Godly or Godless?

“In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit” (Judges 17:6). These words (repeated in Judges 21:25) sum up the Book of Judges. As I am reading this in my devotions, I am amazed at how the nation of Israel, back then, reflects the dire spiritual and moral condition of our country right now. The time of the judges begins after the Israelites entered the Promised Land. Moses, Joshua, and the elders after Joshua had all passed away. The majority of the people did not know God’s Word, and most of those who did turned away from God’s teaching and commands. So, if God and His Word are rejected, does this result in a country or people becoming better? Read the Book of Judges for yourself and find out! People have told me that religion is not good for America. To a certain extent, I agree that “religion” imposed on people is not good. However, when a nation rejects Christ and chooses a “godless” path, the door to chaos opens wide. When the leaders and parents of children provide no moral compass for our children, is it any wonder that they make self-destructive choices? Can we see a connection between the increase in violent crime and the absence of the presence of Christ in people’s hearts? Do we really buy into the idea that “sexual freedom” is something good? Why do we ignore all the heartache and pain that come into broken families due to unfaithfulness? Individual morality with no accountability only feeds the power of the sinful nature. Any passion for God gets replaced with soul-crushing addictions. Fear grows as we find ourselves surrounded by more and more people who have no fear of God and simply do what is right in their own eyes. Take another look at the Book of Judges. The message is loud and clear. When we try to replace God as the King of our life, we can expect nothing but bitter consequences. My prayer for our country is that we would repent and turn to God. As Christians, we must pray and live godly lives…showing others what it’s like to follow Jesus, love others, and share hope. There is yet hope for change, but it has to start with us.

Pastor Mark Boucher

A True Inspiration

Every day we grow a little older. This truth can depress us or inspire us to make the most of life. I’m glad the Bible reveals many great examples of growing older in grace. Caleb is one of them. He first appears in Numbers 13:6 as one of the 12 spies of Israel sent into Canaan to explore the land. When they returned, only Caleb and Joshua spoke words of faith to the people—while the other spies delivered a bad report. God blessed Caleb (and Joshua) by allowing him to enter the Promised Land. All the other Israelites, 40-years-old and up, died in the wilderness. Fast forward. In Joshua 14 we see Caleb as an 85-year-old man. At this time, the Israelites had captured and possessed much of the Promised Land. Many of Caleb’s friends had already begun to settle down to a life of ease. However, Caleb had other plans! He came one day to Joshua (Israel’s leader) with a testimony and a request. “Now then, just as the Lord promised, he has kept me alive for forty-five years…. So here I am today, eighty-five years old! I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then. Now give me this hill country that the Lord promised me that day” (Joshua 14:10-12b). The Bible records Joshua’s response to Caleb: “Then Joshua blessed Caleb…and gave him Hebron as his inheritance. So Hebron has belonged to Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite ever since, because he followed the Lord, the God of Israel, wholeheartedly” (Joshua 14:13-14). Caleb inspires me! I am blessed by his wholehearted devotion. God honored Caleb by giving him the strength he needed to keep expanding the Promised Land. I believe God will continue to give us new dreams and visions—even as we grow older. Along with this, I see from Caleb’s life that God’ strength is available to those who desire to do God’s will. May we courageously pray as Caleb prayed, “…give me this hill country” (v12a)! Possessing the hill country will not be easy and simple, but we can do whatever God calls us to do. Thank you, Caleb, for being an inspiration to all of us! “What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).

Pastor Mark Boucher

Fit For A King!

I hear a lot of prayers for prosperity, but they make me wonder. Don’t get me wrong. I think prosperity beats poverty by a long shot. However, I have observed that many believers seem to handle adversity better than prosperity. When troubles come, we tend to look to God and cry, “Help!” But, when money and blessings abound, a mist often creeps up on us. We start thinking, I don’t need God so much, and we slowly slack off in our prayer and Bible reading. All the extra responsibilities that come with abundant provisions can choke our fellowship with God and His people. This happens too often…but it does not need to happen! In the Book of Deuteronomy, the Lord anticipated the Israelites’ desire to have a king after they entered the Promised Land. Kings, because of their lofty role, often found themselves surrounded by the temptations of prosperity. How would they serve God and the people as humble servants while possessing great power and wealth? Here is what God said about being fit for a king: “The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the Lord has told you, ‘You are not to go back that way again.’ He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold. When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the Levitical priests. It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not consider himself better than his fellow Israelites and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel” (Deuteronomy 17:16-20). God gave these commands so the kings could handle prosperity and still grow in the Lord. But, when you read the history of the kings of Israel, you discover how few actually obeyed God’s Word. Most failed the test of prosperity. God wants to bless us but how will we handle His blessings? Let’s avoid what God tells us to avoid and embrace what God tells us in His Word to embrace. This will enable us to be good stewards of His blessings and avoid falling into the deceitfulness of riches.

Pastor Mark Boucher

A Song in Your Heart

Don’t let life steal your song! As COVID-19 continues to stretch on, many people struggle with discouraging and stressful thoughts. As believers we possess a power within us which is greater than the darkness in the world. In my experience, the time I struggle the most with thoughts is at night when I am in bed. Sometimes the enemy attacks me with a barrage of negative thoughts which I wrestle with until I receive the victory from Jesus.  King David in the Bible recorded in many of his Psalms the times he battled in his heart and mind. Yet, he never gave up, and always came back to praising the Lord with his mouth and in song. David ministered to the Lord by songs in the night! “The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy” (Psalm 65:8). “I remembered my songs in the night” (Psalm 77:6). Recently I have asked the Lord, “Would You help me to honor You with songs of joy and faith in the night, and would You help me to wake up with a song in my heart?” What peace I have when I wake up with a song to Jesus on my mind! Often, it’s a song we have sung during a worship service. One that has blessed my life goes as follows: “Jesus at the center of it all…. From beginning to the end, it will always be, it’s always been You, Jesus, Jesus. And nothing else matters; nothing in this world will do. Jesus you’re the center. Everything revolves around you” (words and music by Israel Houghton, Michah Massey, and Adam Ranney). Our battles are fought on the field of faith. The Lord will help us to sing and worship Him even though we may be struggling and wrestling with our thoughts. And remember: the battle belongs to the Lord! It all comes down to Jesus…loving Him, following Him, and singing our song of victory to Him. He is the center of it all! We have the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ, and He is worthy to receive our songs in the night!

Pastor Mark Boucher

The Best!

I am reading through the Bible and find myself in the Book of Leviticus. This is not my favorite book in the Bible, but I try to read Leviticus with an open heart, asking God for applications I can make in my life today. Here is something I believe speaks to us right now. Throughout Leviticus we see various offerings presented to the Lord by the Israelites. One of these is called the “burnt offering.” This offering was a voluntary act of worship, with the emphasis being on fellowship and devotion to God. In other words, the people could come to the altar and present an animal which would be killed and offered as a “burnt offering” on the altar. They could do this simply because they loved God and wanted to draw near to Him. Although this was a good thing to do, the people needed to be warned about giving God their best and not something inferior. In Leviticus 22:18b-20 we read, “If any of you—whether an Israelite or a foreigner residing in Israel—presents a gift for a burnt offering to the Lord, either to fulfill a vow or as a freewill offering, you must present a male without defect from the cattle, sheep or goats in order that it may be accepted on your behalf. Do not bring anything with a defect, because it will not be accepted on your behalf.” The message here is that God will accept our acts of worship, but we must aim to give Him our best. The other day I was very busy and distracted. When it came time for a prayer time in the evening, it was late, and I was tired. I started to pray and then “woke up” about an hour later. I was disappointed in myself but didn’t “beat myself up.” Instead, I determined that I needed to offer God something better than my “leftovers.” Also, I think about someone I knew who offered God a dollar or two each week in the offering plate. This same person spent a lot more money every week on scratch tickets and other forms of gambling. What do you think God thinks of this? Let’s look at what we’re doing and present God the best. He deserves it!

Pastor Mark Boucher

You Can Make It!

What if Christians embraced the warnings of God as enthusiastically as the promises of God? As I was reading 1 Corinthians 10 this morning, I noticed how all God’s people who came up from Egypt were given the same blessings and opportunities…but only a few made it to the Promised Land. “They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness” (verses 3-5). Instead of entering into the land of promise and conquest, they endured defeat and humiliation in the desert. Now, I don’t believe we are reading here that all of the people lost out on eternity with God. Only God knows how many were true believers and how many were imposters. But what we are reading is a serious warning to reverence the Lord in the way we live. In the wilderness, God called His people into a holy covenant relationship with himself and gave them the supreme honor of entering into the land prepared for them. However, most of them carelessly tossed it aside. What was their problem? Verses 7-10 reveal the reasons why God denied them entrance into the victory He provided. These warnings are as relevant today as in the days of Moses: “Do not be idolaters, as some of them were…. We should not commit sexual immorality…. We should not test Christ…. And do not grumble….” God loves us and gives us amazing promises for both now and eternity. God also hates sin and expects us to battle and overcome the fleshly nature within us. He provides us with the power, by His grace, to defeat every temptation we face (see verse 13). Serving the Lord is a process of choosing every day what is godly over our desires. By God’s grace we can grow and become like Jesus! However, we must be willing to take the warnings of the Word seriously. There is a promised land to enter and a wilderness to avoid. God’s ways are worth the battle!

Pastor Mark Boucher

Who Cares?

“In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:5-7). The Apostle Peter, as an older man, wrote two letters to believers in Jesus (1 and 2 Peter). He wanted the followers of Christ to know God’s loving concern for their welfare. He opened his first letter by saying, “Grace and peace be yours in abundance” (1 Peter 1:2b). If you study the history and context of when Peter wrote these letters to the disciples, you understand the great challenges they faced daily. Rome, with its power-crazed Caesars, ruled the nations. Taxes were high, wages were low, and slavery abounded. Christians were suspect of undermining the government because of their refusal to worship Caesar or the Roman and Greek gods. Life was not easy. In the midst of all this uncertainty, Peter spoke a clear and comforting word, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (5:7). As we look at our own lives and circumstances, we realize that sometimes we will be anxious and stressed. After all, this world is full of trials and tribulation. However, if we humbly exercise our faith, we can cast all our cares on the Lord. He is the expert at handling anxiety! He is more than able to handle our special circumstances, and, by His grace, to bring us to the place of peace. We sometimes ask, “Does anybody really care about me?” The answer is: “he cares for you” (5:7b). The One who suffered and died for you will surely help you in the time of trouble. He loves you as His own child…and anything He takes you to He will take you through!

Pastor Mark Boucher

Lord, Lead Me!

When you walk in prayer, the Lord guides your footsteps! I feel sorry for those who think of prayer as just some formal words you hear at church or a quick “thanks” before a meal. If we only realized the excitement of living “in company with God!” I love reading the stories in Genesis. In chapter 24, we read of Abraham’s servant (probably Eliezer) tasked with the responsibility of going back to “the old country” to find a wife for Abraham’s son, Isaac. Apparently, Abraham had a good influence on Eliezer. The Scriptures show Eliezer as a man who honored God and knew how to pray. On the journey, as he approached Abraham’s homeland, he prayed specifically that a young lady (Isaac’s future wife) would come to the well where he had stopped. He prayed that this woman would offer him a drink of water…and volunteer to water the camels. The Bible says, “Before he had finished praying, Rebekah came out with her jar on her shoulder” (Genesis 24:15a). After Eliezer asked her for some water, she gave him some…and immediately offered to take care of the camels as well! The prayer was answered just like that! I love Eliezer’s response after going back to the house, “Then the man bowed down and worshiped the Lord, saying, ‘Praise be to the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not abandoned his kindness and faithfulness to my master. As for me, the Lord has led me on the journey to the house of my master’s relatives’” (vv. 26-27). Since this was obviously the Lord’s leading, everyone was in agreement that Rebekah should go back with the servant to become Isaac’s wife. Eliezer received the great privilege of being an instrument of the Lord in finding a wife for Isaac. This story, which has blessed countless millions through the centuries, occurred in his life because he prayed and kept company with God. Let’s remember that life is not just random experiences of meaningless events. As the old hymn declares, “God leads His dear children along.” May we discover the leading of the Lord as we pray and believe!

Pastor Mark Boucher

First Things First

To live each day and make choices means we create priorities. Your priorities shape your life into a journey toward a destination. A lack of priorities results in your life becoming like a leaf blowing in the wind of passing desires. The word priority comes from the word prior which means “coming before in time, order, or importance.” In his letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul expressed his greatest priority: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). For Paul, the priority of life was the gospel of Jesus Christ! The gospel proclaims the greatest story ever told because it reveals the greatest person who ever lived accomplishing the greatest good ever done! No wonder gospel means good news! We live in a hectic world constantly trying to fill our sight and imagination with distractions. These smaller things of life tend to blind us to the greatest thing…the Lord Jesus himself. His death, burial and resurrection create a pathway back to God! Through faith in our Lord Jesus, we are given the key which opens the door to fellowship with God. His presence in us, through the Holy Spirit, gives our life purpose and hope. May we never be ashamed of the gospel; may we be willing to share the hope that we have with others who need Him. Be careful to keep the gospel of Jesus first place in your life! Paul stated it this way: “Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:1-2).

Pastor Mark Boucher

The Blessing of the Upright

“By the blessing of the upright, the city is exalted” (Proverbs 11:11).

God has you here for a reason. Maybe you were born in Philadelphia. Maybe you relocated here. Maybe you’re a lifelong Philadelphian.  Maybe you’re just here for the short haul. For however long as you’re here, God wants you to bless Philadelphia. When we accept God’s salvation, He clothes us in His righteousness. That makes us “the upright.” So, how do we bless the city? The life of Jacob shows us two ways. When Jacob was on his deathbed (Genesis 49), he pronounced blessings on his children. Just as he lifted up his children before God, so we are called to lift up our city. We have a stake in what happens in our city. God, speaking to Jewish exiles, instructed them to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city…. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jeremiah 49:6). We should be praying for the leaders, the schools, the businesses, and the people on a regular basis. Jacob blessed others not only by his prayers but also by his presence. When he prepared to move back to his homeland, to start a family of his own, his father-in-law asked him to stay by saying, “…the Lord has blessed me because of you” (Genesis 30:27). When we dedicate our lives to God, He showers us with blessings, and those blessings overflow to those around us. We may not have much of the things that the world chases—such as money or power, but we have an abundance of what the world truly needs—love, hope, peace and joy. We bless the city just by living our everyday lives, faithful to God’s call. As we head into a new year, let us concentrate not on ourselves, our needs and our wants, but on God’s call. May our daily prayer be, “Lord, whom can I bless today?”

Give as ’twas given to you in your need,
  Love as the Master loved you;
Be to the helpless a helper indeed,
Unto your mission be true.
(Ira Bishop Wilson, “Make Me a Blessing”)

Otis A. Fortenberry