My Love/Hate Relationship

One great thing about this country is the food! What an amazing blessing to have supermarkets and so many different types of delicious selections. So, I must make a confession…I really enjoy eating! My challenge is eating in moderation, and, as the old saying goes, “eat to live, don’t live to eat.” What does this have to do with the Bible you ask? Well, in the Bible I read about thanking God for the blessing of food and about seeking God through the discipline of fasting. Here’s where my love/hate relationship surfaces. I love the benefits of fasting but I must admit I don’t like fasting. It’s hard. It takes focus. It doesn’t “feel” good. When Jesus was with His disciples one day, some of John the Baptist’s disciples asked Him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast” (Matthew 9:14b). Jesus went on to explain something about fasting that we need to know. He taught that fasting needs to be done at the proper time. The disciples of Jesus did not need to fast while Jesus was with them physically. Jesus used the idea of a groom and his friends of the wedding party. For them to fast while together waiting for the wedding would not be proper. However, Jesus went on to say, “The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast” (v. 15b). Fasting produces a sense of mourning or yearning for Jesus because He is not physically present with us, and, in this sense, He is “absent” from us. Paul says that “as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:6). Fasting, then, is a discipline Jesus gave us to “heighten” our awareness of Him as we humble ourselves from the everyday things we enjoy. The Bible gives no formula for how often we are to fast or for how long. However, I would encourage every Christian to make fasting a part of your life with Jesus. By faith, pick a time or day. Set your heart on what you will gain by fasting (more of Jesus) and not on just what you’re missing (a meal, or a day of eating). Even though fasting is not easy, I can testify that the Lord has faithfully given me special guidance and breakthroughs through fasting. Who knows? Because of the grace of God, maybe we can get to the place where we actually love to fast…rather than hate it. What do you think?

Like a Tree

This past weekend, Terry and I traveled to Massachusetts to attend the wedding of our daughter’s best friend, Leah. While in Leominster, MA (the city in which I pastored for 15 years), we visited the church and had a great time of fellowship with the pastor and his wife. Just outside the window of the office I used to occupy, there is a beautiful white birch tree. When I first arrived there in 1995, this tree was about my height. Now, the tree is 25- to 30-feet high with wide branches and abundant leaves! Often, when I was meditating or studying for a sermon, I would look out the window at this tree and consider Psalm 1:1-3: “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers.” The birch tree reminded me of the power of faithfulness and consistency. Even though I could not “see” the tree growing each day, I knew that growth was taking place because it remained rooted in good soil and received the blessing of sunlight and water. The promise in Psalm 1 is that fruitfulness follows faithfulness!  My prayer for you, God’s people, is that you practice faithfulness and consistency daily by staying close to the Lord in prayer and by reading and thinking about God’s Word. Simply receive the grace and blessings God provides each day, and you won’t have to worry if you’re growing or not. Your life will be like a tree that increasingly spreads as time goes by. Jesus faithfully fulfilled God’s will each day, and His presence and power lives in you! Stand firm in Him…and you will keep growing!

Pastor Mark Boucher

When We Say What We Don’t Mean

Peter had a lot to learn about Jesus. In the early days, when Peter first met Jesus, he learned a lesson he would never forget. From Luke chapter 5, we see Peter the fisherman surrounded by his fellow workers. Peter owns a boat, which he gladly loans to his new acquaintance, Jesus. After Jesus taught the people from the boat (due to the crowd size), He said to Peter, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch” (Luke 5:4). Consider the irony here…. Peter is an experienced fisherman, probably for most of his life. Jesus, at this time, is considered a prophet and teacher…still a mystery to the people. So, Peter politely responds to Jesus’ instructions, while voicing his own “expert” opinion, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets” (v. 5). Peter expects nothing more than what he already experienced. This half-hearted response from the tired fisherman is the best Peter can muster. He is in for the surprise of his life! The Bible says, “When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break” (v. 6). Instead of being overjoyed, Peter is embarrassed. “When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’” (v. 8). Peter says what he feels here, not what he means exactly. He doesn’t really want Jesus to leave him, but Peter is ashamed of himself. Here are my major “takeaways” from this amazing event. First, Jesus is the expert—no matter the work or the field. He is not just Lord over “spiritual” things; He is Lord of all! Also, I see here that Jesus doesn’t spare us from hard labor and even lack of results. The world is still the world, and making a living will still have times of pain and feelings of futility. Last, I see in this story that we can always trust Jesus and what He says. If we simply obey His Word, good results will come in His time and in His way. Keep faithful! He has some surprises ahead for you!

Pastor Mark Boucher

Together Always!

“Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus…” (Philippians 2:4-5).

These words from the Apostle Paul challenge us to live with Christ in us and through us. When we face trials of various kinds, our faith can rise to the occasion. We can look at each test as an opportunity to be like Jesus—to think like Jesus, to act like Jesus, and to develop the same attitude of Jesus. Since March, we have cooperated with our state and local government and community by not meeting in person. However, the church has not stopped ministry! It just looks different right now. I commend you for being so patient and kind. We have never gone through anything like this before, and you have stepped up to the challenge! As you know, our online service is offered each week, and the stats show us that more people are attending these services than were attending the in-person services. This doesn’t mean we don’t want to get back together! Your deacons have spent many extra hours in meetings—praying and discussing what we feel would be the best for our churches. We have sought the Lord’s guidance and read the latest up-to-date information on “best practices” and the “new normal.” We are attempting to hear from God and not be led by a spirit of fear. Some in our leadership team work in the medical field and are able to give us firsthand accounts of issues surrounding COVID-19. With a united heart, we feel the best decision for us is to start in-person services in July. The date we picked is Sunday, July 19. For some of you, this may seem too slow. Others think July 19 is too soon. My prayer is that we would adopt the attitude of the Lord and ask ourselves the question, “Can I consider not only myself, but also what is the best for others?” If we are going too slow for some, please consider that our motive is the safety and protection of people in our church families. If you think we are going too fast, please pray for God’s guidance. Also, please know that if you are not comfortable coming back right away, we completely understand. We are taking time and spending money right now so we can “live stream” the services on Sunday mornings. If you are at home and join us live, that would be wonderful! If you can’t watch the live stream service, it still will be recorded so you can watch it later in the day or week. Whatever your thoughts in this process, thank you for your patience and love for others. We encourage you to continue connecting with others. We encourage you to reach out to the church leadership for help and prayer (as many have done). This pandemic looks like it is subsiding, and we praise God for this good trend. When we open the doors, there will be guidelines to follow for everyone’s safety. You may feel that you don’t need to follow these in your personal life, but we ask that you cooperate in the spirit of Jesus for the benefit of others. It’s about Jesus and serving others. He keeps us staying together always!

Pastor Mark Boucher

Sometimes It Takes a Miracle!

Jesus performed many great miracles in His ministry. These works of power helped people believe in Him as God’s chosen Messiah. Most of His miracles demonstrated His love and power in healing suffering and pain. However, while reading my devotions yesterday, I came across a “special” miracle which occurred only once in the whole Bible. Here it is: “After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma temple tax came to Peter and asked, ‘Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?’ ‘Yes, he does,’ he replied. When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. ‘What do you think, Simon?’ he asked. ‘From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own children or from others?’ ‘From others,’ Peter answered. ‘Then the children are exempt,’ Jesus said to him. ‘But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours’” (Matthew 17:24-27). In all the history of fishing, if a fisherman pulled up a fish and discovered a coin inside its mouth, that would be quite surprising—but not necessarily a miracle. However, what if the fisherman were given these specific details: “Go to the nearby lake, catch the first fish, look in its mouth, find a coin, and pay the exact amount for the tax”? What is the “chance” of that randomly happening? This miracle of Jesus does not reverse or supersede nature; it demonstrates the unlimited knowledge of Jesus and His ability to work together divine timing with the actions of a fish!

This past Wednesday, I was in the sanctuary praying, when a powerful storm swept through the area. Once it was over, I didn’t think much about it until I got a call from my friend Mike at the Carpenters’ Union next door. He told me to take a look at the church chimney (smokestack) located right next to their building. This huge, heavy, thick iron chimney (about 40 feet high) was blown off its hinges and was tilted dangerously toward the church like the leaning tower of Pisa! Not only that, but the bottom, which had broken off, was right next to the wall of the union building. My first prayer was, “Lord, please don’t let it fall any farther!” If it had completely collapsed, it would have crashed through the roof of the church, and the lower end would have damaged the union building. After I was sure that the chimney had stopped moving, I went up on the roof to take a closer look and take some pictures. To my amazement, the present safety bars were still holding the chimney from a total fall…and the bottom was only inches away from the wall of the carpenters’ building. There had been no damage. Now, how to get this fixed? Mike, from the carpenters’ hall volunteered to look for a company to assess the job. This special project would need a high crane and would cost thousands of dollars. The next day, Mike called me to say he had found a company that would do all the work for free!

Now, this whole event may not seem like a miracle compared to say—raising the dead, but, as we have seen with the fish and the coins, the Lord knows how to work together all things: wind, chimney, broken bolts, church roof, and neighbors’ walls. Added to all this, the Lord gave us favor to freely receive the help we needed to correct the issue. Our God is good, and His miracles are disguised in many shapes and sizes!

Pastor Mark Boucher

Watch Your Words!

Everyone has an opinion. The problem is that we easily spout off our opinions—only to regret later that we spoke mostly out of ignorance or anger. James warns us that our words can be set on fire by hell. That is why it’s so important that our opinions are spoken with the wisdom of God…which is often manifested in restraint. The turmoil on our streets and in our government often gives way to hateful speech and slanderous accusations. We yell out blame and stereotypes with loud voices, while we jettison compassion and gratitude. Yes, we should speak out against all evil, and call it for what it is. But let’s be aware that our words are too often fueled by our sinful, fleshly nature rather than by the Holy Spirit. The Prophet Amos lived in a time of turmoil when sin abounded and chaos reigned. Here is what he said: “Therefore the prudent keep quiet in such times, for the times are evil. 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” (Amos 5:13-15). In light of the evil in our times, wouldn’t it be prudent for us to avoid “shooting off our mouth” but rather manifest God’s wisdom by our actions combined with well-chosen words? What if people knew you not just as “someone with an opinion” but as a person who continually did what was good and right? What if people saw you as someone who stood against evil—no matter if the evil is named racism or violence? When we take a deep breath and step back, we realize we have a lot more in common than what divides us. What if we as Christians used our words to bring healing and unity rather than further division and distrust? Please understand that I am not advocating silence. I am trying to remind you of the Scriptural principle found in Ecclesiastes which tells us there is a time for everything—“…a time to be silent and a time to speak” (3:7b). May the Holy Spirit lead us as “peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9) in these times of unrest and uncertainty. Lord, let our hearts be filled with the Holy Spirit and our words be guided by Your grace!

Pastor Mark Boucher

Let’s Get Grace!

Why is it that we as humans have this terrible tendency to take something good and turn it into something bad? Let’s take God’s grace for example. The grace of God is the amazing display of His steadfast love and mercy toward the repentant sinner. God could hold a grudge and withhold His grace, but the Bible repeatedly promises us of His willingness to forgive and restore us. Personally, grace is one of my favorite words! Someone described grace as “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.” I receive comfort and find rest in my heart knowing that I am forgiven and accepted by God through faith in my Lord Jesus! But we must be aware of our carnal nature. We can sometimes think of grace as an excuse to sin. We think, “I know this is wrong, but God promised to forgive me. His grace will cover me…so why not just give in to the temptation?” Trying to use God’s grace in this way is dangerous! My uncle, a pastor for over 40 years, used to say, “Watch out for greasy grace—the kind where you can slide right into hell!” So, how do we prevent ourselves from slipping on this greasy grace? The Psalmist comes to our aid: “If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared” (Psalm 130:3-4). Here the Psalmist expresses gratitude that, because of His grace, God does not hold a “record” of our past sins. But the Psalmist also connects the blessing of forgiveness with the healthy fear of God. Someone who is forgiven realizes how much it cost God through the sacrifice of Jesus. True repentance produces a tender, broken heart which wants to please God and stay clear of sin. This is the opposite attitude of “go ahead and sin because God will forgive you.” May the Lord shape our hearts and minds to adopt a healthy, biblical attitude toward our failures. Thank God that He forgives…and may fear and reverence of Him make us want to stay far away from sin. “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11). Let’s get grace!

All Day Long

“It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night” (Psalm 92:1-2).

The truth is that days are neither long nor short. They were 24 hours back in the beginning and they are 24 hours now. What if we lived a 24-hour day as a “microcosm” of a lifetime? My rising in the morning would be like my birth to a new life…and laying my head on my pillow at night like my death. If this day was all I had, how would I think about life? What would I do with my hours? When I read Psalm 92, I gain insight into a life well lived. Instead of getting up and crowding our thoughts with fear and stress, we should immediately turn our thoughts to God and say, “Lord, I thank You for another day…to walk with You and do Your will!” The life of faith is a constant discipline of turning our thoughts away from ourselves (and our natural self-centeredness) to the glory and majesty of the Lord. The Psalmist committed himself to “declare your steadfast love in the morning” (v. 2). Think about it…no matter what happens this day (and in this life), our hearts and minds are covered with the truth that we are loved and precious to our Lord! We are not alone and never forsaken! And, even though our heart should desire to constantly do right, we realize that absolute perfection of thoughts and motives eludes us. Our sinful nature, however, does not cancel the love of Jesus. He died for us, taking upon himself our sins, and then sending His Holy Spirit to give us victory over sin. His steadfast love is the source of true hope! Sometimes the days seem long, and we may doubt the Lord in the moment. But at the end of the day, we can declare as the Psalmist “your faithfulness by night!” As we look back, we gain a “faith perspective.” “Great is Thy Faithfulness” becomes our anthem as we sing, “All I have needed Thy hand hath provided. Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.” Psalm 92 reveals the beauty of a well-lived life. In the morning we rise to give thanks, all day long we rely on His steadfast love, and in the evening we proclaim His never-ending faithfulness! Praise the Lord!

Pastor Mark Boucher

When I Am Afraid

To be human is to know fear. Who, in their right mind, can say, “I am never afraid of anything”? During the pandemic, as I talk to people and read the news, I am seeing a spike in fear. The greatest fear in most people’s hearts is the fear of death. The writer of Hebrews describes those who are in bondage to this universal fear as “those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Hebrews 2:15). But, there’s hope for us! One day Jesus and the disciples were traveling across the lake, and a furious storm broke out. Jesus was resting and “the disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’” (Mark 4:38). As the water was rising in the boat, fear was rising in their hearts. They imagined themselves in the cold dark waters all alone with waves crashing over them. They saw themselves sinking into a watery grave, choking on the water until they were gone forever! Fear is like a video we play in our minds entitled, “The Worst That Could Happen.” Notice how Jesus responds to the disciples. He doesn’t reject them because they fear; He helps them build a bridge between their fear and His faith. After Jesus calmed the wind and waves, He asked them, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:40). Do we catch the lesson here? The power over fear is faith! We don’t have to pretend that we never fear. But we must learn from Jesus to replace our fear with trust. Someone once said, “Don’t doubt in the dark what you know is true in the light.” Instead of letting our imagination run wild with “what might go wrong,” faith grabs ahold of Jesus and listens to what He says—even in the midst of howling winds and crashing waves! The Lord gets to the root issue of our fear by asking, “Why are you so afraid?” Through such honest questions, we learn to doubt our fears and trust our Lord. We discover that Jesus is bigger than any problem we will ever face! After Jesus performed the miracle of bringing peace to the storm, the disciples found themselves trading their paralyzing fear of death for the healthy fear of Jesus. They asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:41). So, let’s remember that when we fear, we can be honest with Jesus and bring our fears to Him. The Psalmist David summarizes our victory when he wrote, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you” (Psalm 56:3).

Pastor Mark Boucher

A Mother’s Power

A few years ago, a contractor we hired poured some concrete slabs on the sidewalk outside the parsonage. The morning after the work was completed, I noticed someone had carved a “design” in the concrete. It’s still there today. When I think of the power of a mother, I think of the imprint on wet cement. For both good and bad, the imprint of a mother on her children remains for years…and even for the rest of their lives. The Apostle Paul alluded to this power when he wrote to the believers at Thessalonica: “As apostles of Christ, we could have been a burden to you, but 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, because you had become so dear to us” (1 Thessalonians 2:6b-8). Paul is saying here that his motive for challenging the people was like a mother who loved and cared for her children. He knew people respond more to love than to brute force. In other Scriptures, we discover the Lord is our Shepherd. He doesn’t drive us like cattle, but He leads us like sheep. If you had the blessing of a caring mother (and she is still alive), let this day be a reminder of your opportunity to express gratitude. If memories of your mother are filled with pain and grief, ask the Lord to help you forgive your mother from your heart. Try to remember the good that came through her life to yours. Because of our sinful nature, there is no such thing as a “perfect family” or “perfect mother.” If you are a mother, please never belittle or underestimate your role. You get to shape your children, eternal souls, who will in turn shape the world around them. Thank you, mothers, for your patience with your imperfect children! Like the Apostle Paul taught, you don’t just share your possessions and provisions—but your very lives as well. Your love is the greatest power of influence! Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote, “The second half of a man’s life is made up of nothing but the habits he has acquired during the first half.” While this quote doesn’t factor in the power of Jesus to change us, there is some truth to the reality of living what we have learned.  I thank the Lord for a godly mother who taught me godly life-lessons and habits which are still with me today. Happy Mother’s Day!