It’s Not a Burden!

So, you ask someone to do you a favor. They say yes, but all the time they are helping you they complain and act irritated about the favor. How does that make you feel? Now, let’s apply this to serving God. How do you think God feels when we act like our service to Him is such a burden? This morning, the Lord reminded me of the importance of my attitude toward sacrifice. In Matthew 13:44, Jesus gives us the parable of the hidden treasure. “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.” We see here that for the man to experience the full ownership of the treasure, he needed to sell what he owned. To gain the greatest thing, he had to be willing to sacrifice the lesser things. Did he resent having to do this? Did he say, “I don’t see why I need to take the time to sell all my stuff! It seems unreasonable to have to let go of these things I like.” No, there was none of that. The Bible says, “in his joy went and sold all he had.” Why complain about the small stuff when he had the treasure waiting for him! Everything in this life is a “trade off.” We spend our time, talent, and energy on what we feel is important to us. If serving Jesus is important to us, we should not complain about the time and effort it takes. For example, if I am starting to pray, and wish in my heart that I didn’t have to pray, but would rather be watching TV, then it would be better to get my attitude right or just stop praying and watch TV. God is after our heart. He doesn’t want “reluctant obedience.” We need to see that it’s our highest privilege to give to the Lord. When it comes to prayer, reading the Word, attending services…it’s not that I have to do these things, but that I get to do these things. When my attitude is right, the sacrifices of life fill me with the joy of Jesus. Nothing is better than that! The Lord can help us develop an attitude that pleases Him. Psalm 100:2 tells us, “Serve the Lord with gladness”!

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

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

Make the Music!

If someone gave you a guitar string, without the guitar, would you be able to make any music? The answer is no, because in order for sound to come from the guitar string, you need to “anchor” both ends of the string. The music from the string is only possible through the stretch and the tension of the string! Finding God’s vision for your life is like discovering the music from the string. We have all been given the string (let’s call it life), but we don’t automatically recognize the ends to hold it down. I met a man who seemed so discouraged and weighed down by life. I asked him, “What do you feel is the purpose of your life?” He had no answer. His life had no music. My joy in this conversation came through introducing him to the One who saves, keeps, delivers, and gives us a song of praise! This morning, in my devotions, I thought about David’s (the Psalmist) words, “Show me, O Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life” (Psalm 39:4). David is asking God for vision (“show me”) to see the value and purpose in his every day existence. In order for this vision to impact David, he envisions (think anchor) the importance of his “today” connected to envisioning the end of his life. Today and the final day are the two “anchors” which hold the string, creating the tension which then creates the song! David contemplates the end of his life, envisioning himself in God’s presence. He also receives revelation of the brevity of life and the importance of making the most of what he is given each day. The string, the anchors, the tension…make the music. As we celebrate our special “Catch the Vision” service, we are asking God for eyes to see and “feet” to follow the will of God. We want to do his will, anchored by the importance of the here and now and the hope (and accountability) of the then and there. Through the life and power of Jesus, we can face today and our future with hope and optimism, knowing that He overcame the world, death, and hell. Life is fleeting…may the Lord impart new vision into our lives and our churches! May the “music of heaven” fill us, so all who know us can see the fruit of our Lord’s resurrection and hear the sound of His everlasting life!

The Power of Everyday Obedience

I love the stories of missionaries! They challenge and inspire me to trust God for more in my life. However, we need to remember that the stories of missionaries are more the “highlights” than the everyday occurrences. If you sit down with a missionary, they will tell you of their hard work of perseverance and consistency over a long period of time. The work of a missionary is more like the burning of a candle than the explosion of a fire cracker. The fire cracker may draw attention, but it’s the candle that provides light. In my devotions today, I read about a person of great character: King Hezekiah. When he ascended the throne, Judah was a moral mess. Idolatry, immorality, strife, and confusion blanketed the land like a thick cloud of smog. Hezekiah knew he needed God to change things! He also knew that he needed to lead the way to this change by everyday obedience. The Bible reveals the wonderful blessings of godly change, renewal, and miracles in Hezekiah’s reign. But, these blessings were possible only because they followed faithfulness and consistency to the Lord and his Word. Here is how God describes this prosperity: “This is what Hezekiah did throughout Judah, doing what was good and right and faithful before the Lord his God. In everything that he undertook in the service of God’s temple and in obedience to the law and the commands, he sought his God and worked wholeheartedly. “And so he prospered” (2 Chronicles 31:20-21). There were no “short-cuts” to success for Hezekiah, and there are none for us either. If you are a follower of Jesus, you are a missionary to your world. Let them see your love for God, demonstrated by seeking the Lord, faithfulness to His Word, and enthusiastic obedience. From your walk with God, you will have your own stories to tell!

-Pastor Mark Boucher

Going Deeper

Deep

I can understand superficiality. I just don’t understand why we settle for it. In Philadelphia we have all kinds of activities to choose from and an endless array of stores to visit, shows to watch, games to play, and websites to browse. But, in the end, what does all our activity mean? Can random activities of our body satisfy the longing of our souls? The Bible reveals that God made us for himself and there is no limit or depth to how deep we can go in him! The Apostle Paul prayed for his friends at Ephesus, “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge-that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:17b-19). What blesses me about this prayer is the phrase “love that surpasses knowledge.” This tells me that knowledge alone is not the goal line. With the explosion of knowledge today, many try to impress others by knowing more and more about less and less. God doesn’t want us to merely know “facts” about him, but to know him! Author Richard Foster, in his book about spiritual disciplines said, “Superficiality is the curse of our age. The doctrine of instant satisfaction is a primary spiritual problem. The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people.” The love of Jesus will take you as deep as you want to go. True depth in life starts as we see ourselves as instruments through which God can demonstrate his life and character. Be careful that you don’t imitate those who are stuck in the futility of bouncing from one experience to the next, choosing feelings of “intensity” over a life of intimacy with God. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 3, reminds us that on “the Day” (when we all give account before the Lord), the superficial will burn away as wood, hay, and stubble. Go deep in Jesus. Get to know him by spending time with him. He’s worth it!

He Never Quits!

Steadfast Love

I have a favorite word in the Old Testament! This word is chesed (from the Hebrew) and can be translated as both a word and a phrase. Chesed is a “big” word that describes how God relates to his people, to those who have placed their lives in his hand. Here is how some versions of the Bible translate chesed: love, lovingkindness, covenant loyalty, affection, and mercy. I think the best translation of this word is found in the ESV (English Standard Version), which uses the phrase “steadfast love.” “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever” (Psalm 118: 1 ESV). Chesed, or a form of this noun, is found 247 times in the Old Testament. I hope you keep on reading because God gave his Word to us for much more than doing “word studies.” The truth of “His steadfast love endures forever” gives me hope and strength right now! When I keenly consider how holy and pure God is, and then honestly ponder how far I am from his perfection, I can only cast myself on his chesed. After all, who could blame God if he turned away from us? But, his love endures forever! He doesn’t quit or throw us aside. The chesed of God gives me peace deep down, and I can know that my salvation rests on his character and not my perfection. Does this amazing grace mean that we can live sloppily and sinfully, playing with the fire of evil? Absolutely not! Because we love God, our prayer should be that of Psalm 119:5: “Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees!” God is seeking a “reciprocal response.” He wants to walk closely with us, which requires us to pursue the same steadfast love he shows to us. By his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus clearly demonstrated that God’s chesed is available to all! Show your gratitude for God’s chesed, by giving your love back to him!

The Searching Heart of God

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There is a person in the Bible who helps me answer a vital question: “What is God is looking for from me?” In 1 Chronicles 29, King David gave personal gifts for the building of the temple (which his son, Solomon, would finish). David encouraged others to give, but only with the right attitude. This attitude is revealed in David’s heart as he asks God, “But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.” So David is reminding himself and God’s people that God doesn’t “need” anything from us. He doesn’t beg us to help him. Giving is our privilege. When we give to God and his kingdom, we are simply investing that which he has already given to us. So, what is God looking for from us? God is looking for integrity, honesty, and humility.  David goes on to say in verse 17, “I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity. All these things have I given willingly and with honest intent…” To get us to change from a self-centered focus to a godly focus, God will “test the heart.” His desire is not for us to “squirm” in discomfort, but for us to break through to a new way of thinking and living. Simply stated, God is seeking to build integrity into us. Interestingly, the word integrity comes from the word “integer” which is a mathematical word. An integer is a whole number (1, 2, 3, etc.). Walking with integrity before God is living with whole-hearted devotion. In math, the opposite of integer is fraction: ½, ¼, etc. A person with a “fractured heart” wants to love God and love doing evil at the same time. A fractured heart holds back and gives God only “parts” of life. May the Lord give us grace to love him with integrity of heart!

Beyond Knowledge

Beyond Knowledge Blog Pic

I believe in education…I have spent many years in the formal (and informal) educational process. However, I have discovered that the accumulation of knowledge and sharpening the intellect is not enough. In my Bible reading this week from 1 Kings, I was reminded of lessons from the life of Solomon. His intellectual abilities were unrivaled, and yet, he failed God miserably by erecting idols for his many foreign wives. In his mind, he knew idolatry was wrong, but he did it anyway. Facts and information alone do not keep us from sinning or keep us close to God. The Bible emphasizes the devotion of the heart. When Solomon started his reign as King, God spoke this word to him, “As for you, if you walk before me in integrity of heart and uprightness, as David your father did, and do all I command and observe my decrees and laws, I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever…”(1 Kings 9:4-5a).  From this passage, we see that God looks for heart devotion as we walk with him in love and obedience. This week I started reading a book entitled, “You Are What You Love.” The central theme of the book is that love from the heart toward God is the core of relationship with him. Knowledge and intellect are not unimportant; it’s just that we must go “beyond” facts about God in order to experience relationship with him. Solomon’s lack of knowledge was not the problem…it was his lack of love and obedience that swayed his heart toward idols. One theologian described the human heart as “an idol factory.” Whatever we love and pursue above God becomes an idol to us. The good news is that God is greater than our hearts and can forgive and “realign” our desires and passion. We must seek this renewal through heart-felt repentance, knowing that God treats us as his children. As a loving Father, he wants us to know him, not just information about him. He loves us passionately.

Do we love him passionately?

 

Set Your Heart

One day I was watching a You Tube performance on “Britain’s Got Talent.” I was impressed by a young boy with a great voice, who also sang with all his heart. When his audition was over, one of the judges (Simon Cowell) made an insightful comment. He said that he hears many talented people sing, but what sets the few above the rest is the passion in their eyes and voices. Those who sang with heart-felt enthusiasm had a better chance to advance than those who just went through the motions. I believe this insight is important for us who follow the Lord. We live in an age when people consider whole-hearted devotion to God as “extremism.” Many who claim Christ as Savior rarely read the Bible, see missing church as normal, and look at prayer as a waste of time. In the Bible we read of a man named Jeroboam who had an experience with God and later became king of Israel. However, even though he believed in God’s existence mentally, he didn’t seek God from his heart. A prophet rebuked Jeroboam saying,

I tore the kingdom away from the house of David and gave it to you, but you have not been like my servant David, who kept my commands and followed me with all his heart, doing only what was right in my eyes. You have done more evil than all who lived before you. You have made for yourself other gods, idols made of metal; you have aroused my anger and turned your back on me.

Although Jeroboam may have been talented as a king and leader, he failed miserably by not seeking God with all his heart. Jeroboam’s great potential was wasted on evil desires that replaced his whole-hearted passion for the Lord. Don’t let this happen to you! You have been created with desires and passions in your heart. Make no mistake…everybody is seeking something. What makes us different is how we feed the hunger in our heart. Set your heart on God and let him fill you!

-Pastor Mark Boucher