What’s in Your Hand?

It changed his life completely! God appeared to Moses from a bush in the wilderness and called him to go back to Egypt to set his people free! At first, this sounds an epic adventure! Moses knew better and quickly added up a list of reasons why God had chosen the wrong man. His response to the Lord was all about what Moses perceived as his deficiencies and the probable failure of the mission. We’re not much different than Moses. We are so prone to see only what we are not and all the limitations because of what we don’t have. This time of Covid-19 provides a good example. As we find ourselves in the midst of another “wave” of the virus, it’s easy to list all the reasons why we cannot serve God effectively or minister to others. All the personal and church-related restrictions seem only to fuel the negative. But just maybe we’re missing something. Instead of staring at our list of “why we can’t,” what if we looked to the Lord and asked, “What do you want me to do?” In the midst of Moses’ excuse giving, the Lord interrupted him with a question: “What is that in your hand?” Moses carried a simple shepherd’s staff. After throwing it on the ground (at God’s command), the staff turned into a snake! Moses had no idea of God’s ability to take what we think is little…and make it into something great. So, we should ask ourselves the question, “What has God given me?” Our resources may seem little, but, surrendered to the power of God, there is no limit to the possibilities. You may have many Covid-19 restrictions, but look to the Lord for what you can do. Cast before the great “I Am” what he has already given you! It may be that your “small” gesture of calling, emailing, sending a card, encouraging, giving, serving, praying, or simply reaching out will change someone’s life! As we approach Thanksgiving, let’s thank the Lord for His power to live in us and through us. Look at what you have…not just at what you don’t have! What’s in your hand?

Pastor Mark Boucher

The Courtroom

I remember my first visit to a courtroom years ago as a young pastor (a man had asked if I would go with him for moral support). The whole “aura” of the court is meant to intimidate. I was humbled by the barriers of separation, separate door entrances, high ceilings with dark wood, guards, and a somber quietness. Then the judge entered the room with long robes and the voice of the bailiff rang out, “Everyone stand.” For those guilty of crimes, this is where “reckoning” begins. In the Book of Hosea, the prophet speaks on God’s behalf from the courtroom: “Hear the word of the Lord, you Israelites, because the Lord has a charge to bring against you who live in the land: There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land. There is only cursing, lying and murder, stealing and adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed” (Hosea 4:1-2). As I read Hosea’s indictment, I couldn’t help thinking of the condition of our country and the city of Philadelphia. In my 60 plus years of life, I have never witnessed such corruption and evil as we see happening now…and considered as just “normal.” So many live as if they will never have to “show up in court” and answer to a holy God. But, make no mistake, God sees everything, and every person will give an account of what was done in life. The best we can do in this short time is to entrust our lives to God and avoid evil like the world’s worst deadly virus. And remember, our judge made a way for us to be forgiven! Our trust in Jesus’ death on the cross assures us that our crimes will not be held against us! Because of what Christ has done, the Judge is my Father, and the Lord Jesus is my defense attorney! I don’t need to be terrified of the courtroom, because the One who loves me provided everything for my salvation and eternal welfare!

Pastor Mark Boucher

Watch What You Say!

Authority is a big issue in the Bible. Of course, God is our ultimate authority and always deserves our first and greatest allegiance. However, it also matters what we say and how we relate to earthly authority. That goes for our political leaders. As I write this article, it still remains unclear who will be seated as our next president. But whoever he is, we need to show the world our loyalty to our Lord Jesus by watching what we say about our elected president. The current toxic political atmosphere tempts us to throw caution to the wind and jump into the fray. But as we slander and tear down, we need to ask ourselves, are we any different than the world? Do we speak evil about our leaders? In the Book of Acts, the Apostle Paul was on trial before the Jewish leaders and the high priest Ananias. As you may remember, this is the same Ananias (along with Caiaphas) who condemned our Lord Jesus to be handed over for crucifixion by Pilate. He was not a good leader by any measure! Paul made an opening statement before them, and “at this the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth” (Acts 23:2). Paul apparently did not recognize him as the high priest (poor eyesight maybe?) and reacted, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall!” Those standing near Paul exclaimed, “You dare to insult God’s high priest?” (v. 4). Instead of defending himself or pointing out the bad character of the high priest, Paul replied, “Brothers, I did not realize that he was the high priest; for it is written: Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people” (v. 5). When Paul said this, he was quoting Exodus 22:28 which says, “Do not blaspheme God or curse the ruler of your people.” I find it interesting here in Exodus how the Word places blaspheming God right next to the command not to curse the earthly leader. In my life I have never witnessed more cursing of our elected leaders than in the last four years. What if we made a commitment to show the world our Christian testimony by refraining from speaking evil about our leaders and instead praying for them? One more thought…at the time this event took place, the emperor of the Roman Empire was Nero. A brief review of history will show you his rule was marked by the worst kind of evil brutality. Yet, I see nowhere in the New Testament where God’s people slander or attack the character of the Caesar. May the Lord help us to follow His Word and the example of Paul and the first- century believers!

Pastor Mark Boucher

The Good Shepherd

The last verse of Psalm 119 is piercing in its desperation: “I have strayed like a lost sheep. Seek your servant, for I have not forgotten your commands.” The lost person in this verse is not someone who has rejected or openly rebelled against God; rather, like a sheep, he simply strayed from the fold. Perhaps the sheep was tempted by greener pastures or distracted by something interesting, like a butterfly floating around him or an unfamiliar sound. The sheep, lost and alone, possibly cold and certainly afraid, helplessly bleats out into the dark night, hoping to be rescued by the shepherd. The situation is not hopeless! The story, while it begins in the Old Testament, finds its conclusion in the New Testament. Jesus once told a crowd of people that a shepherd who has a hundred sheep will “go after the [one] lost sheep until he finds it” (Luke 15:1-7). Jesus later confirmed that He is that shepherd: He came “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). No matter how far the lost soul from Psalm 119 had strayed from God, we can be certain that God heard his cry and pursued him until He found him. Perhaps you find that you’ve drifted away from where you once were in your relationship with God. Rest assured that God loves you and that He desires to bring you back into the safety of the fold. Or, perhaps, you’re praying for a friend or a family member who has wandered away from the path of righteousness. Keep on praying! The Good Shepherd will never give up!

Otis A. Fortenberry

Some Election Thoughts

I’m looking forward to the election on November 3rd. Maybe you’re like me and are experiencing “political fatigue.” Having gone through many presidential elections, I can’t remember any more divisive and caustic as this one. As a Christian, I pray and think about how I should respond in such a political climate. Here are a few thoughts. Proverbs 14:34 says, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.” There are many issues debated that are not “moral” in the sense that one side is sinful and the other is righteous (for example: raising taxes on gas). I may not like it, but taxes are a part of life and are needed to keep things going. However, there are issues that are addressed in the Bible (directly or in principle) which affect the life and well-being of people. Some examples of this include how an elected official would vote on protecting the life of a baby in the womb or how they would treat those who are poor or elderly. The Bible has a lot to say about the responsibility of the strong to defend the weak. I consider the lives and past records of candidates and vote for the person I believe will most closely represent biblical values. The question I ask is, “Will this leader move our country closer to God and what is right…or further away?” The candidate may not be a Christian in the way that we know, but does he promote decisions that exalt what is right…or does he promote sin? Morals matter! Another thought I leave with you is this: people are more important than their political affiliation. The Early Church stunned the world through the power of unity in our Lord Jesus Christ—not because of their political opinions. It’s not our responsibility to argue with others in order to get them to vote as we do. I wonder, is it possible that we as believers in Jesus can lead the way in this time of deep division? Make no mistake, millions of people are going to be angry and upset after the election. Pastor Andy Stanley wrote, “Your favorite candidate will win or lose based on how our country votes in November. However, the church will win or lose based on our behavior between now and then.” May we speak and live in the Holy Spirit! Perhaps in our divided nation many will be won to Jesus as they witness the love we have for one another…regardless of politics. Our nation needs your prayers!

Pastor Mark Boucher

Joy in Difficult Times

As we approach election day, I am filled with deep emotions for the future of our country. On the one hand, I am believing God for a great awakening. As in former days, we discover that God’s Spirit can do a great work in a short time. People who are hopeless can find forgiveness and a future. Those enslaved by sin can be set free. Those lost can discover the presence of God and find the power and guidance of the Scriptures. God truly changes lives! On the other hand, when I look with just my natural vision, I see a country running headlong after sin and its deceptive pleasures. I see the majority of Americans ignoring the Lord and His church. I see the leaders of our political parties boasting about how we can solve our own problems. God is hardly mentioned, and, when some politicians are bold enough to speak His name, they are often ridiculed and told to leave God out of their decision making. It’s easy to feel marginalized and isolated. As I read the Book of Jeremiah, I realize the prophet faced far greater struggles than Christians face in America right now. Jeremiah truly was alone most of the time. While reading chapter fifteen today, I was reminded of what kept him going. “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts. I did not sit in the company of revelers, nor did I rejoice; I sat alone, because your hand was upon me for you had filled me with indignation” (Jeremiah 15:16-17). The hand of God was on Jeremiah. Rather than trying to find joy in the pleasures others pursued, he found delight in God’s Word. May the Lord raise up more Jeremiahs today! Dare to be different. Value God’s Word and His presence. Your life can make a great impact!

Pastor Mark Boucher

Mission Controlled

The other day I was sitting on the couch worshiping the Lord. I was thinking about the Lord’s wonderful salvation in my life and the multitude of blessings He gives me each day. My praise rose to the Lord with deep gratitude. Then, all of a sudden, my mind turned to the people all around me. How many of them never once share the joy of walking with Jesus? How many of them struggle with life’s issues without the power of prayer? How many of them have no hope as they face the future…and a Christless eternity? This week at Highway, we begin what we call our “Missions Convention.” During these next couple of weeks, we will hear from those called to minister in places far away and close to home. However, the whole idea of a missions convention is a waste of time if we just think of missions as done in special places by a few special people. The Bible reveals that we are in the days of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all who believe (see Acts 2:17 and Joel 2:28). As followers of Jesus, we are called to be people of the Spirit who look at each day as a mission. How would our lives be different if we looked at our time on earth as an opportunity to do the will of God each hour of each day? What if we got up in the morning and prayed, “Lord, lead me to someone today with whom I can share the hope of Jesus”? What if our lives were “mission controlled” instead of being controlled by our agendas? The commission of Jesus was given to all God’s people when he 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). May we enjoy the presence and great salvation of our Lord, and, at the same time, pray compassionately for our relatives, friends, co-workers, and neighbors to find life in Christ. My prayer is that every one of us would take the mission of Jesus to heart as our personal mission…not as something “out there” but as something “right here”—in my life and yours. Lord, may Your mission control me!

Pastor Mark Boucher

A Gift to Pursue!

“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:14-17). In his sermon last Sunday, Pastor Finney reminded us of the power and importance of holiness. Just look around today and you will discover that holiness is a strange and archaic idea, seldom spoken of and greatly misunderstood. For most people, seeking a holy God and living a holy life never crosses their radar.  From studying the Scriptures and pondering the meaning of holiness, I have come to understand holiness as both a gift and a pursuit. As a gift, I receive holiness from God based on the perfect sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. He came to die for sinners…like me. Holiness is not something I somehow achieved and presented before God. Holiness is something provided for me, which I simply accepted by faith from the Lord in humble gratitude. However, that’s not the end of holiness. God’s gift of forgiveness and cleansing requires a lifelong pursuit. The Apostle Peter tells believers to continue moving forward, and not to turn back to “passions of former ignorance.” Those who study the Bible understand the pursuit of holiness as the “process of sanctification.” In other words, we are made holy to become holy. Think of an orphan living wild on the streets who is suddenly adopted into a loving family. The child becomes an immediate member of the family and then learns to become like the family. Our adoption into the family of God gives us immediate access into the presence of our loving and holy Heavenly Father. Our Father then motivates us with, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” In all of our imperfection and sinful tendencies, we should not be discouraged in this pursuit of holiness. The same Lord who saved us also empowers us to live holy. Through the Holy Spirit we receive counsel and power in making everyday decisions that please Him. He awakens within us a desire for purity in our hearts…so we are careful about what we read, what we watch, what we speak, and how we think. Holiness is not a matter of “looking good” in the eyes of people but of cultivating a close, honest walk with God. His presence and words influence us in the deepest way possible so that we continue to become just like Jesus. By the way, holiness of life is not a bore as the world wants you to believe. Holiness is the only way to find joy in this corrupt and confusing world! Just look to Jesus.

Pastor Mark Boucher

Faithful!

As a new believer, I thought of Moses’ ministry as somewhat “glamorous.” After all, he performed amazing miracles before Pharaoh and led the Israelites through the Red Sea. However, the more I studied and read about Moses’ life and ministry, the more I realized how difficult his calling must have been. Many times, I thought to myself, I’m glad I was not Moses! He endured 40 years in the desert with believers who easily caved to grumbling and complaining and sometimes threatening to go back to Egypt. In the Book of Exodus, many chapters describe the trials of enemy nations, rebellious leaders, and slim resources. To me, Moses is a hero of faith and perseverance. He stayed with his calling and brought the people to the threshold of the Promised Land. Of all the ways the writer of Hebrews could have described Moses, this is what he chose to say: “Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house, bearing witness to what would be spoken by God in the future” (Hebrews 3:5). When I think of the power of faithfulness, I also think of Pastor Finney, Liza, and their sons. As you know, Pastor Finney started out as an intern with Pastor Wegner and ended up staying over 20 years! As pastor of Highway Tabernacle, I am honored to have served with the Kuruvilla family. Their impact through the example of faithfulness will always stay with us. In a city that desperately needs the blessing of loving homes and church families, the Kuruvillas modeled for us commitment, love, and faithfulness. This note is just a small way of saying thank you, Pastor Finney, Liza, and boys, for giving of your lives so willingly and serving with love and enthusiasm—even when it was difficult. Thank you for being faithful in God’s house! You are loved and appreciated by all of us! May our Lord Jesus continue to bless you and lead you in His harvest field!

Keep Practicing!

“For while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:8-10). Today you don’t have to convince people of the importance of physical exercise. Gyms are everywhere. Sports of all kinds are wildly popular. The virtues of running and walking are well known. The Apostle Paul, in his travels through the Roman Empire, undoubtedly saw a lot of athletes and competitions. With his mind on the spiritual, he teaches us the importance of learning from exercise. Why is it that so many believers speak about faith while at the same time don’t “practice” their faith? As a young Christian I was surrounded at church by people who practiced a daily devotional time with God. They set aside time (usually in the morning) for reading and meditating on the Bible and for prayer. This practice became such a part of my “routine” that I feel weak and spiritually “run down” when I neglect this. Don’t misunderstand me…the routine isn’t what saves us or keeps us. Jesus is the Lord. He is the One we need. The reason I have devotions each day is to communicate with Him, and to listen to His voice through Scripture. The morning exercise of prayer and Scripture helps me stay strong through the day. I become sensitive to others and my environment. The Lord helps me keep my mind on Him as I say yes and no to the many thoughts that come my way. I also practice my faith by getting together regularly with other believers because I know I am stronger with them than without them. My encouragement to you is to practice your faith. Get yourself in the habit of presenting yourself before the Lord. Exercise yourself to quietly wait in His presence. Remember the words of Paul who taught us that godliness is of great value! Keep practicing your faith!

Pastor Mark Boucher