The Gift of Friends

The Bible reveals to us not only how to connect with God, but also how to have loving relationships with one another. We all experience times of heaviness that life brings our way, but blessed is the person who knows how to cultivate friendships with others. When I think of friendships in the Bible, my mind goes first to Jonathan and David in the Old Testament. As you recall, Jonathan was the son of Saul, the first king of Israel. Saul squandered his opportunity to lead through his pride and deceit. As a result of Saul’s rejection, the prophet Samuel anointed David as the next king while Saul was still holding on to power. For over a decade, David had to run for his life because of Saul’s insane jealousy. But, David had a special friend in Jonathan! The Bible says, “Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself…and Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself” (1 Samuel 18:1b, 3a). Jonathan’s friendship with David was remarkable, considering that Jonathan, Saul’s son, was next in line to become king. Yet, he set his own agenda aside and helped David because Jonathan knew David was God’s choice to be the next king. From their relationship, the Bible reveals special insights into the nature of true friendship. Friendships are built on trust and shared experiences. When Jonathan and David made a covenant, they were committing themselves to a sacred promise—to protect one another and to be there for each other. Jonathan vowed to help David, no matter the cost and in spite of his insane father. By his love and actions, Jonathan reveals the spirit of the Savior to come, Jesus Christ, the descendant of King David. Jesus loved us—even while we were His enemies—and sacrificed everything so that we might experience God’s will. His selfless love enables us to be reconciled to God the Father—both now and eternally! Jonathan, the friend of David, becomes a mirror, reflecting Jesus, the Friend of sinners. May the Lord be your closest friend and bless you with special friends like Jonathan to journey through life with you.

Pastor Mark Boucher

Creation Chaos

I was talking to someone today from upstate New York and discovered he grew up in an area that I traveled through many times on my way to New England. We both reminisced about the beauty of the river, mountains, and landscape of the upper Hudson River valley. Our conclusion was that our God is an amazing Creator! He made the world as a type of “billboard,” clearly advertising His wisdom, knowledge, and power. But some would ask, “If God created nature, why does nature sometimes spin out of control—even killing people?” As I am writing this, I am wondering about the path of hurricane Irma. We just finished experiencing the wrath of hurricane Harvey, and now another one! Why does creation seem to be our enemy at times instead of our friend? In the Book of Romans, the Holy Spirit reveals the devastating effects of sin for the whole world. Sin not only affects (and infects) the whole human race (“All have sinned,” Romans 3:23), but it also powerfully impacts creation itself. Paul wrote, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:22). Even the natural world experiences the effects of sin, and waits for the day of complete freedom when the Lord Jesus will judge all sin and make all things new. “But in keeping with His promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13). The “baby” is on the way, but there are pains first! In God’s glorious future, you can be sure there will be no “natural disasters.” Until that time, we patiently wait on the Lord and persevere during times of trouble. As believers in Jesus, we are not exempt from the difficulties of earthly trials. In fact, through them, we get to show the world how we overcome with Jesus and how we help others who suffer.

Pastor Mark Boucher

Learning to Wait

“I had been my whole life a bell, and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck.” Annie Dillard

The “sounds” we make when struck reveal much about us. It’s easy for me to proclaim myself a patient person…until something happens that “rings my bell.” We know from the Word that our fleshly nature is overcome by Jesus. And, we are told to “count ourselves dead to sin” and alive to God (see Romans 6). However, because our faith is not yet perfected, we still struggle. I continue to discover that what “rings” from my life during times of testing depends on my personal walk with Jesus through prayer. The closer my prayer walk with Jesus, the more grace and patience I have; the weaker my prayer life with Jesus, the more irritable and impatient I become. Prayer makes a huge difference! God is patient, and He gives patience to those who seek Him. As I consider our “human condition,” I realize that every one of us is waiting for something. Maybe we are waiting on a job to open, or on a health issue to improve, or on a promise from God to happen. The question is not “Will I wait?” but “How will I wait?” The Bible consistently connects prayer and waiting. Psalm 27:13-14 says, “I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” We are taught here that those who learn to wait for the Lord come away with confidence, courage, and patience. Therefore, waiting on the Lord through prayer is more than something I can take or leave; it is something I desperately need!

Pastor Mark Boucher

Boundaries

Everybody lives with boundaries. We move and work within buildings with walls. We walk on sidewalks that are separated from the streets. We drive and ride in vehicles which follow many traffic boundaries. Do you ever hear people complaining or rebelling against these “oppressive boundaries”? No, because we all know that boundaries are necessary in life—for our protection and the safety of others. I wouldn’t walk down the street saying, “I’m tired of all these boundaries. I’ll walk wherever I want, whenever I want. After all, I’m a free person.” The truth is I can be free…and be dead! Now, connect this with what Jesus taught us about freedom. He said, “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). He also said, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). Why is it that our culture understands the need for physical boundaries, but disparages and ignores spiritual and moral boundaries? For example, God’s Word gives many commands and teachings about sexual self-control and faithfulness. However, the media constantly bombards us with images and messages that make us think sexual boundaries are repressive and restrictive…limits of our freedom. So, in our attempt to become our own little gods, we fashion our own boundaries to match our lifestyle and broken conscience. A man once told me (with self-righteousness), “I am into porn, but not anything with children.” At the time he told me, he was alone and quite miserable…divorced from his wife who couldn’t stand his selfish behavior. Always remember, God’s boundaries are for our benefit. Don’t let the “freedom lie” get you to believe that you can find joy and freedom apart from God. True freedom and safety in this confusing world is only found by living under the control of God’s Spirit and God’s Word. His boundaries are for our blessing!

Pastor Mark Boucher

Complete Devotion

Jesus is looking for disciples—not crowds. A lot of people came to see Jesus during His ministry because He was performing amazing miracles. On occasions, He even multiplied loaves and fish…free food for all! But Jesus knew human nature. Those who followed Him just for the “show” or “freebies” would only continue as long as the benefits kept coming. Sadly, most of those in the crowd looked only to their own self-interests. Their attitudes mirrored the hearts of many today, “If Jesus makes me happy and blesses my life and my plans, then maybe I will serve Him.” As I am reading the Gospel of Luke, I notice that Jesus purposely made strong, demanding statements. “Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:25-27). He also said, “In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33).  Statements like these did not exactly endear Jesus to the self-consumed—those wanting to use Jesus for their personal advancement. The Lord certainly does not encourage us to hate our family members or forbid us to own basic things in life. However, His call is one of complete surrender to Himself. The true believer follows Jesus with the settled attitude that “no person or thing is more important than loving and obeying Jesus Himself.” May the One who examines the heart find us wholly devoted to Him, whether our circumstances are easy or extremely difficult. Complete salvation from Jesus requires nothing less than complete devotion from us. Paul said, “I know whom I have believed and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day” (2 Timothy 1:12).

Pastor Mark Boucher

More

My brother-in-law, Jim, is a pastor in West Virginia. We were chatting recently about what we were preaching in the churches, and he mentioned he is preaching a series. I asked him what the series was about, and he gave me a one word answer: MORE! Since our chat, I have thought a lot about “more” and how it relates to walking with God. From what I read in the Bible, our God is not a God of lack or scarcity. He willingly gives not only what we need to barely survive, but delights in giving “more” so we can bless others. In my devotional reading in 2 Corinthians, I am reminded of Paul’s challenge to the believers to follow-through on their commitment to give a love offering to the suffering believers in Judea. Catch the idea of “more” as he says, “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:6-7). Paul is talking here about giving money to help those in need. Money that is given away in Jesus is never lost, but “invested.” God has a perfect memory; He never forgets our acts of love and kindness, and He always has “more” on His heart. Giving does not deplete us, but opens our lives for more of God’s grace and supply to be given to us and through us. And “more” goes way beyond money. The way to reap more fruit of God’s Spirit, or more results in God’s kingdom, is to offer Him more sensitivity to the Spirit, more obedience, and more dedication. As I look back, I realize I regret missing certain opportunities because I had settled for my “enough” instead of reaching for God’s more. “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably MORE than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen” (Eph. 3:20-21).

Pastor Mark Boucher

Good Fear, Bad Fear

“The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the Lord are sure and altogether righteous.” Psalm 19:9

The popular sentiment today is “fear nothing.” You can order t-shirts which say, “Afraid of Nothing”, “Fear is the mind-killer”, “I fear no beer”, and “No excuses, no fear, no shame.” But, is fear always sinister? The Bible presents fear sort of like our understanding of cholesterol—there’s good fear and bad fear. Let’s start with the bad fear. Jesus Himself often admonished His disciples to “fear not.” When He said this, the disciples were usually up to their necks in difficult trials and were tempted to forget God. Bad fear magnifies problems and minimizes God. The antidote to this kind of fear is faith. If you search the Scriptures where Jesus says, “do not fear,” you will also find Him challenging His disciples to trust…placing their faith in Him. As we mature in our relationship with the Lord, we learn to react against the wrong kind of fear by prayer and the Word of God. Now, let’s look at the good kind of fear. In Matthew 10:28, Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Our God is Creator and holds in His hands the power of eternal life and death! He loves us, but we better not play with sin. The healthy, good fear of God keeps us reverent and respectful. This type of fear does not drive us away from God, but repels us from anything that dishonors Him. Proverbs 3:7-8 declares, “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.” Here we discover the healthy fear of God not only blesses us spiritually but affects the daily strength of our body! A body at peace will not have to waste energy fighting constant battles with anxiety, guilt, and worry. In summary, let’s realize the difference between good fear and bad fear…and seek to “be in the fear of the Lord all the day long” (Prov. 23:17).

Pastor Mark Boucher

Growing in Faith

As a pastor, I often ask myself questions about other people. For example, I ask, “How can I be an instrument in this person’s life to help them grow in God?” I also ask, “Why do some people seem to grow quickly, and others seem to grow painfully slowly…or not at all?” While discussing these questions the other day with a relative, we concluded that discipleship in this current “spiritual climate” doesn’t just happen. God has provided all we need to grow and overcome all obstacles. However, He will not force us to obey Him, to seek Him, to read His Word, or to attend church. The hunger and desire for progress in our faith comes from Jesus as we take practical (and sometime small) steps in response to His grace. In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), Jesus distinguishes between two types of servants to whom He invested grace and provision (symbolized as property and money). There are those who work to increase the investment given to them and those who do nothing with the investment. The Master’s grace was given freely; the response was the free choice of the individual servant. Those who received “Well done!” from the Master combined faith and action. The Bible says, “The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work, and gained five more” (v. 16). The servant judged by the Master only offered lame excuses for buried resources. As a pastor, my joy is watching and helping God’s people love God and grow as disciples of Jesus. Be careful because the distractions of the world will try to diminish your devotion to Christ. The cultural mindset today says, “God exists for me…to make me happy and give me a good time.” Stay in the Word of God! Jesus deserves our best, and He waits to reward His good and faithful servants.

Pastor Mark Boucher

God’s Treasure

A person who used to frequent the casinos told me one time, “I looked at the people gambling away their money and realized no one was smiling or laughing.” On my travels to Valley Forge last semester, I drove by a casino and often wondered why the parking lot always seemed to have so many vehicles. Why would people go to such a depressing place, knowing they will soon part with their money? The answer is “the possibility of discovering treasure.” We seem to have this deep inner desire to unearth treasure, which would then transform our life. For example, have you ever had a dream where you became instantly rich? In my devotions today, I was “captured” again by the amazing parable of Jesus…about hidden treasure. He said, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field” (Matthew 13:44). God made us and knows our fascination with treasure, so He provided the greatest treasure of all! This treasure of His Kingdom, although “hidden in the field,” can be found by those who seek. When you discover who God is and what He gives, you are willing to use your earthy valuables to get more of this treasure! However, do we merely stumble over God’s treasure in our quest to find the “good life”? Do we really discern the value of God’s treasure, of the presence of the King, of the blessings of the Kingdom, of the eternal life He promised? The world, like the casinos, will leave you empty and broke (and maybe addicted). The discovery of God’s treasure gives you real joy and helps you understand what is truly valuable in this fleeting experience called “life.” Spend your life going after God’s treasure! You won’t be disappointed.

Pastor Mark Boucher

Your Fruitfulness Comes from God!

Someone defined “time” as simply how you spend your life. As I have been reading the prophets, I have noticed two themes about using our time. First, you can choose to spend your life chasing idols; or you can spend yourself following and obeying God. A person of wisdom looks “down the road” to see where each path leads. Idols (anything that takes the place of God) promise a destination of happiness, but instead arrive at an empty lot of vanity and shame. However, God promises a life of “fruit” for those who pursue Him. In Hosea 14, God challenges His people to return to Him and leave dead idols. He said, “O Ephraim, what more have I to do with idols…I am like a green pine tree; your fruitfulness comes from me” (14:8).  This is the only place in the Bible where God compares Himself with a tree! We cannot “manufacture fruit” on our own, but we get to enjoy delicious fruit by simply receiving from the tree. The Lord teaches us that lasting fruit, all of which is truly good, comes only from Him. Jesus spoke something similar by saying, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit” (John 15:5). Sometimes we get discouraged, thinking we’re not bearing much. However, let’s resolve to seek the Lord Himself—living in Him, abiding in Him, obeying Him. As we follow Him and love others, fruit happens! Think of how God has blessed you with salvation, His Holy Spirit, the fellowship of His people, and multitudes of other blessings. At the end of life, your greatest joy will occur on that day when you “present” to God the fruit He has grown through you.

Pastor Mark Boucher