“Lord, Teach Me!”

It’s back to school time! I’m glad I live in a country that values education. Learning and expanding knowledge add so much to the adventure of life. Today, I also went back to school…to teach students at the University of Valley Forge about the Bible and ministry. The saying is true, “If you want to really learn something, then try teaching it.” Through the years, the preparation for preaching and teaching has enhanced my life more than I can adequately describe! When I think about the foundation of learning, Psalm 25 comes to my mind. From God’s perspective, true education is not merely the accumulating of information, but the experience of transformation. Ponder what the Psalmist wrote: “Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths” (v. 4). “Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways” (v. 8). “Who then, is the man that fears the Lord? He will instruct him in the way chosen for him” (v. 12). A while ago, I was looking for a rubber band and reached for one that had been sitting on a shelf for a long time. When I stretched it a little bit, all of a sudden it broke. It had been on the shelf too long. Rubber bands are not made to sit around; they are made to be stretched. God believes in “stretching” us—not to break us through stress, but to bring us into a greater place of faith in Him. When we stretch our minds through learning and education, we grow in God and experience a greater sense of usefulness. Adopt the attitude of a learner, and let the Lord teach you His ways…and enjoy the adventure of growing!

Pastor Mark Boucher

Learning from the Past

“Through the process of repeated exposure, what is at first hated, becomes tolerated, then accepted, and finally embraced” (Anonymous). It’s interesting, when you study history, to see how we make the same mistakes as previous generations over and over again. Our actions today prove we really don’t learn over the centuries…that evil brings us down, and goodness lifts us up. The prophet Amos witnessed the decline of Israel, and God spoke through him in warnings to the nation. The leaders, priests, and people cast off the restraints of the sinful nature and did whatever they pleased. Amos tried to convince the people they could change, even in the midst of evil times. He preached, “Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is. Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts. Perhaps the Lord God Almighty will have mercy on the remnant of Joseph” (Amos 5:14-15). The people paid no attention…and went into captivity. Make no mistake…where evil is unleashed and embraced, the consequences are always deadly and destructive. Loving and obeying God are not just “good ideas,” but they are absolutely essential for peace and blessing on a nation. The call is clear, “Hate evil, love good.” To hate evil means to adopt the same attitude toward evil as God does. Hating evil doesn’t mean we hate people who do evil. It means we have a settled faith that God is the ultimate one who defines right and wrong, and we agree with Him. If others are upset by our beliefs, so what? The most important witness we can demonstrate to this world is proving we are God’s children by loving the Lord and loving to do good. It’s hard for people to condemn us if our “track record” is serving and helping others. Let’s make up our minds to find our joy, not in evil, but in the Lord and in doing his will. “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).

Pastor Mark Boucher

Choose Life!

When my friend’s dog got caught stealing chocolate cupcakes from the trash can, she knew that she was in trouble. Bailea knew that she had done something wrong, but she couldn’t have understood why my friend so upset about it. The cupcakes were in the trash; no one else was going to eat them. Why should my friend deny her something good? But Bailea didn’t realize that chocolate can be fatal to dogs. My friend wasn’t upset because Bailea had broken the rules; she was upset because Bailea could have died. We as Christians sometimes chase after things that seem appealing, even though we know that God isn’t pleased with them. We tell ourselves that the behavior is harmless and that it doesn’t impact anyone else. Although we only see the short-term appeal, God sees that it’s deadly. Never forget that “sin, when it is fully grown, leads to death” (James 1:15). We see this all throughout history: spiritual death…death of marriages, families, and friendships…death of communities, cities, and nations. God tells us “no”—not to punish us, but to bring us life (see 1 John 5:3; Deuteronomy 32:47; Leviticus 18:5). Moses challenged the Israelites this way: I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life (Deuteronomy 30:19, 20). Bailea, by the way, was fine. My friend got there in time. Still, Bailea would have been better off had she left the cupcakes alone. It’s the same with us. God can rescue us from sin’s curse of death, but we’re so much better off avoiding evil and walking in obedience from the beginning.

Otis A. Fortenberry

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