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