A Fresh Start

Have you made your new year’s resolution yet?

I’m pretty sure, based on what I’ve seen the last few years, that, when I walk past the Franklintown apartments next week on my way to work at around 4:15 in the morning, I’ll see at least one person working out in the weight room. This will last for a week or two at best; I rarely see anyone in the weight room that early for the rest of the year.

There’s something to be said for a new year. It brings new hope, as well as new resolve to accomplish our goals. Unfortunately, it’s hard to change our behavior and sustain those goals over the course of a year. Here are some tips to help increase the odds in your favor.

Start off by setting realistic goals. Yes, it’s good to challenge ourselves, but if we set the bar too high, we’re liable to get discouraged and quit when we miss the mark. If you haven’t been reading the Bible regularly, start with the goal of reading one chapter a day. You may find yourself reading more than that each day – and that’s a good thing.  You can always increase your goals later in the year. The idea is to start with a goal that’s reasonable to maintain.

Next, when you’re establishing a routine, find a time that you can stick with. In my experience, the best time for prayer is first thing in the morning, before you start your day. However, if you tend to oversleep and end up rushing in the morning, that time probably won’t work for you. Also, it’s best to set a certain time, rather than vaguely planning to pray after work or before bedtime. When you don’t set a specific time for an activity, it becomes easier to put it off, finding other ways to fill the time until it’s too late. Making an appointment will help ensure that you bring other activities to a halt when the time comes for prayer.

The final tip is not to lose focus, even if you’re not perfect at hitting your goals. I’ll never forget my father’s advice to me when I was faced with failure: Don’t be discouraged, but don’t be satisfied. The best course of action is to move on from failure and start again. If your goal is to make it to church every Sunday, but you miss a week, don’t be discouraged and give up – and don’t be satisfied, and accept a lower standard. Just reset and start your goal all over again.

In Philippians 3:13 and 14, Paul wrote, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal.” As we bid farewell to 2017, let’s leave behind our failures, successes, tears, and triumphs. No more looking back. God has an exciting future straight ahead.

Happy New Year!

Otis A. Fortenberry

Receive the Gift!

One Christmas several years ago, a church I used to pastor decided to bless a family going through a time of great need. People went shopping and filled some bags with clothes and gifts for the children. Also, in the bags were Christmas cards with $500 worth of gift certificates! Later, I found out that the family took what was in the bag, but failed to even look inside the cards and threw them away! Sadly, we were not able to replace them. As I have thought about this through the years, I came to the conclusion, “It is easy to miss the most important things in life.” When God sent the best He could give, His only Son, most people misjudged the value of the gift. The Bible says, “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him” (John 1:10-11). Imagine if the story of Christmas ended on this note of despair! But, the Word goes on to say, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…” (1:12). As you read the Bible from cover to cover, you discover that God’s people were almost always the minority. Even today, in a country permeated with the Gospel, most people still miss the gift! While driving on Broad Street the other day, I noticed a poster for a Christmas event emblazoned at the top with “Xmas Party.” I know we’re used to this, but I still groaned deep in my heart. Jesus wants to save, bless, heal, and restore and yet we purposely try to “X him out.” However, Christ isn’t going anywhere. The world belongs to Him. He is the Lord of life and will reign forever! Most may miss Him and even try to blot out His memory, but those who receive Him become royal family members! Let’s spread the word about Jesus! There are those today who are ready to open the gift!

Pastor Mark Boucher

Take the Risk!

We’re all in this epic struggle on the battlefield called life. On the front lines, our Commander in Chief, the Lord Jesus, calls us to a life of giving and sacrifice. Away from the front lines, we feel the pull to stay huddled in a “safe place.” We reason that it’s much more comfortable sitting around the tents and tables than to be “out front.” What if Jesus adopted the attitude of “play it safe”? Had He stayed in heaven with the angels, surrounded by unimaginable comforts, there would be no reason for Christmas. More than that, there would be no salvation. But, donning His battle fatigues, He left his “comfort zone” and deployed where He was needed most. “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant…” (Phil. 2:6-7a). Why in the world would He do such a thing? Let’s let the songwriter Thomas Campbell (1777-1844) help us find the answer in his hymn “And Can It Be that I Should Gain.”

He left His Father’s throne above

So free, so infinite His grace!

Emptied Himself of all but love,

And bled for Adam’s helpless race.

Amazing love! How can it be

That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

There it is…Jesus chose love over luxury! So, what about you and what about me? Philippians 2:5 says, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” Jesus did not come for us to admire Him, but for us to follow Him. Are you willing to step outside the comfort of your living room, away from your TV, movies, and PC? Will you sacrifice time and energy to seek God in prayer, to open the Bible and read, to gather together with God’s people and worship…to grow as a soldier of Jesus? Will you sacrifice by helping a neighbor in pain, by listening to a friend’s story, by sharing the Good News with a co-worker? Remember, every victory is preceded by a risk. Jesus left everything to enter the battle. Where are you?

Pastor Mark Boucher

Right Place, Right Time

Talk about big news: the story of Jesus the Messiah coming to planet Earth doesn’t get any bigger! Luke, one of God’s “news reporters” takes two full chapters to describe this once-in-eternity event. Interestingly, within “The Story” are some smaller stories we don’t expect. Some obscure man named Simeon is suddenly introduced into the narrative. He is described as “waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him” (Luke 2:25b). As I am reading about Simeon, suddenly it dawns on me: the story of Christmas is not just about Christ coming, but also about people responding…people like you and me. After all, great stories often include glimpses of personal eye-witness accounts. Ponder Luke’s “breaking news” about Simeon’s amazing encounter with Jesus: “Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts…Simeon took him (baby Jesus) in his arms and praised God…” (vv. 27a-28a). This man got to hold the very Son of God, Creator of life itself, all because he was at the right place at the right time! Simeon’s encounter with Jesus encourages me. God shows us that He actually wants us to experience Him and enjoy His presence! Let’s remember that Simeon was not some “super-human action figure” and neither are we. Let the story headline sink in: God seeks to bless those who yield “their life story” to the “Greatest Story Ever Told”. Simeon released his grasp from the “pen” of his own life and invited God to write His story through Simeon! Because of Simeon’s desire to do God’s will, millions of believers through the ages of time have been inspired by his life. A Christian football coach and I were talking one day about how to discover God’s will. I will never forget his simple words of wisdom: “Just love God and He will show you His will.” To me, this advice sums up the life of Simeon. He loved God and walked with the Holy Spirit…and the Lord directed him to the right place at the right time. Let God write your story!

Pastor Mark Boucher