Friday, October 21, 2016

Stressed and Anxious?

Have you ever lost sleep due to stress and anxiety?  I have.  Even recently, I’ve had some nights wherein the thoughts of the day, the stuff going on in our nation, and things that are taking place in my personal life have accumulated in my mind and have kept my mind turning, keeping me from falling asleep.  I know the same has happened to most of you at one time or another.   

We are told that, people today are more stressed and anxious than ever before.  A recent study highlighted on the news this past week revealed the high levels of stress and anxiety people across our nation are feeling due to this year’s presidential campaign.  Some people have confirmed to me the same, saying that, especially after watching the presidential debates they have felt their stress levels go up and have had difficulty sleeping that night. I know exactly how they feel!  Some have gotten to the point wherein they refuse to watch any longer; some have even stopped reading and watching the news altogether due to the high stress and anxiety levels it was causing them. 

Of course, it’s not only our political scene that can create such stress and anxiety within our lives.  Pressures on our jobs, difficulties in our relationships, sometimes just the pace of life can all cause our adrenaline levels to rise, our minds to spin, and our bodies to feel stressed and anxious.  One doctor told me, even a series of good things happening in one’s life at a very fast pace—e.g. getting married, a new job, moving into a new home—can create feelings of stress and anxiety. 

So, what’s the answer? I know that there can be many ways for us to deal with the stress and anxiety that life brings our way. And, many of those techniques can be helpful.  But the Bible gives us the best of instruction of all: “Cast all your anxiety on him (God) because he cares for you.”  (1 Peter 5:7 – NIV) 

The Bible gives us an invitation to come to God with all of our stresses and anxieties, realizing that he is a God who does care about each one of us.  He is concerned for our lives, what it is we are facing, and how it is we are feeling.  Thus, he calls us to take all of our cares, concerns, points of stress, and anxiety and bring them to him in prayer, trusting him to be with us and to help us.

If you’re feeling a bit stressed and anxious today, bring it to God. He loves you and cares for you.  He is able to replace your stress and anxiety with his peace and joy. 

“When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.”  (Psalm 94:19 – NIV)

Have a great day!

Pastor Tim Harris 

Friday, October 7, 2016

Time For Some Maintenance

This week as I was driving, the maintenance light in my car came on telling me it was time for my next maintenance check-up—i.e. oil change, tire rotation, etc.  It’s a handy little tool that they have added to our cars these days.  Rather than rely on memory, personal records, or the little sticker in the upper left-hand corner of the windshield, which is easily ignored, the light comes on and stays on until the maintenance work is completed and the light is reset.

I have often heard it said that we ought not live our lives in “maintenance mode.”  That is, we ought to live our lives with a sense of accomplishment, moving ahead in life, being productive—not just maintaining the status quo of life.  Yet, there are times when maintenance is necessary and there are things in life that simply need to be maintained.  In the case of my vehicle, I don’t need to reinvent, rebuild, nor re-purchase it; I just need to take proper care of what I already have.  Such is the case with many things in life—e.g. the house in which I live, my marriage and family, my body, even my relationship with God. 

Unfortunately, not everything in life comes with a maintenance light that turns on when it’s time to stop and give the care needed.  Yet, if we would look more carefully there are signals that tell us it’s time to invest effort into taking care of that which we already have.  For example, when my relationship with God begins to feel a bit dry and routine, it’s as if a maintenance light has gone on calling me to pause and to invest some extra time and effort into my spiritual life.  After all, I don’t need to reinvent my relationship with him. I don’t need to start all over. I’m already his child, saved by grace.  I simply need to take care of that which God has already given to me in order that it might remain vibrant and strong.

I believe King David understood this principle well as expressed in his psalms. For example he wrote, “You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you…Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live…On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night…I cling to you; your right hand upholds me.” (Psalm 63:1-8 – NIV)  Like David, you and I need to regularly seek God, pray, worship, study God’s Word, and live conscious of his daily presence.  It’s all part of maintaining the wonderful relationship with which God has blessed us through Christ. 

So, maybe today it’s time for you to do a little routine maintenance on your spiritual life. Don’t hesitate. Don’t wait for things to break down. Rather, take the time necessary and put forth the effort to take care of the precious gift with which he has blessed you.  You will be so glad you did! 

Have a great day!

Pastor Tim Harris

Friday, September 30, 2016

Visiting the Bat Factory

This past week I had the opportunity to spend a few days attending meetings at the Louisville Institute in Louisville, Kentucky.  Just about all of my time was spent at the conference center just outside of the city.  On my final day, however, I had a few hours before having to catch my flight.  That being the case, I, along with another conference participant, visited the Louisville Slugger bat factory and museum. 

Although the museum was interesting—especially seeing bats used by Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio and holding bats used by Derek Jeter and David Ortiz—I was most interested in how the bats are made.  The whole process is very detailed and precise.  And, I learned something I did not know: every major league baseball player has their bats made specifically according to their preferences.  That is, within the parameters determined by MLB, each player can determine the particular weight of their bat, width of their handle and barrel, whether or not they want the end cupped out, and even the color and kind of finish.  Each player has his bats, made according to what feels best for him and will give him the best results.  Thus, the factory keeps records on the specs for each player’s bat as well as a sample of his bat of choice. 

In the end, each bat made for the MLB players is distinct in some way.  Although to the untrained eye, the bats may all look the same, when more closely inspected and handled one finds that each bat is in some way distinct from the others.  And, the factory makes sure those distinctions are maintained and reproduced. 

The Apostle Paul wrote, “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians 2:10 – NLT)

So often we fall into the trap of trying to be like those around us. We feel as if we need to fit into the mold of another person’s life—especially those whom we consider to be more successful than we are.  But I’m reminded that, like the bats made for the major league baseball players, each of us has been created to be very distinct.  Yes, there are certain parameters (after all we are all created as human beings).  Yet, each of us has been created by God with a whole set of distinctions—physically, emotionally, intellectually, etc.  God has created each of us with a particular set of gifts and talents. And, each of us has a particular purpose to fulfill within his plan. 

Don’t try to live as a replica of someone else’s life.  Allow the distinctions with which God has created you to set you free to be who you are supposed to be and do what you are supposed to do!  God has created you to be just who you are!

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (Psalm 139:13-14 – NIV)

Have a great day!

Pastor Tim Harris

Friday, September 16, 2016

The Closing, Finally!

After a year of waiting, yesterday afternoon Kim and I finally closed on our house here in Eatontown, NJ.  It was July 2015 when we first saw the house and felt it would be the right house for us as a family and for our ministry at Shrewsbury First Assembly.  But the end of August we had signed the contracts and began the mortgage and inspection processes.  During the inspection, however, an old oil tank was discovered and subsequently the fact that some oil had leaked into the soil.

Of course, the sellers were responsible for the remediation (thankfully for them they had insurance that covered the cost). By early September we had to make a decision. Would we bail out of the deal or would we continue? We decided that this was the house for us and, since the house was empty, we made an agreement with the sellers to move into the house and lease it from them at a discounted rate until the remediation was complete.  Once the work was completed we would go into closing.  We had no idea that it would take a full year! 

Although there were a few inconveniences during the process, in the end we know God took care of us and that he was the one who led us to this house, which is now our home.  Thus yesterday afternoon was an exciting time for us, for it wasn’t just about going to a closing, we were finally closing!  (And the best thing was, after the closing we didn’t have to move!)

As excited as I am about now owning the house in which we have been living, I have been thinking much about the fact that this house is a mere shadow of the house that Jesus has been preparing for us in heaven.  In John 14, Jesus said, My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:2-3 – NIV)

Jesus compares heaven to a great big house. In that house, there is a “dwelling place” (lit.)—i.e. a room—for each of God’s children. Thus, one day we will all live together with God our heavenly Father, Jesus our brother, and all of God’s children. And, what a house that will be!  What a day that will be when the deal is finally closed and we get to move into our Father’s house!  I’m sure it is going to be a lot more exciting than any closing we might experience here on this earth and much more beautiful than any house in which we might live in during this life.

As much as we might enjoy the houses that God provides for us here in this life, let’s never forget “this world is not our home,” we are just “passing through.”  If we will live for him, God is going to take us to the most exciting closing of all: the day we get to move into his house! 

Have a great day!

Pastor Tim Harris 

Friday, September 9, 2016

Cheering On the Underdog!

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been following the U.S. Open Tennis Championship relatively closely.  I attended on the first day of the tournament, along with my son Nathaniel and my two brothers.  Since that day I’ve been following the matches on the U.S. Open app on my phone and watching as many matches as I can on TV.  Like any kind of sporting event, once you get into it, the drama of both the individual matches and the tournament as a whole captivate you.

One of the most intriguing parts of the tournament is seeing new players rising in the ranks and less ranked or unranked players defeating higher ranked players.  In fact, just this week there were two major upsets: Andrew Murray (2) was defeated by Kei Nishikori (6) and Sereena Williams (1) was defeated by Karolina Pliskova (10).  It is always amazing to see upsets such as these.  But, what is most interesting to me is the reaction of the crowd.  As much as the crowd loves to root for their “hometown” player or their favorite, it seems they love to cheer on the underdog—even if it’s just to see the matches extended a bit longer.  And as they do, the lesser-ranked player often gains confidence, stamina, and a will to win that propels them to win the match.  Such was the case with each of these matches this week. 

In the book of Hebrews we read these words:  Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us….” (Hebrews 12:1 – NIV)  As I read that verse I am reminded that there is a crowd in the stadium of heaven that is cheering us on as we seek to live out our faith in Jesus Christ.  And the truth is, they are cheering on the underdogs! 

If you think about it, we are all underdogs in this life of faith.  That is, none of us has the capability to live the way we ought to live and keep the faith on our own.  Left to ourselves, we would all lose; none of us would make it to heaven without the grace of God at work in our lives.  But a crowd of believers that has gone on before us is cheering us on! They are encouraging us to keep playing, to throw off whatever might hinder us, to stay focused on Jesus, and to continue to trust God.  Yes, they are cheering on the underdogs knowing that, like them, we too can win the prize! And in fact, I tend to believe that Jesus himself is leading the cheer!

Today if you are feeling a bit down about your ability—or lack thereof— to live this life of faith, if you are feeling like an underdog, know that there is a crowd in heaven that is behind you, cheering you on!

Have a great day!

Pastor Tim Harris