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

Tickets to Eternity

Football season is full steam ahead and Philadelphia has had a great first half of the season.  Recently I was checking on prices for a college game and the cheapest seats I found were higher than I expected. Pro seats are much higher. I enjoy fall sports, but I was brought back to the reality that while I can invest in fun activities, I must remember to invest in eternity. Eternity awaits everyone, and we often don’t think about it. We may change our thoughts or distract ourselves, but everything about this world is temporary. Seasons change, and sports teams are different every year. They play for their rewards, and fans spend their money to watch for a short time of entertainment. While we can enjoy a game sometimes, if we can invest much more in God’s plans with our time, energy or money, we can know that investment lasts forever, because God never forgets our obedience.

 

For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.

1 Tim. 4:8

 

Pastor Finney Kuruvilla

Producing Fruit: Goodness

Many people aspire to greatness, but how many of us aspire to goodness? As Christians, we know that we cannot be good on our own. While it is true that all of the fruit of the Spirit is nurtured through the working of the Spirit in our lives, goodness, in particular stands out as the one attribute for which we are totally dependent on the Spirit’s work.

As David pointed out in the Psalms, we have no goodness in ourselves: “There is no one who does good, not even one (Psalm 14:3, Psalm 53:3). Jesus expressed the same truth after He was addressed as good teacher: “Why do you call me good? No one is good – except God alone” (Mark 10:17,18). All of our goodness comes from God, who clothes us in salvation and dresses us in righteousness when He saves us (Isaiah 61:10). The progression is worth noting: Our righteousness is like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6); God removes the filthy garments; God clothes us with fine garments (Zechariah 3:3,4).

But it doesn’t end with the garments. After all, no one would want a piece of fruit that’s perfect on the outside but rotten on the inside. Jesus compared hypocrites to whitewashed tombs, “beautiful on the outside but on the inside… full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean” (Matthew 23:27). God desires not simply to cover our unrighteousness with His holiness, but to make us righteous through and through, inside and out. As we cooperate with the Holy Spirit, He forms us into “oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor” (Isaiah 61:3).

When we’re buying a piece of fruit, we examine all of its attributes to determine whether it’s good or bad. We look it over carefully, searching for any discoloration or bruises, we squeeze it, to see whether it’s too soft or too hard, and we may even smell it for signs of rottenness. We will never find a perfect piece of fruit, but we want to make sure that we choose one that’s ripe. In the same way, people examine us closely: How much do we love? How joyful and are we? Are we at peace? In our dealings with others, are we forbearing, kind, and good? Are we faithful? Do we treat others with gentleness, and show self-control? While we cannot hope to be perfect, we should undoubtedly aspire to be mature – in every attribute of the fruit of the Spirit.

As we consider the fruit of the Spirit, let’s make it a point to cooperate with the Holy Spirit, persevering so that we may be “mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:4).

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22,23, NIV2011).

Otis A. Fortenberry

Producing Fruit: Gentleness

Gentleness. It seems almost out of place in the list of attributes that make up the fruit of the Spirit. Of all the sermons I’ve heard in my lifetime, I don’t remember “gentleness” coming up, except in the middle of a list of the fruit of the Spirit.

Gentleness seems even more out of place when we consider that Paul is the one who is the author of the list. Boldness seems more Paul’s style, as we see in his rebuke to the high priest who commanded him to be smitten (Acts 23:1–5), his parting words to the unbelieving Jews in Rome (Acts 28:23–28), and his words in opposition to Peter’s hypocrisy (Galatians 2:11–14).  But Paul himself gives us a hint of the virtue of gentleness when he speaks of his reputation among the Corinthians: “I, Paul, who am ‘timid’ when face to face with you, but ‘bold’ toward you when away! I beg you that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expect to be toward some people who think that we live by the standards of this world” (II Corinthians 10:1,2). Paul was definitely bold, when the situation demanded it, but his preferred method of approach was gentleness.

One of my favorite moments in Revelation comes after John weeps and weeps because no one is found worthy to open a scroll, and one of the elders tells him not to worry, because the triumphant Lion of the tribe of Judah is able to open the seals. It’s at that moment that Jesus appears – not as a conquering lion but as a lamb that had been sacrificed (Revelation 5:1–10). How incredibly blessed we are that our Savior comes to us first as “the Lamb who takes away the sins the world” (John 1:29) before he comes as the sovereign Lord who will judge the inhabitants of the earth (Revelation 6:10).

In the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:21–35), Jesus calls us to this same gentleness, reminding us that, as we have received patient, gentle mercy, we have an obligation to show the same to those around us. Consider this carefully as you go through your day. We have many opportunities to be cruel, harsh, and judgmental (even if only in our thoughts – or our gossipy, hurtful comments to others – and not our actions), but God’s desire is for us to respond in gentleness. Paul puts it this way: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22,23, NIV2011). In this four-part series, we are taking a look at some of the less-commonly discussed attributes in this list. As we seek to move and grow in the Spirit, let us make an effort to excel in every aspect the fruit of the Spirit.

 

Otis A. Fortenberry

Producing Fruit: Faithfulness

In professional sports, there’s a saying that the most important ability is availability.  What this means is that a player who can’t suit up for a game, no matter how talented he or she is, is not as valuable on the day of a game as a player, possibly less talented, who is available.

We see this principle in the Bible as well. God doesn’t look for those who have the most resources or talent to offer, but for those who are the most faithful in applying what they’ve been given.

As an example, in the opening verses of Luke 21, Jesus singled out a widow who put two very small copper coins into the temple treasury, pointing out that she had given more than all of the others. She was faithful with everything that she had, and, although her offering doesn’t seem like much to human eyes, in God’s eyes, it was the most valuable.

My father-in-law puts it this way: Man measures how much we give, but God measures how much we hold on to. This is true not only of money, but, more important, of our talents, training, ability, and even our time.

In choosing Moses (Exodus 4:10–12), a poor public speaker, Gideon, a man from the smallest family in the smallest tribe (Judges 6:14–16), and Peter and John, ordinary, uneducated men (Acts 4:13), God taught us that he is able to do great things with the small offerings that we faithfully surrender to him. No matter how inexperienced, inept, or untrained we may see ourselves, if we are faithful in offering our gifts back to God, he can do great things with them.

Sometimes, it’s hard to be faithful when we don’t see any results from our labor. Paul reminds us not to “become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Like a farmer toiling faithfully in a field, we have to be faithful even while we’re not able to see any results, knowing that it takes time for the fruit of our labor to come to maturity. We can be faithful because we know that God, who calls us to faithfulness, is himself faithful (I Thessalonians 5:24).

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22,23, NIV2011) In this four-part series, we are taking a look at some of the less-commonly discussed attributes in this list. As we seek to move and grow in the Spirit, let us make an effort to excel in every aspect of the fruit of the Spirit.

Otis A. Fortenberry

Producing Fruit: Forbearance

I’ve learned Galatians 5:22 and 23 in three languages: Seventeenth Century English (King James Version), Late Twentieth Century English (New International Version, 1984), and Early Twenty-first Century English (New International Version, 2011). Each translation uses a different word for the fourth aspect of the fruit of the Spirit. In the KJV, it’s translated “longsuffering,” in NIV1984 “patience,” and in NIV2011 “forbearance.” I’m glad that the translators of the latest release of the New International Version updated the translation from “patience.” Actually, I think that “longsuffering”—a now-outdated term, puts it best: the ability to put up with a lot. The difference between patience and longsuffering? Patience is keeping a smile on your face when you’re stuck on the Schuylkill for four hours in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Longsuffering or forbearance is maintaining that smile when you’re stuck in traffic—and all the other drivers are honking their horns, shaking their fists, and shouting profanity at you. Paul summarizes this type of forbearance in 1 Corinthians 9:12, “We put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.” As is true of all of the fruit of the Spirit, this level of forbearance is possible only as the result of a work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Jesus is our example. He came not only to fulfill the ultimate mission in God’s plan, giving His life as the sacrifice that would take away the sins of the world, but also to live among us. Wherever Jesus went, He endured opposition, constant questioning of His actions and His motives, and the needy around Him who sought His help. In all of this, He endured, humbly and sinlessly. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22, 23, NIV2011). Over the next four weeks, we will take a look at some of the less commonly discussed attributes in this list. As we seek to move and grow in the Spirit, let us make an effort to excel in every aspect of the fruit of the Spirit.

Otis A. Fortenberry