There’s a Better Way

No one said it would be easy. I’m reading through the Book of Exodus about the Israelites. They are “out on the road” after being delivered from slavery in Egypt and are crossing the wilderness to the Promised Land. God loves His people but does not “immunize” them from trials and difficulties…as they soon discovered in the harsh desert. Their response to the challenges reveals much about their faith and character. “The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Sin…In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death’” (Exodus 16:1-3). We seem to think of sin in categories of severity, with some sins as really bad, and others as not so bad. Complaining is not that bad of a sin is it? After all, we’re not stealing anything or physically hurting another person. Surely, it’s such a small thing. But, I ask, if grumbling and complaining are so minor, why would God’s Word bring it to our attention again and again? Complaining takes aim at God and says, “You don’t care. You are not a good provider. You cannot be trusted.” This is serious indeed! Such whining kept Israel out of the Promised Land for 40 years. Imagine if the Israelites had prayed and asked God for help when facing their problems? Can we learn from their example and turn from the fleshly reaction of complaining? Can we learn to trust God by turning to Him in prayer, presenting our needs to our faithful Father?

Pastor Mark Boucher

The Journey of Transformation

The Book of Genesis introduces us to a fascinating person named Jacob. As you may recall, Jacob was the son of Isaac and Rebekah and the twin brother of Esau (the older one). As a young adult, Jacob (with the help of his mother) tricked his brother Esau out of the family inheritance. An enraged Esau determined to kill Jacob. So, Jacob hit the highway and ran to his mother’s relatives in the land of Haran. God’s plan, however, was not just a change of Jacob’s location, but a change of Jacob’s heart. After enduring 20 difficult years, Jacob heard God speak to him saying, “Go back to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you” (Genesis 31:3). I can imagine Jacob thinking, “Now, I can leave all my troubles behind and move back home, where things will be much easier.”  But little did he realize the surprise that awaited! His brother Esau found out that Jacob was on his way back home, and came to meet him with 400 men…not exactly a “welcome wagon”! Jacob was confused. He knew God called him to go back home, but it seemed like he was about to lose everything, maybe even his life. But Jacob had one thing going for him—he knew how to pray! So, he humbled himself before God and said, “O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, O Lord, who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper. I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant…’” (Gen. 32:9-10). Through a night of restless prayer, Jacob yielded his heart completely to God. And, the Lord gave Jacob amazing grace. He and his brother Esau reconciled and Jacob lived and prospered in Israel. What blessed me from this story is this thought: Just because God leads you to do something doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. However, God provides His grace, which is more than enough to change our heart and our circumstances!

Pastor Mark Boucher

Filled with Hope!

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).

Wow, what an amazing request by the Apostle Paul! This prayer, written for the Christians in Rome in the first century, echoes down the canyons of “then and there” into our “here and now.”  As we turn the page to start a new chapter of life entitled “2018,” we are not blind to the seemingly hopeless wounds of our nation. Problems like racism, violence, poverty, political disunity, moral confusion, and the emptiness of life without God threaten to erode our hope and steal our joy. Even as believers in an Almighty God, we can fall into the trap of fixating on our personal negative circumstances and trials that don’t seem to change. But, don’t lose hope! The God we serve is called “the God of hope”! In Paul’s prayer, we notice “as you trust in him,” sandwiched between the phrases “God of hope” and “overflowing with hope.” The Lord reminds us that we must exercise faith in Him if we are to experience hope. Also, choosing hope doesn’t mean we ignore the plight of people without God. Hope is not turning away from need and pretending that “all is well in the world.” Hope flourishes in Jesus, in spite of the tremendous need all around us every day.  Jesus teaches us that we can cry tears for the lost, but need not feel depressed or hopeless. Hope believes in a God who keeps on loving and keeps on offering grace. Hope believes that God is bigger than anything we will ever face in life. Hope believes in a God who answers prayer and changes hopeless circumstances. Hope holds fast to the promise that God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (Heb. 11:6). As we look ahead in this new year, may we “overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” In God we trust!

Pastor Mark Boucher

A Fresh Start

Have you made your new year’s resolution yet?

I’m pretty sure, based on what I’ve seen the last few years, that, when I walk past the Franklintown apartments next week on my way to work at around 4:15 in the morning, I’ll see at least one person working out in the weight room. This will last for a week or two at best; I rarely see anyone in the weight room that early for the rest of the year.

There’s something to be said for a new year. It brings new hope, as well as new resolve to accomplish our goals. Unfortunately, it’s hard to change our behavior and sustain those goals over the course of a year. Here are some tips to help increase the odds in your favor.

Start off by setting realistic goals. Yes, it’s good to challenge ourselves, but if we set the bar too high, we’re liable to get discouraged and quit when we miss the mark. If you haven’t been reading the Bible regularly, start with the goal of reading one chapter a day. You may find yourself reading more than that each day – and that’s a good thing.  You can always increase your goals later in the year. The idea is to start with a goal that’s reasonable to maintain.

Next, when you’re establishing a routine, find a time that you can stick with. In my experience, the best time for prayer is first thing in the morning, before you start your day. However, if you tend to oversleep and end up rushing in the morning, that time probably won’t work for you. Also, it’s best to set a certain time, rather than vaguely planning to pray after work or before bedtime. When you don’t set a specific time for an activity, it becomes easier to put it off, finding other ways to fill the time until it’s too late. Making an appointment will help ensure that you bring other activities to a halt when the time comes for prayer.

The final tip is not to lose focus, even if you’re not perfect at hitting your goals. I’ll never forget my father’s advice to me when I was faced with failure: Don’t be discouraged, but don’t be satisfied. The best course of action is to move on from failure and start again. If your goal is to make it to church every Sunday, but you miss a week, don’t be discouraged and give up – and don’t be satisfied, and accept a lower standard. Just reset and start your goal all over again.

In Philippians 3:13 and 14, Paul wrote, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal.” As we bid farewell to 2017, let’s leave behind our failures, successes, tears, and triumphs. No more looking back. God has an exciting future straight ahead.

Happy New Year!

Otis A. Fortenberry

Receive the Gift!

One Christmas several years ago, a church I used to pastor decided to bless a family going through a time of great need. People went shopping and filled some bags with clothes and gifts for the children. Also, in the bags were Christmas cards with $500 worth of gift certificates! Later, I found out that the family took what was in the bag, but failed to even look inside the cards and threw them away! Sadly, we were not able to replace them. As I have thought about this through the years, I came to the conclusion, “It is easy to miss the most important things in life.” When God sent the best He could give, His only Son, most people misjudged the value of the gift. The Bible says, “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him” (John 1:10-11). Imagine if the story of Christmas ended on this note of despair! But, the Word goes on to say, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…” (1:12). As you read the Bible from cover to cover, you discover that God’s people were almost always the minority. Even today, in a country permeated with the Gospel, most people still miss the gift! While driving on Broad Street the other day, I noticed a poster for a Christmas event emblazoned at the top with “Xmas Party.” I know we’re used to this, but I still groaned deep in my heart. Jesus wants to save, bless, heal, and restore and yet we purposely try to “X him out.” However, Christ isn’t going anywhere. The world belongs to Him. He is the Lord of life and will reign forever! Most may miss Him and even try to blot out His memory, but those who receive Him become royal family members! Let’s spread the word about Jesus! There are those today who are ready to open the gift!

Pastor Mark Boucher

Take the Risk!

We’re all in this epic struggle on the battlefield called life. On the front lines, our Commander in Chief, the Lord Jesus, calls us to a life of giving and sacrifice. Away from the front lines, we feel the pull to stay huddled in a “safe place.” We reason that it’s much more comfortable sitting around the tents and tables than to be “out front.” What if Jesus adopted the attitude of “play it safe”? Had He stayed in heaven with the angels, surrounded by unimaginable comforts, there would be no reason for Christmas. More than that, there would be no salvation. But, donning His battle fatigues, He left his “comfort zone” and deployed where He was needed most. “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant…” (Phil. 2:6-7a). Why in the world would He do such a thing? Let’s let the songwriter Thomas Campbell (1777-1844) help us find the answer in his hymn “And Can It Be that I Should Gain.”

He left His Father’s throne above

So free, so infinite His grace!

Emptied Himself of all but love,

And bled for Adam’s helpless race.

Amazing love! How can it be

That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

There it is…Jesus chose love over luxury! So, what about you and what about me? Philippians 2:5 says, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” Jesus did not come for us to admire Him, but for us to follow Him. Are you willing to step outside the comfort of your living room, away from your TV, movies, and PC? Will you sacrifice time and energy to seek God in prayer, to open the Bible and read, to gather together with God’s people and worship…to grow as a soldier of Jesus? Will you sacrifice by helping a neighbor in pain, by listening to a friend’s story, by sharing the Good News with a co-worker? Remember, every victory is preceded by a risk. Jesus left everything to enter the battle. Where are you?

Pastor Mark Boucher

Right Place, Right Time

Talk about big news: the story of Jesus the Messiah coming to planet Earth doesn’t get any bigger! Luke, one of God’s “news reporters” takes two full chapters to describe this once-in-eternity event. Interestingly, within “The Story” are some smaller stories we don’t expect. Some obscure man named Simeon is suddenly introduced into the narrative. He is described as “waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him” (Luke 2:25b). As I am reading about Simeon, suddenly it dawns on me: the story of Christmas is not just about Christ coming, but also about people responding…people like you and me. After all, great stories often include glimpses of personal eye-witness accounts. Ponder Luke’s “breaking news” about Simeon’s amazing encounter with Jesus: “Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts…Simeon took him (baby Jesus) in his arms and praised God…” (vv. 27a-28a). This man got to hold the very Son of God, Creator of life itself, all because he was at the right place at the right time! Simeon’s encounter with Jesus encourages me. God shows us that He actually wants us to experience Him and enjoy His presence! Let’s remember that Simeon was not some “super-human action figure” and neither are we. Let the story headline sink in: God seeks to bless those who yield “their life story” to the “Greatest Story Ever Told”. Simeon released his grasp from the “pen” of his own life and invited God to write His story through Simeon! Because of Simeon’s desire to do God’s will, millions of believers through the ages of time have been inspired by his life. A Christian football coach and I were talking one day about how to discover God’s will. I will never forget his simple words of wisdom: “Just love God and He will show you His will.” To me, this advice sums up the life of Simeon. He loved God and walked with the Holy Spirit…and the Lord directed him to the right place at the right time. Let God write your story!

Pastor Mark Boucher

Beyond Our Understanding

In my prayer time this morning, I asked the Lord for a “word for the day.” This is what came to my heart: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6). Now, I ask myself, “How can I ‘lean not’ on my own understanding”? So much of my life is made up of “common sense” decisions. I have invested years in classes (both learning and teaching) trying to learn to think maturely and godly. Am I to toss aside all I think and reject or hold suspect all my thoughts as being opposed to God’s thoughts? I believe what Proverbs is teaching me is this: I must trust God above myself. What God says in His Word and what God speaks to my heart in the circumstances of life is more important than what I can figure out on my own. In fact, sometimes my thoughts, which I may consider sound and right, may actually veer me away from God’s will. Consider Joseph, the husband of Mary. When he learned that Mary was expecting, and knowing he was not the father, “he had in mind to divorce her quietly” (Matthew 1:19b). From Joseph’s understanding, divorcing Mary quietly not only made sense, but showed the quality of godly mercy. But, God’s thoughts were higher than Joseph’s thoughts! In a dream, the Lord revealed to Joseph his need to trust God ahead of his own logic and reasoning. And, because Joseph obeyed God, he experienced the wonder-filled life of living with Jesus, the Son of God! So, when it comes to our common sense and natural thinking, God doesn’t judge this as always bad and evil. After all, He is the one who gives us the ability to think and reason. However, our thoughts and understanding must also come under His Lordship. We must give Him the right to “overrule”. All of us will face times when our reasoning is tested by God’s will. At these times, may we receive His grace, enabling us to trust Him, even when we can’t “figure Him out”!

Pastor Mark Boucher

Surprising Grace!

From the life of King Hezekiah, we discover an amazing story (found in 2 Kings chapter 20). The prophet Isaiah approached Hezekiah with solemn news: “Put your house in order, because you are going to die” (v.1). Now, Hezekiah could have simply accepted the pronouncement…and rolled over in his bed and died. End of story. But, instead, he prayed earnestly and desperately! The Bible says, he “turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord…and wept bitterly” (vv.2-3). And, something amazing happened! God changed the future for his servant and gave Hezekiah 15 more years of life. The Lord proclaimed, “I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you.”

When I read this story, I am struck by a couple of things. First, God is sovereign, but He often chooses to “weave” His will based on the response of His people. What seemed an irreversible decree by God instead became a test to Hezekiah as to how he would respond. This tells me that God is not some impersonal force, unable to change His mind about certain events. Now, let’s not misunderstand something. God will never change His holy character. He can never lie or approve evil. However, God may decide to mitigate specific consequences of sin and death in this world and show unusual grace and mercy…as he did to Hezekiah. The second thing that strikes me here is the appeal by Hezekiah to his own “track record” of faithfulness. At first glance, my New Testament thinking says, “He is wrong in appealing to his own works as a source of righteousness.” I am assuming Hezekiah is saying, “I’ve been such a good guy. Surely, you need to work with me on this.” This is not the sense from the Scripture here. Hezekiah, in a prayer of brokenness and humility, is reminding God of how He honors past faithfulness and devotion. And, God hears him! This story shouts out, “You can’t put God in a box.” Sometimes, He surprises us by unusual acts of grace. We need to trust Him…no matter what happens.

Pastor Mark Boucher

Not to Worry

When it comes to being thankful, you would think those who have the most would be the most grateful, and those who have the least would be the least thankful. But human nature doesn’t work that way. In fact, sometimes those at the very bottom of the “economic ladder” outshine everyone in deeds of gratitude and sacrificial obedience. This morning, my devotional reading brought me to the story of the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:7-16). This unnamed widow with her young son lived in the Gentile country of Sidon. The whole area suffered in the grip of a three year drought, and all she had left was a tiny amount of flour and a little oil. Her “plan for the future” was to use up the meager rations, and then wait to die! Elijah, the prophet from Israel, was led by God to this poor widow. Reading this story at first glance, you would imagine Elijah coming to her rescue with bags of groceries. Or, maybe he would perform an outstanding miracle like the multiplication of loaves and fish. Imagine the shock the widow must have felt when the prophet said, “Bring me a little water in a jar…and bring me, please, a piece of bread” (v11). It seems Elijah has a lot of nerve asking a woman in such great need to sacrifice her last meal for him! However, this wasn’t just a man asking for a handout; this was a man of God sent to test her faith…in order that she might experience God’s power of provision. God graciously helped the widow’s faith by giving her a promise through Elijah: “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small cake of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me…For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord gives rain on the land’” (v13-14). She obeyed, and God came through! “So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah” (v15b-16). This widow’s story is for us as we celebrate Thanksgiving: the greatest act of gratitude is to obey the Lord in whatever He says! May we be found among the faithful as we give God praise for His blessings and obey His Word.

Pastor Mark Boucher