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

Where Does Our Help Come From

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:1,2)

History tells us that, in the early years after Jesus died and was resurrected, the Jews, in revolt against the Roman Empire, took their stand atop the mountain fortress of Masada. Because of its height and inaccessibility, Masada was thought to be impregnable. However, over the course of a year, the attacking Romans patiently moved tons of stone and compacted earth to form a ramp up to the mountain, by which they laboriously maneuvered a siege tower and battering ram into position, enabling them to overwhelm the Jewish defenders.

Centuries before this chapter in Jewish history, a psalmist, looking out over the lofty, imposing hills of Jerusalem, made the wise and inspired observation that it is not the mountains that protect us, but the maker of the mountains, our God.

Last year was, in many ways, a year of uncertainty and upheaval. Many of the institutions on which people looked as safety nets stumbled or crumbled; many of the great minds and creative thinkers passed away; nations and armies rose and fell. For many of us, on a personal level, 2016 was a year of challenges, setbacks, and grief. And yet, in the midst of it all, we must remember that we have an anchor: Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)

As we stand at the dawn of a new year, let us take our eyes off of those illusory things that we may be tempted to put our confidence in: our health, our jobs, our nation’s leaders. We must pray for these, to be sure, but we need not invest our confidence in them. Instead, let us focus that confidence on the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.  Our world will change, but our God remains the same.

The “Now” God

The Israelites were slaves in Egypt. Years passed…and questions grew. Did God care? Does He even exist, and if so, why isn’t He helping? Moses sees the fire in the bush and God calls him to lead the deliverance. But Moses hesitates and asks two questions at the burning bush: “Who am I…that I should bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (v. 11) and “What shall I tell them (about you)?” (v. 13).  Moses knew he had no power or authority on his own (“who am I”), so he needed to know the authority of the One who was sending him. God’s answer is amazing! “God said to Moses, ‘I Am Who I Am’” (v. 14). The Great “I Am” wants to be known, not as a past myth, or as a future dream, but as the present One who exists now as the living God!  He is able! And because he is the “now” God, we don’t have to despair or lose hope, no matter what our eyes see or do not see. Remember, the Israelites are in the worst place ever. They are powerless refugees in the midst of the world’s greatest super-power. As slaves, they have no rights, not even to defend the killing of their baby boys. But God rises up in power and the Great I Am shows that nothing is impossible with Him. Moses is given the pathway of victory when God says to him, “I am with you” (v. 12). Understand this statement as God saying, “The Great I AM…is with you!” Fast-forward with me to the manger in Bethlehem. The people of God are again plunged in desperate times, and God steps into human history in the “fullness of time” (Gal. 4:4).  The ever-present God reveals Himself through His promised Son. Later in His ministry, the Son declares, “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was born, I Am!” (John 8:58). As we live today in the midst of the swirling uncertainty of world events, remember Who “is”. By His resurrection from the dead, Jesus can declare to all His own, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).

How God Provides

 

This story always gets to me. God tested Abraham by commanding him to offer his only son, Isaac, as a sacrifice (Genesis 22). This command seemed so “out of character” for God, but Abraham obeyed anyway. At the last minute, the angel of the Lord dramatically stopped Abraham from carrying out Isaac’s death, saying, “Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son” (Gen. 22:12). Immediately following, Abraham saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket and offered this to God in place of his son. What caught my attention is verse fourteen: “So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, ‘On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided’”(v. 14). Later in time, the Israelites used the phrase “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided” to refer to the Temple Mount.  So, this amazing event in the lives of Abraham and Isaac took place on what is now the Temple Mount of Jerusalem, the city where our Lord Jesus laid down his life for us. What stands out to me from this passage are these thoughts: “Provision comes on the other side of testing”, and “God’s provision starts with His Presence.” First, as you know, life is full of tests. God doesn’t allow tests to destroy us but to strengthen our faith. Abraham passed this great test by fearing God and yielding his most precious gift (Isaac) back to the One who gave him. Only after passing the test did Abraham experience the provision, both for now and later. God declared future blessings on Abraham and his descendants: “Through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me” (v.18). Here we see the promise of God’s Messiah, Jesus the Christ, the offspring of Abraham, who would bless the world! God cares about us and provides all we need. Finally, let’s remember, God’s provision begins with His Presence. God Himself is our source! Although life is full of tests and struggles, the Lord promised His Presence and will provide everything we need for life and godliness.

Keeping Your Stamina

keeping-your-stamina

Anybody can start a race but the question is, “Will you finish it?” The excitement, cheers, and jubilation at the beginning of a race are nothing compared to the celebrations at the finish line. The Bible often compares the Christian life to a walk, and sometimes to a run. While reading God’s Word this morning, I was reminded again of the power of God I need to run the race with perseverance. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith…” Hebrews 12:1-2a. Those who run marathons understand the discipline needed to develop good patterns of exercise, and also to turn away from negative habits which hinder them. As Christians, we have the wonderful presence of Jesus within us. However, if we are honest, we must admit that we also sense the presence of evil within us. The Bible calls this “the flesh” or the sinful nature. In order to maintain good stamina, the runner runs with as little weight as possible. Everything not essential is discarded. Hebrews compares these weights to “sins” that slow down our progress. The good news is that, through Jesus, we are given the power to cast them off. As Christians, why should we live in guilt and without joy, never seeming to make progress? We can say no to those things which rob us of our victory! By the grace of God, we can replace old, bad habits with new and better ones. To run without the weight of sins enables us to enjoy a good conscience and a clear mind. What is weighing you down? Because Jesus carried the cross, you don’t need to carry your sins. Fix your eyes on Jesus, running the race of life with strength and stamina, and you will finish strong!

In God’s Hands

In God's Hands

Last month our family visited the graveside of my parents in Maine. I have a memory of my father which is still quite vivid to me. Dad used to try to have fun with us boys (me in particular because I had the biggest ears) by “clicking” my ears with his fingers when I was unaware of his presence. I didn’t like it, even though I knew he was just fooling around. It got to the point where, whenever I would see his hand coming near me, I would jerk my head away from his hand. Because of repeated pain (minor, as it was), I associated his hand with something to stay away from. When reading Psalm 31 yesterday, I thought about the “hand of God.” The Bible speaks of God’s hand as powerful and steady. If God is our Father, we don’t need to fear His hand or pull ourselves away. He doesn’t play games with us. Our responsibility to our heavenly Father is to entrust ourselves into His hands, knowing that He loves us and works all things together for His glory and our good. Psalm 31 gives us two responses toward the hand of God. First, Psalm 31:5 says, “Into your hands I commit my spirit; redeem me, O Lord, the God of truth.” Jesus, just before he dies on the cross quotes the first part of this verse. He knew that he could trust the hand of God, even when the hands of sinful men seemed to triumph. By dying on the cross, Jesus not only purchases our salvation by His blood, but He also teaches us that we can trust God with our spirit, even when our mind and emotions are confused. The second reference to the hand of God is in Psalm 31:15, “My times are in your hands; deliver me from my enemies and from those who pursue me.” Here, the Psalmist declares his faith in God’s hand in the midst of his intense struggles. Our Father knows what we go through, so we can also declare, “My times are in your hands”! His hands are strong. He is kind and is able to deliver us, in His time. So, remember, if God is your Father, you are in good hands!!

Opportunities in Challenging Times

Opportunities

 

“Put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground” (Eph. 6:13). I believe with every challenge comes an opportunity. This summer seems to present a lot of challenges for our country! The brutal heat across much of the nation brings special difficulties, especially for the poor and aged. The changing political landscape carries the baggage of uncertainty and fear. As a nation, we are also navigating our way through the tensions created by frequent reports of killings and violence. When I read the Bible, I see that times of crisis are recorded in almost every book. The Christian Gospel was not meant to work only in peaceful places. In fact, the Gospel seed seems to grow best in the harsh climates! As we stand firm in our Lord Jesus, we have the opportunity to present the power of the Good News, even as most people struggle with fear and discouragement from the daily bad news. Jesus is Lord! He is the Prince of Peace and is able to save and keep the heart committed to him. Let’s do our part by putting on his armor. We do this by prayer and fellowship with the Lord each day. What God provides, we must “appropriate.” Our prayer should not be, “Let there be no days of evil,” but rather, “In the day of evil, let us have your grace and power to stand strong!”

Darkness to Daylight

God is working, even when you can’t see the evidence. As the Book of 1 Samuel opens, we see the nation of Israel in turmoil. Most of the people and the priests are far from God and the Word of God is rarely spoken or followed. A woman named Hannah is introduced. She was married but unable to have children. The other wife made life miserable for her by provoking Hannah until her heart broke. One day when Hannah visited the tabernacle of God in Shiloh, she brought her tears and sorrow to God. Her prayer is described as, “I was pouring out my soul to the Lord” 1 Sam. 1:15. Although her circumstances did not change immediately, she received a word from the Lord through the priest Eli who said, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him” V17. Hannah clung to the Lord and his Word, and went on her way home. Later, she was enabled to conceive and gave birth to Samuel, who became a great prophet and leader of Israel.

This story reminds me of the conditions just before Jesus was crucified. It seemed as if the nation had no hope. The ministry of Jesus looked like a failure because of the rejection of most people. Jesus seemed powerless to prevent his arrest and crucifixion. All he could do was pour out his soul to God and pray, “Not my will, but your will be done.” In what seemed to be the darkest hours, God was at work behind the scenes. Apparent defeat and barrenness of results would soon yield to resurrection power! You may look around you and wonder, “Where is God?” During times of distress, Jesus (as well as Hannah in the Old Testament) gave themselves to God and poured out their feelings in prayer. Our God is the same God who never changes. He understands. He comforts. He will come through! Trust him to the end and you will never be disappointed.

-Pastor Mark Boucher