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

Living in the Spirit

Over the holiday, while with my wife’s family, I was playing a game with my relatives. My ten-year-old nephew’s turn came up, and he said, “I can’t do this.” We encouraged him, “Go ahead and try. Believe that you can.” He tried…and succeeded! In our relationship with God, He often challenges our faith, saying, “You can do this!” However, we often retreat into our fortress of excuses, envisioning our embarrassing defeat. Fear grips us, and we don’t even try. God has a better way! In Joel 2:28-29, God speaks about the days we live in right now and says, “And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.” Can God flow through your life by His Spirit? Can God speak and work through you? The answer from God is yes! What do you say? Challenge yourself when you are tempted to say to yourself, “God can’t use me because of _________.” Notice from Joel how God addresses self-imposed limitations:

1) We say, “The Spirit is only for some people.” God says, “I will pour out my Spirit on all people.”

2) We say, “I am too young.” God says, “Your sons and daughters will prophesy…your young men will see visions.”

3) We say, “I am too old.” God says, “Your old men will dream dreams.”

4) We say, “I am not wealthy or well-known.” God says, “Even on my servants…I will pour out my Spirit.”

5) We say, “I am just a woman.” God says, “Both men and women….”

God is looking for people to take Him at His Word and look to Him and His strength.  Self-focus produces spiritual paralysis; God-focus produces spiritual power. The Lord proclaims, “You can live in the power of my Spirit today!” What do you say?

 

Pastor Mark Boucher

 

 

True Freedom

I’m proud to be an American! And, especially this time of year, I’m proud to be a Philadelphian. It’s great to celebrate our country’s birthday in the home of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution; the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall.

At the same time, I must never lose sight of the fact that I have dual citizenship. My primary, eternal citizenship is in the Kingdom of Heaven, and my primary responsibility is to be an ambassador of that kingdom.

This Independence Day, as we celebrate our freedoms, let us not forget that we are surrounded by people who are in bondage: to sin, to their carnal desires, to fear and hopelessness. What makes their bondage even sadder is that most have no idea that they are bound. They choose to believe what the world tells them, but what the world calls freedom is actually a trap, designed to separate us from our loving God.

At the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry, he read in the Temple from Isaiah 58:

 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18,19)

As his earthly ministry drew to a close, he commissioned us to be ambassadors of this same message:

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18–20)

Let’s celebrate true freedom by devoting ourselves to sharing God’s Good News with everyone we know!

Otis A. Fortenberry

Going After a Full Life

It is interesting how two people can say the same thing, while having very different meanings. For example, people often say, “You need to live every day to the full” or “Seize the moment.” I would agree. However, when you dig a little deeper, you discover the implication of the person making the statement. The average person today implies, “Since life is short, experience all the pleasure you can. Don’t worry about others (or what God thinks); focus on yourself and grab all you can.” This way of thinking infested the Israelites of Old Testament times, driving them far from God. They knew that God’s Word spoke of judgment on sin, but since they didn’t experience immediate penalties, they rationalized their behavior as acceptable. When the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel reminded them of God’s day of reckoning, they dismissed it as fantasy. In fact, they made up a proverb, “The days go by and every vision comes to nothing” (Eze. 12:22). The Israelites simply partied on, living only for the present moment, with no concern whatsoever over their future and consequences with God. Here is what God said: “The days are near when every vision will be fulfilled…I the Lord will speak what I will, and it shall be fulfilled without delay…None of my words will be delayed any longer; whatever I say will be fulfilled, declares the Sovereign Lord” (Eze. 12:25-28). When the true follower of Jesus says, “Seize the moment”, the implication goes like this: “Live in the presence of the Holy Spirit, making the most of the opportunities God gives to serve others and do the will of God.” God’s day of accountability is coming sooner than we realize! How will you choose to “live a full life”?

Pastor Mark Boucher

Father’s Day Reflections

With the observance of Father’s Day, I reflect on my own relationship with my father. Earlier in my life, I tended to focus more on what I saw “lacking” in my Dad’s parenting skills toward his three sons (I was the middle child). However, with the passing of the years, my heart has grown more tender. I find myself remembering more of his good qualities and thanking God I even had a father. The most time I spent with my Dad was at work. He and my uncle started a painting business and had enough work to keep us teenage boys busily employed. I am grateful I learned this trade, as it helped me serve a lot of people and pay my way through college and seminary. My father was a great example of a man who believed in hard work! Proverbs 14:23 declares, “All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.” As I look around at the youth today (especially the young men), my heart goes out to them. Many are willing to work but have never been taught a skill or trade. What if we, as men, would befriend some of the young men in our neighborhood or church? Even spending an hour a week could make a huge difference. The other day, a man from Resurrection Life encouraged a young man here at Highway to connect with him about learning a trade. This man is willing to spend time and energy to provide an open door for this young man’s future. Sometimes, we think “being spiritual” is just sitting somewhere praying or reading the Bible. Pastor Wes reminded us that demonstrating love is the most spiritual thing we can do! So, on this Father’s Day, let’s reach out in two ways: in gratitude for the parents (or guardians) God gave us and in love to the next generation of young people.

Pastor Mark Boucher

Remembering God’s Goodness

So, you think you have it hard…read the Book of Jeremiah! His calling from God was about as difficult as it gets. Except for a few other brave souls, he had to stand alone for godliness and righteousness. His responsibility given by God was to live holy and preach warnings to a nation (Judah) speeding in the fast lane toward annihilation. Even the people from Jeremiah’s home town (Anathoth) plotted to kill him in order to shut him up. One day he was cast in a pit and left to die. While others partied on, he chose to sit alone because the hand of God was on him. Several times, Jeremiah poured out the personal anguish of his soul, sharing how he cried many tears. He is called “the weeping prophet”. In spite of his pleading to and for Judah, the nation was crushed by Babylon and the temple was destroyed. As I have been reading Jeremiah, I think of how easy we have it compared to him. I also wonder if Jeremiah experienced any joy in his relationship with God. The answer is absolutely yes! No matter how disappointed he was in the people’s response and no matter how his prayers seemed to go unanswered, he could rejoice in the everlasting God! Here are a few joyful verses Jeremiah penned in the midst of the challenges. He wrote, “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name” (15:16). “Sing to the Lord! Give praise to the Lord! He rescues the life of the needy from the hands of the wicked” (20:13). God’s Word and His presence are more than enough to give us joyful hope in dark days. May we always remember that God is good…even when life is hard!

Pastor Mark Boucher

Depending on the Holy Spirit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This morning I was reading Isaiah 55 and pondered the following verses: “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts. Neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:6-9). From this Word to Isaiah, I come to the painful realization of how “earthbound” I am. Too often, my first reaction to life’s challenging circumstances is opposite of how God would think. What can I do to change this? I need more of Him! Jesus told His disciples He would not leave them as orphans but would send the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, to be with us. The only hope I have to think the thoughts of God and to walk in His ways is by the power of the Spirit! Pentecost is not simply a reminder of “something extra” God provides for our enjoyment. Pentecost is the celebration of God’s new way of life, made available to us through Jesus and brought to us by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the power by which I live an overcoming Christian life. So, the question goes back to, “How do I learn to think God’s thoughts and live God’s ways?” The answer is by submission and dependency on the Spirit. God our Father provides as much of the Spirit in our lives as we are willing to receive. Jesus told us, “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13).  Let’s ask our Father, “Please fill me with your Spirit…more of You, less of me.”

Pastor Mark Boucher

Saying Yes to God’s Will

There’s an intriguing story found in the Bible in 1 Kings chapter 13. A prophet (unnamed) from the southern kingdom of Judah was called by God to deliver a stern message to the wicked King Jeroboam of the northern kingdom. God gave the prophet specific instructions about his journey: “You must not eat bread or drink water or return by the way you came” (v9). After the prophet gives his message to Jeroboam, he leaves to go back to Judah. However, “a certain old prophet living in Bethel” heard about this encounter between the prophet from Judah and King Jeroboam. The old prophet sent his sons after him and they invited the prophet back to Bethel (to the old prophet’s home). Unwisely, the prophet returned back to Bethel, and at first refused to eat or drink as he had been commanded by God. But, the old prophet deceived the prophet and said, “I too am a prophet, as you are. And an angel said to me by the word of the Lord: ‘Bring him back with you to your house so that he may eat bread and drink water.’ (But he was lying to him)” (v18). So the prophet ate and drank, breaking God’s clearly expressed instructions. The story doesn’t end well. The younger prophet receives a strong rebuke and then gets killed by a lion on the way home! Last Sunday we heard a sermon from Philippians about the will of God. Certainly God extends His grace to us as we all sometimes miss God’s will. However, we must never take the will of God lightly, as though disobedience to God is no big deal. When God clearly shows us His will, and we do the opposite, life will get messy. Here are a few “takeaways” from the story of the unnamed prophet: 1) Listen and do what God tells you to do. 2) Don’t be swayed to disobey, even by people claiming to “hear from God”. 3) Be aware that the will of God will be tested by circumstances and by others. I feel the most important thing to remember from this event is that God takes obedience seriously…and so should we! God’s blessing comes only after obedience. To knowingly and willingly go against God is extremely dangerous, so may we learn to always say YES to our God!

Pastor Mark Boucher

The Love of the Bride & Groom

Have you ever heard the phrase “mutual admiration society”? As I read the Book of Song of Solomon, I am amazed at the constant praise going back and forth from the Groom to the Bride and from the Bride to the Groom. They are obviously in a committed, devoted relationship and put their feelings into poetic, picturesque words. This book, which highlights the mysterious love of husband and wife, is a heavenly reflection, showing us the great love Jesus demonstrates for His bride. The burning question from the Song of Solomon challenging me is, “Will I return the passionate love to Jesus which He shows for me?” To start with, let’s consider who it is we love and what He is like. In chapter five, the friends of the Bride asks her, “How is your beloved better than others, most beautiful of women (v.9)?” The Bride then goes on to give honor and praise to the Groom for his character and beauty. She ends by saying, “This is my lover, this is my friend (5:16).” Today, we live in a pluralistic world where people “love” many gods and many idols. What makes Jesus so important? Why serve and love Him exclusively? My answer is that Jesus is the Son of God, the most wonderful being ever to have lived! He is full of grace, love, and compassion and has prepared eternity for us to be with Him. I have no higher thought or greater comfort than in the name of Jesus. He is more than a doctrine, more than a philosophy, and even more than a “belief”. In the words of the Bride, “He is my lover, my friend” (v.16b). It all comes down to love and relationship. This past week, Terry and I celebrated 40 years of marriage! As much as we love each other, we agreed from the beginning that Jesus would always be the number ONE love for both of us. As we love and serve Him, He gives us the grace and power we need to love and serve each other. Jesus, the heavenly Groom, gave himself totally for us, for all time. Will we return His love and commit ourselves to Him only…rejecting other competing idols? The first commandment is first for a reason. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37)!

A Mother’s Heart

Nature is God’s grand classroom! The alert student receives insight and revelation into the majesty and beauty of God through His creation. As we reflect on the importance of mothers in this season, we consider how the birds and animals teach us special lessons about motherhood. Jesus, speaking to the people of Israel, proclaimed, “How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings” (Matthew 23:37).  By God’s design, the hen protects the chicks and is willing to absorb the impact of pain and danger. The chicks also find a place of safety, unity, and blessing close to the heart of the mother hen. From another perspective, mothers can be quite fierce in defending their young. 2 Samuel 17:8 (speaking of King David and his men) says, “They are fighters, and as fierce as a wild bear robbed of her cubs.” No one wants to meet a mother bear in the woods whose cubs have just been stolen! In other words, “Don’t mess with Mom’s kids!” Furthermore, we discover in the Bible that the “motherly” qualities of care and protection are not just for mothers. The Apostle Paul, when writing to the church in Thessalonica said, “We were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.” Here, we receive a glimpse into the pastoral heart of Paul…and it resembles a mother’s heart! This tells me that you don’t have to be a mother to love and serve others. After all, God is the source of all love and delights in spreading His love through those willing to give themselves away to Him and to others. May Mother’s Day remind us of the importance of looking out for the welfare of others. Even the animals are at the front of the class teaching this lesson!

Pastor Mark Boucher