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

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

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