Why is it that we as humans have this terrible tendency to take something good and turn it into something bad? Let’s take God’s grace for example. The grace of God is the amazing display of His steadfast love and mercy toward the repentant sinner. God could hold a grudge and withhold His grace, but the Bible repeatedly promises us of His willingness to forgive and restore us. Personally, grace is one of my favorite words! Someone described grace as “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.” I receive comfort and find rest in my heart knowing that I am forgiven and accepted by God through faith in my Lord Jesus! But we must be aware of our carnal nature. We can sometimes think of grace as an excuse to sin. We think, “I know this is wrong, but God promised to forgive me. His grace will cover me…so why not just give in to the temptation?” Trying to use God’s grace in this way is dangerous! My uncle, a pastor for over 40 years, used to say, “Watch out for greasy grace—the kind where you can slide right into hell!” So, how do we prevent ourselves from slipping on this greasy grace? The Psalmist comes to our aid: “If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared” (Psalm 130:3-4). Here the Psalmist expresses gratitude that, because of His grace, God does not hold a “record” of our past sins. But the Psalmist also connects the blessing of forgiveness with the healthy fear of God. Someone who is forgiven realizes how much it cost God through the sacrifice of Jesus. True repentance produces a tender, broken heart which wants to please God and stay clear of sin. This is the opposite attitude of “go ahead and sin because God will forgive you.” May the Lord shape our hearts and minds to adopt a healthy, biblical attitude toward our failures. Thank God that He forgives…and may fear and reverence of Him make us want to stay far away from sin. “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11). Let’s get grace!
“It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night” (Psalm 92:1-2).
The truth is that days are neither long nor short. They were 24 hours back in the beginning and they are 24 hours now. What if we lived a 24-hour day as a “microcosm” of a lifetime? My rising in the morning would be like my birth to a new life…and laying my head on my pillow at night like my death. If this day was all I had, how would I think about life? What would I do with my hours? When I read Psalm 92, I gain insight into a life well lived. Instead of getting up and crowding our thoughts with fear and stress, we should immediately turn our thoughts to God and say, “Lord, I thank You for another day…to walk with You and do Your will!” The life of faith is a constant discipline of turning our thoughts away from ourselves (and our natural self-centeredness) to the glory and majesty of the Lord. The Psalmist committed himself to “declare your steadfast love in the morning” (v. 2). Think about it…no matter what happens this day (and in this life), our hearts and minds are covered with the truth that we are loved and precious to our Lord! We are not alone and never forsaken! And, even though our heart should desire to constantly do right, we realize that absolute perfection of thoughts and motives eludes us. Our sinful nature, however, does not cancel the love of Jesus. He died for us, taking upon himself our sins, and then sending His Holy Spirit to give us victory over sin. His steadfast love is the source of true hope! Sometimes the days seem long, and we may doubt the Lord in the moment. But at the end of the day, we can declare as the Psalmist “your faithfulness by night!” As we look back, we gain a “faith perspective.” “Great is Thy Faithfulness” becomes our anthem as we sing, “All I have needed Thy hand hath provided. Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.” Psalm 92 reveals the beauty of a well-lived life. In the morning we rise to give thanks, all day long we rely on His steadfast love, and in the evening we proclaim His never-ending faithfulness! Praise the Lord!
Pastor Mark Boucher
To be human is to know fear. Who, in their right mind, can say, “I am never afraid of anything”? During the pandemic, as I talk to people and read the news, I am seeing a spike in fear. The greatest fear in most people’s hearts is the fear of death. The writer of Hebrews describes those who are in bondage to this universal fear as “those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Hebrews 2:15). But, there’s hope for us! One day Jesus and the disciples were traveling across the lake, and a furious storm broke out. Jesus was resting and “the disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’” (Mark 4:38). As the water was rising in the boat, fear was rising in their hearts. They imagined themselves in the cold dark waters all alone with waves crashing over them. They saw themselves sinking into a watery grave, choking on the water until they were gone forever! Fear is like a video we play in our minds entitled, “The Worst That Could Happen.” Notice how Jesus responds to the disciples. He doesn’t reject them because they fear; He helps them build a bridge between their fear and His faith. After Jesus calmed the wind and waves, He asked them, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:40). Do we catch the lesson here? The power over fear is faith! We don’t have to pretend that we never fear. But we must learn from Jesus to replace our fear with trust. Someone once said, “Don’t doubt in the dark what you know is true in the light.” Instead of letting our imagination run wild with “what might go wrong,” faith grabs ahold of Jesus and listens to what He says—even in the midst of howling winds and crashing waves! The Lord gets to the root issue of our fear by asking, “Why are you so afraid?” Through such honest questions, we learn to doubt our fears and trust our Lord. We discover that Jesus is bigger than any problem we will ever face! After Jesus performed the miracle of bringing peace to the storm, the disciples found themselves trading their paralyzing fear of death for the healthy fear of Jesus. They asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:41). So, let’s remember that when we fear, we can be honest with Jesus and bring our fears to Him. The Psalmist David summarizes our victory when he wrote, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you” (Psalm 56:3).
Pastor Mark Boucher
A few years ago, a contractor we hired poured some concrete slabs on the sidewalk outside the parsonage. The morning after the work was completed, I noticed someone had carved a “design” in the concrete. It’s still there today. When I think of the power of a mother, I think of the imprint on wet cement. For both good and bad, the imprint of a mother on her children remains for years…and even for the rest of their lives. The Apostle Paul alluded to this power when he wrote to the believers at Thessalonica: “As apostles of Christ, we could have been a burden to you, but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us” (1 Thessalonians 2:6b-8). Paul is saying here that his motive for challenging the people was like a mother who loved and cared for her children. He knew people respond more to love than to brute force. In other Scriptures, we discover the Lord is our Shepherd. He doesn’t drive us like cattle, but He leads us like sheep. If you had the blessing of a caring mother (and she is still alive), let this day be a reminder of your opportunity to express gratitude. If memories of your mother are filled with pain and grief, ask the Lord to help you forgive your mother from your heart. Try to remember the good that came through her life to yours. Because of our sinful nature, there is no such thing as a “perfect family” or “perfect mother.” If you are a mother, please never belittle or underestimate your role. You get to shape your children, eternal souls, who will in turn shape the world around them. Thank you, mothers, for your patience with your imperfect children! Like the Apostle Paul taught, you don’t just share your possessions and provisions—but your very lives as well. Your love is the greatest power of influence! Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote, “The second half of a man’s life is made up of nothing but the habits he has acquired during the first half.” While this quote doesn’t factor in the power of Jesus to change us, there is some truth to the reality of living what we have learned. I thank the Lord for a godly mother who taught me godly life-lessons and habits which are still with me today. Happy Mother’s Day!
God is always faithful, but He’s not always predictable. While reading the Book of Job, I discover a great “drama” being played out with God on one side and humanity on the other. Job is experiencing grief and suffering, and his friends are no real comfort. God is with Job but is mostly silent (until the last several chapters). God knows what man cannot see. The big challenge of Job is the challenge we also face as believers. There are times we go through when we can’t “figure it out.” We know that God is faithful, but, by outward appearances, it seems like He is silent or aloof. Job and his friends had their preconceived ideas of how God “should act,” and how life should look. When trials came instead of blessings, Job’s friends came to quick conclusions. “Job, you must have sinned. You weren’t good enough. God is finally giving you what you deserve!” Even Job jumped to conclusions about his difficulties. “God doesn’t like me. He just wants to judge me. He knows I am innocent but doesn’t do anything about it.” From Job chapter 32 to chapter 42, God lifted Job to a “higher perspective.” Job is not given specific answers to all his questions, but his faith in God’s majesty and sovereignty were raised to a higher place. After this awesome revelation of God’s greatness, Job replied to the Lord: “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:1). Job finally discovered what we need to discover. Our God is faithful to us, but that doesn’t mean that we can put Him in our “predictable” box. We can’t assume that God will “do what we want Him to do.” We, as Christians, live on the edge of faith which declares, “God answers prayer, but He is not our servant.” We are His servants. This means that we don’t need to pretend we know all the reasons for the worldwide pandemic. We must admit that sometimes God’s ways are past finding out. The best we can do is repent of our sins (known and unknown) and trust God’s faithfulness to bring about His plan. You may not be able to trace His hand, but you can always trust His heart. “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!” (Romans 11:23).
Pastor Mark Boucher
Have you noticed the Bible contains a lot of irony? This is especially true when people take it on themselves to “destroy” God or His people…only to end up destroying themselves. Take, for example, the Book of Esther. Haman, the righthand man of the King of Persia, took it upon himself to destroy all the Jews in the kingdom. His intense hatred started because of a Jew named Mordecai, who refused to bow down before him in public. Haman’s super-sized ego created an obsessive hatred—not just for Mordecai but also for the whole Jewish race. Haman had a “final solution” to dispose of Mordecai. At the urging of his wife and friends, Haman built gallows on which to hang Mordecai. Mordecai would become a public spectacle of those who dare to insult the high and mighty Haman! The gallows were far from ordinary; they were seventy-five feet high…so people from long distances could view “the exhibit.” As the Book of Esther unfolds, we see the “fortunes” of Haman drop like a rock. During a banquet held by Queen Esther (the cousin of Mordecai the Jew), Haman was exposed in the presence of the king as a murderous racist. While the king considered the fate of Haman, one of the servants spoke up saying, “A gallows seventy-five feet high stands by Haman’s house. He had it made for Mordecai who spoke up to help the king” (Esther 7:9). It did not end well for Haman. The Bible states, “So they hanged Haman on the gallows he had prepared for Mordecai” (7:10). What Haman “sent around” came “back around.” As I read the story this week, I thought of our lives and actions as building something for others. Haman was obsessed with “building” hatred and harm for others he deemed as unworthy. His rich—but miserable—life ended in great shame and disgrace. On the other hand, the principle of “what goes around, comes around” can be a source of hope and joy to the followers of Jesus. Our prayers and actions of love and service for others are not unnoticed by our Lord…and by others. Even though we don’t expect to be noticed and rewarded by others, we believe that blessings come to those who live to bless others. What are you “sending around”?
Most of us have spent a lot more time at home recently. This can be both good and bad. The downside is that we easily get stuck in bad habits. Instead of staying sharp in our spirit, we can “put off” seeking God and ignore His Word. Staying at home for an extended time can dull our heart if all we do is watch TV and binge on movies. For spiritual fruit to grow, we have to “stir our hearts” to desire Jesus and His will. As most of you know, I am preaching a series through 2 Peter entitled, “Stir it Up.” This week in my devotions, while reading the Book of Ezra, I was surprised to discover the expression “stir up” twice in chapter one. The first time is found in verse one: “The Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing…” (Ezra 1:1, ESV). The Israelites had been in exile from their homeland for about 70 years. Now, God worked in the heart of King Cyrus (who did not even know God) and “stirred” his heart to encourage the Jews to return to their land to rebuild the Temple and the city of Jerusalem. How would the Israelites in captivity respond to this challenge to return home? The proclamation by Cyrus was not a forced evacuation. They had a choice to stay or to go. To return to Israel was God’s best for the Israelites, but He allowed His people to make up their own minds. “Then rose up the heads of the fathers’ houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites, everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up to rebuild the house of the Lord that is in Jerusalem” (Ezra 1:5). The Bible tells us that over 50,000 made the choice to do the right thing—to go build God’s city and the Temple. In order to venture into this step of faith, they needed to allow God to stir their hearts. Because of routine habits, it would have been easier for the Israelites to stay in Persia and continue the “same old same old.” When I read this, I thought of all the people I know who have slipped away from the Lord through neglect of their “heart life” with God. Yet, He is willing—right now—to stir our hearts if we let Him! Keep your heart tender toward God by praying, “Lord, stir me up so that I always say yes to Your will! Help me not to drift into bad habits that dull my heart toward You and deafen my ears to hear Your Word.” The Lord is faithful to stir us up…just ask Him!
Pastor Mark Boucher
I keep hearing people say, “I just want things to get back to normal.” As I write this, the news reports that over 486,490 people in the United States have confirmed cases of the COVID-19 virus, and 17,925 people have died. Anyone in their right mind wants this virus to go away, but do we really want to go back to normal? Or could there be a “new normal”? What if our new normal would see a deeper respect and reverence for God? What if we humbled ourselves and asked God to forgive us for our pride and walked before Him in faith and humility? I just finished the Book of 2 Chronicles. Chapter 36 ends with the sad story of Judah’s demise over many years of spiritual neglect and idolatry. Their final defeat came after many attempts by the Lord to get their attention. “The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent word to them through his messengers again and again, because he had pity on his people and on his dwelling place. But they mocked God’s messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the Lord was aroused against his people and there was no remedy” (vv. 15-16). I don’t believe God delights in seeing something like COVID-19 grip the nations of the world. I do believe, however, God’s people should take this crisis as a call to pray for our world and to repent. These days of struggle are a powerful lesson that life can change dramatically, and whatever we put our hope in (besides the Lord) can disappear quickly. So, my prayer is not that we return to “business as usual.” I pray that we stop ignoring God and that we learn to reverence Him and walk before Him in justice, mercy, and humility (see Micah 6:8). May we, as the church of Jesus, do our part to seek the Lord, crying out to Him for our family, neighbors, community, and world. Does America have a prayer? Only you can answer that.
Pastor Mark Boucher
Sometimes it feels like you’re living your life inside a parenthesis. Your life story seemed to be moving along just fine, and suddenly it seems like someone pushed the “pause” button. Covid-19 hasn’t stopped the world, but it certainly has changed how we do life. Is it possible to not just survive this time of parenthesis but actually thrive? When I think of the fruit that grows in the fields, I realize that fruit weathers many storms and unpredictable days. How can we make the most of what we are going through? Instead of complaining about being bored, maybe we should seek the Lord for how He would have us fill the hours of our days. Let’s first ask the Lord to help us think right about this unusual season. This brings us to the Word of God. The young man Joshua found himself of the edge of the Promised Land…a vast unknown land filled with adventure and danger. For him to act on his own emotions or impulses would bring disaster and defeat to himself and those he led. He needed God’s thoughts. Here is what God told him. “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:8-9). The only way to know God’s way is through God’s Word. Those who love the Lord and His Word discover His words to be more powerful than negative thoughts and fickle emotions. During this stay-at-home time, we need to know what God is saying to us. This “parenthesis” is a great opportunity to saturate ourselves in the Bible. My suggestion is to start reading the Book of John slowly and carefully. Think about what Scripture said to the people back then and what God is saying to us now. Write down what stands out to you. Then pray over what you have read. This discipline is not too hard. When you do right things, you feel right thoughts. Please start today…you won’t regret feeding your soul on His thoughts for you! Take this “pause” in your life and make it a special part of your story!
Pastor Mark Boucher
Like you, I am spending a lot of time at home. We are trying to do our part to stay healthy and keep our city and community safe. I admit that I’m not used to staying in so much. I like to be out and about, moving and on the go. “Lord, what is it You want me to do?” is a prayer I often pray. At the end of my days on this earth, I want the Lord to say to me, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness” (Matthew 25:23). So, now that we find ourselves in a different way of living (for who knows how long) how can we make the most of our time? Here are a few of my thoughts and practices during this time of “social distancing.”
- Take this time to develop a deeper devotional life. Sadly, most Christians offer God the crumbs of a leftover schedule. More time on our hands means we can read the Word of God without being in a hurry. We can pray and not worry about having to be somewhere. My practice is to spend about an hour each day just being with God and then reading and soaking in His Word for another half hour. This may seem too much for you, but discipline yourself to develop an appetite for the things of God. This will enrich your soul!
- Keep connected with people. If you have family or friends who live with you, do your part to share with them. Talk, laugh, play games, and just enjoy each other’s company. Also, social distancing doesn’t mean we have to drift apart from our church family. Use the phone, Facebook, and internet for meaningful connections. We are not alone in this time of testing!
- Serve others as you are able. This starts at home by helping those right around you. You may also have the opportunity to help someone outside of your residence by getting groceries or meeting a need. Of course, while doing this, we practice wisdom and follow the counsel of our city and government leaders.
- Catch up on rest. It’s not wrong to get a good night’s rest or to refresh ourselves with a nap. In the Old Testament, God specifically required the Israelites to refrain from work during various feasts and holy days.
- Try not to worry. No one can guarantee an easy and carefree future. However, we can receive what the Lord gives to us, and hold on to His many promises. How many times does He tell His people, “Do not be afraid”?
- Keep busy with projects. Have you considered it may be just the right time to organize “that room” or clean the basement? This season could be the ideal time to accomplish those tasks we procrastinate to do.
Finally, pray to the Lord each day, asking, “What do You want me to do today, Lord?” And then, go and do it!
Pastor Mark Boucher