The Authority Issue

While talking with someone the other day, I asked him if he was following Jesus. His answer was, “Sort of, I think.” I challenged him by saying, “To be a follower of Jesus, you need to settle the authority issue. Ask yourself, ‘Who is really in charge of my life…me or God?’.” As I read in my devotions about the journey of the Israelites in the desert, I notice the struggle they had with authority. They wanted God’s blessings and favor but didn’t want to follow God’s ways. Why is our human nature so resistant to submission to God? It’s because we believe a lie deep in our heart which rationalizes, “No one is going to watch out for me better than me. I know what’s best for me, and I don’t need God telling me what to do.” In Deuteronomy, Moses preaches God’s Word to the people reminding them of the dangers of a stubborn heart. He tells them to love God, obey Him, be careful not to forget the covenant, and seek Him with wholehearted devotion. The Lord gives us an amazing verse revealing His primary reason for His insistence on being their authority.

“Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever!” (Deut. 5:29)

If we choose to give in to our selfish nature and “do our own thing” we also reap the bitter consequences of our godlessness. To fear God and follow Him opens our lives to His presence and all the goodness which flows from His grace and favor. Although life still presents difficulties and trials, when we are surrendered to the Lord, we never go it alone! So, the biggest choice we make in life is either following the Lord wholeheartedly or trusting in the idol of “the big I.” As for me, I gladly choose to repent of my inclination to self-idolatry and humble myself before the Lord. “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time” (James 5:5b-6). Settle the authority issue!

Pastor Mark Boucher

Faith & Imagination

Your imagination is a precious gift; be careful how you use it. An imagination filled with faith brings glory to God and great fruitfulness. An imagination filled with fear brings shame and defeat. Consider the event of the twelve Israelites who spied out the Promised Land (from Numbers 13). These twelve leaders (the “spies”) spent a month surveying the land while Moses and the Israelites remained in the desert area to the south of Israel. All twelve leaders saw the same things in the Promised Land: the bountiful fruit, the fertile soil, the walled cities, and the native peoples. They all saw in common, but they did not all imagine in common. After they returned to Moses and the Israelite community, they gave their reports. Ten of the spies imagined the worst. “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are…we seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them” (Num. 13:31-33). Through their imagination, devoid of faith, the ten spies “spread among the Israelites a bad report” (v. 32). Only Joshua and Caleb “saw” through the eyes of faith. In their imagination, they saw themselves victorious over all odds, through the mighty power of God! Attempting to transfer their faith-filled imagination to the people, they proclaimed, “Do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will swallow them up. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them” (Num. 14:9). What a contrast: the ten spies see the enemy as giants and themselves as grasshoppers; Joshua and Caleb see the enemy as bread and themselves as victors! So, the question comes down to this: “What are you imagining about the challenges you face?” Will you include God and His Word in your imagination or tremble in fear over all the things that “may go wrong”? Everyone faces “giants,” but through our Lord Jesus Christ, we are declared “more than conquerors” (Rom. 8:37)!

Pastor Mark Boucher

What about Sacrifice?

Through the years I have wondered why some people really enjoy serving the Lord and others act like it’s a great burden and major inconvenience. It always comes back to the heart. When we serve God out of a heart of love for Him, serving is a joy and brings a “sweetness” to our soul. However, when we serve merely out of obligation, just going through the motions, we derive no joy. God, in His wisdom, knows that serving is important for us, so He allows us the privilege of giving back to Him. He gives us the opportunity to sacrifice to Him in such ways as praying, giving, or working. To receive God’s blessings, such sacrifices are not merely to be done, but to be done God’s way. The Book of Leviticus has a lot to teach us about sacrifices. The repeated theme of Leviticus is how to live holy before God. Since this book was part of the Law given by God for the people of Israel before the coming of Christ, we understand that we do not offer the same types of sacrifices as they did. But, the principle of giving to God and God receiving our sacrifices is still the same. God wants us to give in the right way and with a right heart. For example, Leviticus 19:5 says, “When you sacrifice a fellowship offering to the Lord, sacrifice it in such a way that it will be accepted on your behalf.” In the next few verses, God gives specific instructions about how to carry out the fellowship offering. So, the Lord is revealing here that our actions need to be in the right way and the “right spirit.” As I consider my life as a pastor, I don’t want to just be “busy” doing a lot of things for God. I want to be led by the Holy Spirit to invest my life in sacrificial labor, AND, to do this in the right way and with a right heart. The most important aspect of sacrifice is for it to be accepted by God. For example, some people give time, money, or “lip-service” to God, hoping their sacrifice will somehow prompt God to overlook their sinful and selfish lifestyle (trying to make “the good outweigh the bad”). Our feeble attempts to cover our guilt or sin don’t work. Jesus died as The Sacrifice to save us from sin. Our sacrifices are simply responses to His grace, the giving of gratitude to the One who gives us life and peace. The Psalmist summarizes the desire for God’s acceptance by saying, “May he remember all your sacrifices and accept your burnt offerings” (Psalm 20:3). Serve the Lord with gladness and holiness.

Pastor Mark Boucher

There’s a Better Way

No one said it would be easy. I’m reading through the Book of Exodus about the Israelites. They are “out on the road” after being delivered from slavery in Egypt and are crossing the wilderness to the Promised Land. God loves His people but does not “immunize” them from trials and difficulties…as they soon discovered in the harsh desert. Their response to the challenges reveals much about their faith and character. “The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Sin…In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death’” (Exodus 16:1-3). We seem to think of sin in categories of severity, with some sins as really bad, and others as not so bad. Complaining is not that bad of a sin is it? After all, we’re not stealing anything or physically hurting another person. Surely, it’s such a small thing. But, I ask, if grumbling and complaining are so minor, why would God’s Word bring it to our attention again and again? Complaining takes aim at God and says, “You don’t care. You are not a good provider. You cannot be trusted.” This is serious indeed! Such whining kept Israel out of the Promised Land for 40 years. Imagine if the Israelites had prayed and asked God for help when facing their problems? Can we learn from their example and turn from the fleshly reaction of complaining? Can we learn to trust God by turning to Him in prayer, presenting our needs to our faithful Father?

Pastor Mark Boucher

The Journey of Transformation

The Book of Genesis introduces us to a fascinating person named Jacob. As you may recall, Jacob was the son of Isaac and Rebekah and the twin brother of Esau (the older one). As a young adult, Jacob (with the help of his mother) tricked his brother Esau out of the family inheritance. An enraged Esau determined to kill Jacob. So, Jacob hit the highway and ran to his mother’s relatives in the land of Haran. God’s plan, however, was not just a change of Jacob’s location, but a change of Jacob’s heart. After enduring 20 difficult years, Jacob heard God speak to him saying, “Go back to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you” (Genesis 31:3). I can imagine Jacob thinking, “Now, I can leave all my troubles behind and move back home, where things will be much easier.”  But little did he realize the surprise that awaited! His brother Esau found out that Jacob was on his way back home, and came to meet him with 400 men…not exactly a “welcome wagon”! Jacob was confused. He knew God called him to go back home, but it seemed like he was about to lose everything, maybe even his life. But Jacob had one thing going for him—he knew how to pray! So, he humbled himself before God and said, “O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, O Lord, who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper. I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant…’” (Gen. 32:9-10). Through a night of restless prayer, Jacob yielded his heart completely to God. And, the Lord gave Jacob amazing grace. He and his brother Esau reconciled and Jacob lived and prospered in Israel. What blessed me from this story is this thought: Just because God leads you to do something doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. However, God provides His grace, which is more than enough to change our heart and our circumstances!

Pastor Mark Boucher

Filled with Hope!

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).

Wow, what an amazing request by the Apostle Paul! This prayer, written for the Christians in Rome in the first century, echoes down the canyons of “then and there” into our “here and now.”  As we turn the page to start a new chapter of life entitled “2018,” we are not blind to the seemingly hopeless wounds of our nation. Problems like racism, violence, poverty, political disunity, moral confusion, and the emptiness of life without God threaten to erode our hope and steal our joy. Even as believers in an Almighty God, we can fall into the trap of fixating on our personal negative circumstances and trials that don’t seem to change. But, don’t lose hope! The God we serve is called “the God of hope”! In Paul’s prayer, we notice “as you trust in him,” sandwiched between the phrases “God of hope” and “overflowing with hope.” The Lord reminds us that we must exercise faith in Him if we are to experience hope. Also, choosing hope doesn’t mean we ignore the plight of people without God. Hope is not turning away from need and pretending that “all is well in the world.” Hope flourishes in Jesus, in spite of the tremendous need all around us every day.  Jesus teaches us that we can cry tears for the lost, but need not feel depressed or hopeless. Hope believes in a God who keeps on loving and keeps on offering grace. Hope believes that God is bigger than anything we will ever face in life. Hope believes in a God who answers prayer and changes hopeless circumstances. Hope holds fast to the promise that God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (Heb. 11:6). As we look ahead in this new year, may we “overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” In God we trust!

Pastor Mark Boucher

A Fresh Start

Have you made your new year’s resolution yet?

I’m pretty sure, based on what I’ve seen the last few years, that, when I walk past the Franklintown apartments next week on my way to work at around 4:15 in the morning, I’ll see at least one person working out in the weight room. This will last for a week or two at best; I rarely see anyone in the weight room that early for the rest of the year.

There’s something to be said for a new year. It brings new hope, as well as new resolve to accomplish our goals. Unfortunately, it’s hard to change our behavior and sustain those goals over the course of a year. Here are some tips to help increase the odds in your favor.

Start off by setting realistic goals. Yes, it’s good to challenge ourselves, but if we set the bar too high, we’re liable to get discouraged and quit when we miss the mark. If you haven’t been reading the Bible regularly, start with the goal of reading one chapter a day. You may find yourself reading more than that each day – and that’s a good thing.  You can always increase your goals later in the year. The idea is to start with a goal that’s reasonable to maintain.

Next, when you’re establishing a routine, find a time that you can stick with. In my experience, the best time for prayer is first thing in the morning, before you start your day. However, if you tend to oversleep and end up rushing in the morning, that time probably won’t work for you. Also, it’s best to set a certain time, rather than vaguely planning to pray after work or before bedtime. When you don’t set a specific time for an activity, it becomes easier to put it off, finding other ways to fill the time until it’s too late. Making an appointment will help ensure that you bring other activities to a halt when the time comes for prayer.

The final tip is not to lose focus, even if you’re not perfect at hitting your goals. I’ll never forget my father’s advice to me when I was faced with failure: Don’t be discouraged, but don’t be satisfied. The best course of action is to move on from failure and start again. If your goal is to make it to church every Sunday, but you miss a week, don’t be discouraged and give up – and don’t be satisfied, and accept a lower standard. Just reset and start your goal all over again.

In Philippians 3:13 and 14, Paul wrote, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal.” As we bid farewell to 2017, let’s leave behind our failures, successes, tears, and triumphs. No more looking back. God has an exciting future straight ahead.

Happy New Year!

Otis A. Fortenberry

Receive the Gift!

One Christmas several years ago, a church I used to pastor decided to bless a family going through a time of great need. People went shopping and filled some bags with clothes and gifts for the children. Also, in the bags were Christmas cards with $500 worth of gift certificates! Later, I found out that the family took what was in the bag, but failed to even look inside the cards and threw them away! Sadly, we were not able to replace them. As I have thought about this through the years, I came to the conclusion, “It is easy to miss the most important things in life.” When God sent the best He could give, His only Son, most people misjudged the value of the gift. The Bible says, “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him” (John 1:10-11). Imagine if the story of Christmas ended on this note of despair! But, the Word goes on to say, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…” (1:12). As you read the Bible from cover to cover, you discover that God’s people were almost always the minority. Even today, in a country permeated with the Gospel, most people still miss the gift! While driving on Broad Street the other day, I noticed a poster for a Christmas event emblazoned at the top with “Xmas Party.” I know we’re used to this, but I still groaned deep in my heart. Jesus wants to save, bless, heal, and restore and yet we purposely try to “X him out.” However, Christ isn’t going anywhere. The world belongs to Him. He is the Lord of life and will reign forever! Most may miss Him and even try to blot out His memory, but those who receive Him become royal family members! Let’s spread the word about Jesus! There are those today who are ready to open the gift!

Pastor Mark Boucher

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