out of the good stored up in his heart. An evil person produces evil out of the evil stored up in his heart, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart.” Luke 6:45 (CSB)

 

Our thought for today: “Your mouth is a window to into your heart.”

 

I know a man who most people consider to be very gracious, at least at first. But the more time you spend with him the more you come to realize that his graciousness is actually a bit phony and contrived. He is gracious in a sticky-sweet kind of way. His speech is a little too smooth, his words tend to drip with honey, and his smile is strained and wax-like. Overtime you also realize that he has a way of slipping in slightly barbed comments and sly observations that are smooth and silky, and yet which really aren’t very nice. His apparent graciousness is not genuine.

 

In Luke 6:45 Jesus taught an important lesson about human nature: whatever is really in your heart will, sooner or later, work its way to the surface and show itself in words and actions. Like the man I described in the first paragraph, you can put on an act and work hard to contain the things in your heart, but sooner or later those things do work their way up and out.

 

This is why the things politicians say in their unguarded moments are so revealing and important. It’s not the carefully worded and highly nuanced speeches and press releases that matter so much, it’s what pops out of their mouths in unguarded moments that we need to pay attention to. That’s when we get a glimpse into the soul of that person, that’s when we get to see what’s really in his or her heart.

 

What does this have to do with our theme of graciousness? Just that in order for your graciousness to be genuine it has to be something that has been worked into your heart and into your personality by the Holy Spirit. It has to be the real you. That happens as a result of spiritual maturity, and spiritual maturity happens as a direct result of practicing spiritual disciplines. The more we pray, study our Bibles, worship, fellowship, and serve others, the more we place ourselves in a position before God whereby the Holy Spirit can bring about real change in our heart.

 

Left to itself, sooner or later our human nature will always show-up in ugly ways. But as Christians we don’t want our words and actions to be natural – we want them to be supernatural, and it’s only the Holy Spirit who can make that happen in us.

 

Your mouth is a window into your heart. Fully surrender your heart to the Lord and your mouth will be under control.

 

God Bless,

Pastor Jim

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Devotional for Monday February 12th

Good Morning Everyone,

 

Our theme for this month: “Graciousness”

 

Our Bible verse for today: “Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and dearly loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a grievance against another.” Colossians 3:12-13 (CSB)

 

Our thought for today: “Put-up with each other graciously.”

 

One of the things I love about Oak Hill Baptist Church is that we are all so different and yet we get along so well. I have sometimes jokingly compared our church to what I call “The Star Wars Bar”. You may remember the scene from the first Star Wars Movie when Hans Solo and Chewbacca were in an inter-planetary bar. It was packed full of odd looking creatures from across the galaxy. They were all sizes, shapes, and colors. One guy looked like Cyclops with a single eye in the center of his head. Another had five eyes along with tentacles coming from the sides of his head. And on it went. You get the picture. They were all seriously different and yet they all accepted each other and they all got along well.

 

Well, that’s us! We’re a pretty strange group, all of us very different in many ways, and yet we love each other and we get along well. A big part of being a gracious person is the ability to accept people as they are, even if they are pretty different from you.

 

How do you typically respond to people who look different than you, believe different than you, and behave different than you? I’m not talking about people who are engaged in blatant and unrepentant sin, I’m just talking about people who see life different than you do and who therefore make different choices and decisions than you. Can you easily accept the fact that they are different and its okay?

 

There’s an old saying that goes, “Those who dance are thought to be crazy by those who can’t hear the music.” Maybe the reason the other person sees things differently than you do is because they’re dancing to music you can’t even hear. They’re just marching through life to the beat of a different drummer (and maybe they think you’re a little weird because you’re not dancing to their tune).

 

We’re all different, and most of the time that’s okay. As long as we’re not talking about different in sinful ways, as long as we’re just being our own unique selves but still honoring Jesus, then it’s okay. You can be different from me, I can be different from you, and hopefully we’ll accept each other’s difference and still get along just fine.

 

Let’s put-up with each other and let’s do it graciously.

 

God Bless,

Pastor Jim

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Devotional for Saturday and Sunday February 10-11

Good Morning Everyone,

 

Our theme for this month: “Graciousness”

 

Our Bible verse for today: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8 (NASB)

 

Our thought for today: “Grace is one-sided”

 

Grace is a demonstration of love that is undeserved, unearned, and unconditional. That’s how God deals with us and that’s how we are to deal with others. So if we are to be gracious to others in the manner that God is gracious to us it will mean that we intentionally act towards others with love and grace whether they deserve to be treated that way or not.

 

Now that’s tough! I can easily be gracious with those who are gracious with me. It’s not hard to be nice to a nice person. But it’s much harder to be gracious to a knucklehead who I would really like to choke rather than bless.  Likewise, it’s easy and even fulfilling to do something kind and generous for a person who is appreciative and who makes me feel good in return. But it’s disappointing to go out of my way to do a good deed for someone only to have them shrug it off or not show proper appreciation. My human nature will certainly make me less inclined to do something like that for them in the future.

 

But grace isn’t picky or conditional like that. Grace is often one-sided. Grace depends not on the receiver of grace but on the giver of grace. God is gracious because grace is who He is. It’s simply part of His nature. Likewise, we should be gracious not because the other person deserves it but because it’s simply who we are as a spiritually mature Christian.

 

In Micah 6:8 the prophet describes intentional actions taken by a faithful person, and it makes no mention of whether or not the recipient of such actions deserved to be treated that way. You do it because of who you are not because of who they are. You do it because you obey God and follow His commands. You do it because that’s what Jesus did and as a Christian you want to be like Him.

 

Grace is often one-sided and that can make it hard – unless of course that kind of graciousness has been worked into your personality by the Holy Spirit to the point that you do it simply because it’s your nature to do so. In that case grace is easy, even if it is one-sided.

 

God Bless,

Pastor Jim

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