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

What’s Good about Doing Good?

A while ago, I was on a bus and got into a conversation with the guy sitting next to me. We started talking about faith in God, and he got excited about visiting our church in order “to share some knowledge” with us. As he got up to leave at his stop, the bus driver had some sharp words with him. Apparently, this man had a habit of trying to cheat the bus system so he could ride for free. So much for his “knowledge”! The bus driver ended their conversation by saying, “You will never ride on my bus again.” From our brief conversation, I don’t believe this man knew Jesus, but he brought to my mind the importance of demonstrating and living our faith before others. Doing good works will never “pay” for our sins or get us into heaven. But, doing good works is a powerful witness to what is already in our hearts. The Bible never pits good works against faith, but it blends the two in perfect harmony…as both are essential for the Christian. In my devotions, I am going slowly through the Book of 1 Peter. The Apostle Peter said, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12). He went on to say, “For, whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it” (3:10-11). The genuineness of our faith is revealed to a watching world by what we do and do not do. May they see Jesus in us!

Pastor Mark Boucher

The Faith Gap

Last year I was speaking with a former member of Highway who lives far away. During our conversation, she said she would be sending a financial gift to the church. The check didn’t come the next day or even the next week, but…it did come. I had no doubt it would come because she is a person of character and keeps her promises. If we can count on people of character, how much more can we trust the character of God! God doesn’t make mistakes, and He is never late or negligent. However, we must be prepared for divine delay. God’s timing and our timing are usually not the same. Ask Abraham! “When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, saying, ‘I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.’ And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised” (Hebrews 6:13-15). What if every time God promised something, it was sent FedEx the same day!? That’s not the real world, or the way God’s Kingdom works. We sometimes get discouraged because we don’t see the answers to our prayers right away. But, God does answer us…with His promises! While you are waiting, remember: God’s promise is God’s answer. Since God’s character is perfect, His promise is as good as done. We just have to trust and wait (combined with faithful obedience). What are you waiting for? Abraham and Sarah waited in faith and received what God promised. He won’t let you down. Hold to His promise while you live in the gap between promise and fulfillment. It’s our “faith gap.”

Pastor Mark Boucher

Reaching Out

“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow” (1 Corinthians 3:6-7). These words from the Apostle Paul to the believers at Corinth warned the people not to elevate personalities, but to exalt God. The Lord Himself is the source of blessing and growth. We are privileged to work in His Kingdom by planting “seeds” of faith and watering them with prayer and follow-up ministry. However, all lasting fruitfulness comes from the miraculous power of God. This past weekend, we hosted a special event, “Fall Friendship Weekend.” I thank God for those who donated, planned, and worked hard to make it happen! God blessed us on Saturday as we served about 200 hamburgers and hotdogs to the people of our community. We also had a special service on Sunday with worship, special music, and testimony—ending with a delicious meal. Our prayer and goal for this event was to spread the gospel by serving and connecting with the people of our community. Let me tell you about some of the connections and conversations opened to me through this event. First, a number of people shared heartfelt thankfulness that we, as a church, would give our time and effort to demonstrate tangible community appreciation. We brought the church to them, and they felt the Lord’s peace and presence through our love and kindness. It would have been nice to see more visitors in service on Sunday, but we know that seeds don’t always sprout right away. For me personally, the process was as important as the event itself. I worked with the leaders at Clemente Park, who welcomed us with open arms. I was able to find favor with two of the leaders from the Community Association in Fairmount. One of them came to the cookout and expressed how pleased he was with our event. We were given a generator to use by the Garden Association, and I met the contact person twice. He was pleased about our event and expressed appreciation for the people of Highway. When I brought the generator back, he said we could use it anytime. Also, the principal and teachers at Waring School met with me on several occasions; they opened the parking lot to us and advertised the event. We are currently helping Waring by painting their “School Store” room. All these people, leaders in our community, witnessed the people of Highway demonstrating the love of Jesus! This is a big win-win for all of us. We entrust the eternal results with our Lord…and may His Kingdom grow!

Pastor Mark Boucher