Faith Doesn’t Give Up!

Luke 18 is an amazing chapter. It begins with Jesus sharing a parable to teach his disciples to “pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1) and ends with a real-life story of someone doing just that.

The blind beggar whose story Luke recounts in the closing verses of the chapter called out to Jesus for mercy. The more those around him tried to quiet him, the more he persisted in pleading until, ultimately, Jesus acknowledged him and answered his prayer.

It’s a common question: Why does God, who knows what we need before we ask (Matthew 6:8), ask us to persevere in prayer? We can see part of the answer in Jesus’ response to the blind beggar: “Your faith has healed you” (Luke 18:42). What Jesus is pointing out is that the blind man, by continuing to call even after he was rebuked and told to be quiet, was demonstrating not only persistence but, more importantly, faith as well. God wants us to persist in prayer because persisting requires faith – “and without faith, it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6).

Let’s be honest: Prayer is easy, but persistence is not. It’s not easy to stay faithful in prayer when we’re not seeing any progress, or when things seem only to be getting worse. At those times, everything around us seems to be shouting, as the crowd did to the blind beggar, to dissuade us from praying. If we’re trusting God for a healing, the aches and pains in our bodies scream at us to be quiet and not trouble him anymore. If we’re looking for wisdom or direction, our friends or family may rebuke us for putting our trust in an unseen God instead of listening to the experts around us. And if we need some kind of major breakthrough, it may be our own doubts and fears that try to convince us that the need is too big to pray for; something too far out of reach.

It’s striking that Jesus uses the example of an unjust judge to illustrate our need to be persistent. His point is clear: If persistence is rewarded even by an unjust judge, how much more will it rewarded by the righteous God who loves us? But Jesus’ question at the end of the parable gets to the crux of the matter: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8)

God makes us persist because, as much as he’s concerned about our earthly needs, he recognizes that our need for faith is greater. It’s not easy to hold on to God’s promises when we’re going through hard times, but the faith that we build in those times is worth it.

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (I Peter 1:6,7)

Jesus Christ will be revealed in our circumstances.  Let’s keep the faith while we wait!

Otis A. Fortenberry

Tuning in to God’s Voice

A few weeks ago I was trying to have a conversation with a friend in a crowded room. I remember looking at him moving his lips, but I wasn’t hearing a word he said. The noise all around me drowned out his voice. So, I called “time out” and stepped closer to him and put my ear closer to his mouth, and then asked him to repeat what he just said. I really focused on his voice alone…and I got it! Listening to God is something like my experience in the crowded room. To hear God’s Word, you must focus your heart and attention on God and His Word, and “tune out” other voices. Let me connect this with a man from the Bible named Zedekiah. I just finished the Book of Jeremiah. As you may remember, Jeremiah’s task from God was to warn the people of Judah about coming judgment if they continued doing evil. The king at this time was a young man named Zedekiah. He started ruling at the tender age of 21 and reigned in Jerusalem for 11 years (Jeremiah 52:1). On several occasions King Zedekiah and the Prophet Jeremiah spoke person to person. Jeremiah repeatedly told the king what he needed to do to avert disaster. Because of all the evil done in Judah during the reign of Zedekiah, God allowed the nation of Babylon to surround Jerusalem for a siege that lasted one and a half years. At a critical moment, God spoke through Jeremiah to Zedekiah saying, “If you surrender to the officers of the king of Babylon, your life will be spared and this city will not be burned down; you and your family will live” (Jer. 38:17). Did Zedekiah listen? He heard and understood exactly what Jeremiah said…but did just the opposite! Zedekiah, his family, and the people of Judah came to a horrible end, all because they refused to listen. The most important lesson from the fall of Judah is this: nothing else matters more than listening to God and doing what He says. Do what you need to do to tune out the noise and focus on God’s will for your life. God delights in blessing us, not in having to bring discipline.

Pastor Mark Boucher

Why Judgment?

Have you heard anyone say, “I don’t read the Bible because it is filled with judgment”? Well, let’s talk about that. Yes, judgment of various types is recorded in the Bible. For example, the Book of Jeremiah is filled with warnings about coming judgment. In Jer. 18:11, we read, “Now therefore say to the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem, ‘This is what the Lord says: Look! I am preparing a disaster for you and devising a plan against you.’” So, why would God threaten to prepare disaster? First, we must understand something about Jeremiah’s ministry. He was called as a prophet to warn God’s people, Israel, about the consequences of sin. Jeremiah preached and prophesied about 50 years, showing that God is extremely patient! Furthermore, God spoke through Jeremiah on several occasions about His willingness to turn from judgment if the people would respond with repentance. Continuing on in Jer. 18:11, we read, “So turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions.” Sadly, their response was, “It’s no use. We will continue with our own plans; each of us will follow the stubbornness of his evil heart” (v.12). Even after God’s repeated warnings, the people continued to follow their evil inclinations. As a result, God judged Israel through Babylon. He removed His hand of blessing and protection, allowing the nation of Babylon to invade and destroy the land of Judah. The Bible reveals that God never enjoys judgment, but does allow people to experience the consequences of sin. But, you might ask, “What about us as believers in Jesus?” Yes, Jesus died on the cross and took the judgment for our sins! By trusting in Jesus, we relate to God as our Father and not as our Judge. This amazing truth should humble us and create in us a heart of worship and gratitude! However, we must never presume that Christ’s death gives us an excuse to pursue evil. To truly love Jesus means we learn to hate sin.

Pastor Mark Boucher

Your Most Overlooked Ministry

Has this happened to you? Someone says something about you that is hurtful and insulting and then adds the lame excuse, “I was only joking.” I know of a youth group which adopted the slogan “no hateful words.” Previously, the youth were cutting each other apart, trying to see who could get the loudest laugh, at the expense of the one being “stabbed.” Whether we realize it or not, our words release power to destroy or build up. The Apostle Paul spoke about the power of words by saying, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Eph. 4:29). Throughout my ministry, I have heard people lament, “I don’t think I have a gift or a ministry.” My answer is usually, “Begin where you are.” Ministry is not a title or the attainment of a position, but is more a consistent practice of the servant ministry of Jesus each day. How we use our mouth, for example, is a form of ministry. The responsibility of bearing good fruit in ministry begins by guarding the words which come out of your mouth. Paul’s phrase “unwholesome talk” is the word used for rotten fruit. The opposite of these rotten words are words that “benefit those who listen.” This means we minister grace (the Greek word translated “benefit” in verse 29). So, through the “ministry of our mouths” we get to become vessels of the Holy Spirit, pouring out His grace to others! The other day I was reading about Isaiah the prophet. He spoke about the ministry of his words. “The Sovereign Lord has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught” (Isa. 50:4). Isaiah reminds us that speaking God’s words is first preceded by listening. The principle here is this: If we are good listeners and are filled with God’s thoughts and His Word, then we will “spill over” words of life and grace. Find someone who needs an encouraging word and say something to help them. Don’t overlook the ministry of your words. You can start right now!

Pastor Mark Boucher

Keep Believing!

This past Monday evening I watched as President Trump announced his choice for the next member of the Supreme Court. After a while, I “surfed” through various news stations, watching the reactions of different commentators. Some liked the president’s choice and some vehemently disagreed. All agreed, however, on the extreme importance of this position. A Supreme Court judge serves for as long as they want and makes decisions that affects us all. I find it quite alarming when I hear people condemning the president’s choice of Brett Kavanaugh just because he believes in God and practices his faith. It’s a sad day in America when a man or woman is judged as unfit to lead simply because they profess faith in God. Imagine how the founding fathers would perceive this intolerance! It seems the biggest reason given for those rejecting Kavanaugh is that he might vote against some aspects of “women’s reproductive services” (abortion of the unborn). As a Christian, I ask you to pray for the upcoming process with the Senate. More importantly, pray for our nation. Even though our nation is deeply divided in many ways, let us be examples of loving God, commitment to His Word, and patience with those who disagree. May we, with grace and dignity, exercise our “dual citizenship” in God’s Kingdom and our country. This morning, while reading Isaiah, I discovered this Scriptural gem from God which spoke to my heart concerning America: “I will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure” (Isaiah 33:6). May we never stop honoring and fearing God, no matter what others say or do.

Pastor Mark Boucher

We Need the Father!

I remember speaking to a parent a while ago about his children. He mentioned one child who had not spoken to him in years! The father’s heart was broken and longed for closeness with his son and son’s family. As I considered this, I realized that these parents had been good parents and showed love kindness to each child. I was amazed at how this son could treat his parents with utter disrespect. Then, I thought of the Word of God. In Isaiah chapter one, God describes Himself as a parent who “brought up” the children of Israel. In spite of God’s parental love and care, His children ignored Him and did the opposite of what He asked. The Lord called them out on their behavior. “Hear, O heavens! Listen, O earth! For the Lord has spoken: ‘I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand’” (Isaiah 1:2-3). Think about our great country. Whether we acknowledge God or not, He has blessed America with abundant resources. He has protected us from foreign oppression and invasions. We are blessed with the freedom to read and proclaim the Word and are still the envy of the world.  And yet, with all these blessings from our Father, most Americans ignore God. Some even do all they can to proclaim evil as good, and push God out of school, government, and business. They don’t understand that God, as a loving parent, waits patiently for our change of heart. He wants a relationship with each person and is willing to forgive all sins and give us a clean start. As Christians, we must show our neighbors and friends how to honor and respect our heavenly Father. Even as our society continues to veer away from God, we, as believers, can receive the blessings of righteousness. These come through the sacrifice of God’s one and only Son, Jesus Christ. By our trust and faith in Jesus, God declares us righteous. And, from the fullness of His grace we receive one blessing after another (John 1:16)! In these trying times, hear God’s encouragement through Isaiah, “Tell the righteous it will be well with them, for they will enjoy the fruit of their deeds” (Isa. 3:10).  How wonderful to love and obey our heavenly Father!

Pastor Mark Boucher

Let Freedom Ring

“Let Freedom Ring”

Inscribed on the Liberty Bell is a portion of Leviticus 25:10, instructions for the Year of Jubilee, “Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” Indeed, freedom and liberty are central to how we define ourselves as Americans, as evidenced in the Bill of Rights, which outline the freedoms which we enjoy.

But no document, no matter how well-conceived and executed, can truly guarantee freedom. Jesus addressed true freedom in John 8, declaring in verse 36 that “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

“Everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” (John 8:35) Make no mistake: No matter what freedoms we enjoy, if we sin, we are living as slaves.

Real disciples, Jesus taught, hold to his teaching and know the truth, and it is this truth which sets them free (John 8:31,32). Are we real disciples?  Do we study God’s Word, holding to its truth so that we experience its freedom?

This Independence Day, let us dedicate ourselves not only to living in the truth that sets us free but also to fulfilling the call to proclaim liberty to all the inhabitants of “the land of the free.”

Your greatest calling in life, your greatest privilege, and your greatest joy is to be an ambassador for Christ. The best way to carry out this calling is in the way that you live and the truth you proclaim.

 

Otis A. Fortenberry

I Need A Counselor!

It’s no shame to need a counselor. We read of the kings of Israel who sought advice and wisdom from counselors. I have a counselor I seek out regularly…in fact every morning. “Your statutes are my delight; they are my counselors” (Psalm 119:24). Each morning I ask the Lord to teach me and guide me by the Holy Spirit as I read and think about God’s Word. Of course, there is an important place for human counselors. However, the counsel from the Bible doesn’t require an appointment or cost you money. The price you pay is time, discipline, and attention. The rewards you will reap are out of this world! We don’t “have to read the Bible”; we get to read the Bible, and make it our primary source of counsel for life. There are many who try to attack the Bible, claiming it is full of discrepancies and errors. When I read articles by skeptics, I wonder how often they actually read and study the Bible. Personally, I discovered wisdom, purpose, and insight into my own nature when I started reading God’s Word. The counsel of the Bible lifts me out of discouragement, shakes me out of lethargy, and fills me with great joy. A sadness comes into my heart when I think of how many people will go through their entire life and never know the life-giving counsel of Scripture. As a pastor, I don’t read the Bible just to get sermon thoughts. I read because I need what God has to say to me. As a sheep first (and under-shepherd second), I need to hear God speaking to me, keeping me on the good path and sparing me from self-destructive behavior. My prayer for every person connected to Highway Tabernacle is for you to delight in the Word and develop a great hunger to think God’s thoughts. If you are new to the Bible, I suggest you open to the Book of John. Before reading chapter one, pray and ask the Holy Spirit to help you understand and obey what God says. In areas where you are confused, don’t give up. Believe that as you grow in the Lord, these areas will become clearer. The counsel of the Bible is right in front of you…waiting for you to mine its treasure. Enjoy!

Pastor Mark Boucher

Our Amazing Father

The word “father” evokes strong emotions in many people. At just the very word, some may feel love, support and acceptance, while others feel abandonment, anger, deep sadness and longing. Others may even feel nothing, a deep-seeded apathy that has been a way to cope through disappointment and disillusionment. I have been blessed with a father who is godly, faithful, wise, supportive and loving. Praise God for the fathers out there who consistently give their children the gift of their presence. Fathers, this is often a thankless society, degrading of fatherhood and manhood in general, but please don’t give up! We need you more than we probably even know.

Whatever our earthly experience with fathers may be, it is a comfort to know that there is a Father who will never fail us. In the Old Testament, we see hints of God’s Fatherhood in that He creates, guides, disciplines, defends and saves His children. “Yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand” (Isa. 64:8, NIV). In the New Testament, God’s Fatherhood is even more explicitly stated. Jesus’ favorite term for God was “Father.” He sometimes even used the intimate word Ἀββᾶ (Abba), an Aramaic term that is warm and endearing, an almost baby-like term. That relationship isn’t exclusive to the Son of God and His Father, but God is our Father, as Jesus said in Matt. 6:9. As a Father, God gives good gifts (Matt. 7:11), He disciplines because He loves (Heb. 12:6), He is compassionate and comforting (2 Cor. 1:3), He is glorious and holy (Eph. 1:17), He is constant and unchanging (Jas. 1:17).

God wants us to encounter Him as our Father. I remember an experience I had in Mozambique, Africa a few years ago. I was attending a two-month long mission school and during a time of worship one day, I glanced over at an interaction a father was having with his baby. The little boy was sitting at his father’s feet, extending his arms, and the father was holding a water bottle and letting some drops trickle into the baby’s mouth. A simple scene, but God spoke to me in that moment and said, “That baby is you, Nicole, and the father is Me. I want you to always realize your dependence on Me, even for something as simple as a drop of water.”

Putting our trust in God as our Father is the best decision we can make. He knows best how to care for us, guide our steps, and correct us when we need it! This Father’s Day, we honor and thank our earthly fathers, and we express our thanks to our heavenly Father who has been so gracious to us. “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1a).

Nicole Boucher

The Gap

I’ll never forget the time I was driving down the highway toward Boulder, Colorado. I had never seen the Rocky Mountains and there they were…straight in front of me! They were so large, it seemed like they were just minutes away. However, it took almost an hour of driving to get there! Sometimes, between what we see and the reality of the situation, there is a “gap.” The gap may be distance or time, and the only way to cross it is to keep on going. Consider with me a “gap” scenario from the Bible. In Luke chapter one, the angel Gabriel brought Mary astounding news: “You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:31-32a). So, Mary knew the promised Messiah was coming! It would only be a matter of nine months and God’s promised Son could be seen and held! Gabriel then went on to say, “The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:32b-33). Now, imagine what probably went through Mary’s mind: The Messiah is coming in nine months and when He’s grown up, He will set up His great kingdom for the whole earth to see! There’s only one problem…God’s plan wasn’t going to work like that. God’s plan included a “gap.” Jesus would come through Mary, live a sinless life, die for the sins of the world, send back the Holy Spirit, and establish His spiritual kingdom in the hearts of those who follow Him. Yes, the Lord Jesus would rule and reign over all the earth, but that was to come later. The only way to experience the final fulfillment of God’s Kingdom is to travel through the gap. I wonder how many of Jesus’ disciples were totally confused when Jesus ended up dying on the cross, instead of sitting on the throne. Make no mistake, the throne is coming, but the gap must be crossed. From the reality of the gap, let us remember this: When God promises something to us, we should not be discouraged or surprised at the passing of time which may follow. Just keep traveling down the highway of faithfulness toward the majesty of God’s mountains. You will cross the gap and arrive at the destination. God’s grace and your perseverance will bring you all the way home!

Pastor Mark Boucher