Wednesday, November 25, 2015

To Whom Are You Thankful?

I was thinking the other day that, going into this Thanksgiving holiday many people talk about being thankful. We often emphasize, and rightfully so, the necessity of taking an assessment of the blessings of our lives and developing a heart of gratitude. We ask the question, “For what are you thankful?”  What is missing, however, is the object of their gratitude.  We fail to ask, “To whom are you thankful?” Thus, our gratitude is sometimes misdirected or not directed towards anyone at all!

I picture it this way:  If I give my child a gift, I would expect some sort of expression of gratitude—at least a, “thanks, Dad!”  If they would go and thank other people for the gift I have given them, I’d feel as if something was wrong. The same would be true if they simply said, “I’m so thankful,” yet never express any sort of gratitude towards me personally. 

All of that to say, to whom is your gratitude directed?  I’m afraid that too often we are thankful in some generic way, having no real object of our gratitude. And, sometimes we direct our gratitude towards the wrong person or people.  Yes, we want to be thankful towards those around us when it is appropriate. But, is it possible that we sometimes fail direct our thanks towards the One who ought to be the ultimate object of our gratitude? Do we fail to say “thank you” to the One from whom ultimately all blessings flow? 

Over and over again, the Psalmist wrote, “Give thanks to the Lord….”  David said, Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name. (1 Chronicles 29:13 – NIV)  The Apostle Paul at one point wrote, “But thanks be to God!” (1 Corinthians 15:57 – NIV) 

This Thanksgiving let’s make sure we have hearts of true gratitude for all that we have and all that we are. Let’s say, “thank you” to those around us who have blessed us.  But most of all, let’s be sure to direct our thanksgiving towards God, the One who is our creator, sustainer, savior, and give of all good gifts!

Have a blessed Thanksgiving! 

Pastor Tim Harris

Friday, November 13, 2015

Unreachable Apples

The home we recently moved into is on “Applebey Street.”  And believe it or not, we have two apple trees on the property.  (I guess it only makes sense!)  At first we thought that they were crab apples, which are inedible. But after moving in and seeing the apples grow, we realized that these apples are “real” apples—that they are actually edible apples.  The problem is, however, most of what appear to be the good apples have all been out of our reach.  They are at the higher parts of the tree beyond where I can reach, even with a ladder. 

Eventually, the apples fall off the tree and become food for the deer that live nearby, rather than for us. But, here is what we have found. Most of the apples that have fallen are really not all that attractive once we see them up close. Most of them are somewhat diseased or have insects or are just very, very ugly and hard.  The apples that were once beyond our reach and so tempting, no longer have the same appeal once we actually get them in hand. In fact, they are very disappointing.  

Isn’t that the way it is with so many things in life?  We are often tempted by those things that seem out of our reach—e.g. a different job, certain possessions and pleasures, a particular relationship, etc.  And, as long as that thing is out of reach, it is so appealing.  When, however, we are able to attain what we have longed for, reality sets in. Once in hand, that which was once so appealing can become so disappointing.  The flaws are revealed. The true nature of what once tempted us is uncovered.  The once shiny apple is actually a rotten apple for it cannot deliver the satisfaction for which we were hoping. 

Jesus said, “But, seek first his (God’s) kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.”  (Matthew 6:33 – NIV)  That is, don’t allow yourself to spend your life running after things that in the end will most likely disappoint (and which will one day disappear). Rather, spend your life striving after that which belongs to God’s kingdom—that which is spiritual and eternal.  And, God will take care of all of your other needs.  That which is part of God’s kingdom, once in hand, will never disappoint. 

So, let’s not strive after the unreachable apples of this world. Instead, let’s pursue the Kingdom of God!

Have a great day!

Pastor Tim Harris

Friday, October 30, 2015

God Knows Your Name!

One of the biggest challenges of coming into a new church is getting to know a whole new group of people by their names.  It’s not that the names themselves are so difficult or unfamiliar (although at times that can be the case). It is about being able to put a person’s name with their face.  It is about getting to know people by their name; being able to call people by name. 

Most people say, “I’m really bad with names,” or, “I never forget a face but I can’t remember names.”  I think that’s the case for most of us. It probably has to do with how our brains work.  Learning names seems to take a lot more work and repetition.  For me, I find it most difficult to learn the names of people I only see once in a while—e.g. Sunday morning as they leave the sanctuary with the crowd. I do better with the people I see a couple of times per week or with whom I have repeated contact.  Thankfully, there are some people who have aided me by coming up to me and reminding me of their name. I really do appreciate the help.

I believe learning people’s names is important.  It’s a way to connect with people on a more personal level. It means something to be able to greet someone by name rather than in some generic way.  Speaking each other’s names takes us to new level of relationship; it takes us beyond being mere faces in a crowd. Thus, it’s important for us to learn the names of those around us—neighbors, co-workers, even the people with whom we do business on a regular basis.  I believe it’s especially important for me as a pastor to learn people’s names.

I’m glad to read in the Bible that God knows us by name.  The prophet Isaiah wrote these words: But now, this is what the Lord says— he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.” And, “I will give you hidden treasures, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.” ((Isaiah 43:1; 45:3 – NIV, emphasis mine)

God reaches out to us as his people—people whom he knows not from a distance, but up close and personal. We are not passing acquaintances with God.  Rather, we are known by him; known by our names.  Thus, as we come to God today, we come to him not as strangers; not as those who are merely part of the crowd; not as those whom he knows in some generic way. Rather, we come to him as those whom he knows by name! 

Be encouraged today: God knows your name! 

Have a great day!

Pastor Tim Harris 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Cheering For the Home Team!

With the New York Mets having made it into the World Series, most of here in this New York/New Jersey area have baseball on our mind, me included. Although not all of us are diehard Mets fans, we’re excited about having one of our home teams make it this far. In fact, we are hoping to see them win the whole Series.  After all, we love cheering for our home team!  

It makes me think of the old baseball song that we love to sing during the seventh inning stretch: “Take me out to the ball game. Take me out with the crowd…let me root, root, root for the home team….”  The song conjures up images of a stadium filled with people cheering on their team.  Whether it’s their local professional team or their kid’s little league team, the crowd is standing and cheering and rooting for their home team.  And, it is often the cheering of the crowd that fills that team with the energy and confidence they need to keep on playing, even when they find themselves down in the score, facing a strong opponent.  It can be the cheering of the crowd that causes that team to turn around a game or even pull out a miracle win.  One can never underestimate the power of a crowd cheering for their home team!

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)  It’s a picture of a stadium filled with people cheering on those who yet running the race—we might say, playing the game.  They are the saints of old who have lived a life of faith and have since received their reward. Now they are in that heavenly stadium cheering us on, encouraging us to keep on going—to keep on playing even when the opponent may be strong or the score may not be in our favor.  It’s a heavenly crowd cheering on their home team. And, we who are currently living our lives as people of faith, we are that home team! 

You may be struggling today in some way, even feeling a bit discouraged. You may be tired, feeling as if you are currently behind in the score. The temptation to give up on your faith may be great. But, be encouraged today.  Keep on running the race of faith. Stay in the game. You’ve got a stadium of people cheering you on!  After all, you’re on their home team! 

Have a great day!

Pastor Tim Harris

Friday, October 16, 2015

Chopping Back the Vines

This past week I decided to do a little outside cleanup at our new home.  That meant cutting back overgrown branches and raking out leaves and debris that had collected.  As I did so, I began to realize that wrapped around many of the trees were vines that had begun to choke the life out of some of them—and had actually killed a few.  Thus in order to salvage that which was still alive, I spent most of my time chopping back the vines as close to the root as possible. 

This was not the first time I’ve had to deal with vines such as these.  Growing up, there were vines that would grow around our lilac trees, blending in so well it was difficult to distinguish the leaves.  A number of years ago I had to deal with vines that would grow around our forsythia bushes.  Our neighbor at the time called them, “bad boys!”  In each case, the vines twisted themselves around our trees and shrubbery, blending in, and choking the life out of the tree or bush it had attacked.  The only solution was radical surgery—chopping the vine at its root in order to destroy that which had grown around the tree or bush. 

Many of you already know where I am going. But, it’s true: those vines are very much like sin as it slowly creeps into our lives, often blending in so well that we can’t even distinguish that it is there—at least not until it has already begun to choke the life out of us.  The only solution is radical surgery. The only solution is to cut it out of our lives, chopping it at its very root. 

Jesus said, If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.  And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”  (Matthew 5:29-30 – NIV)  Jesus encourages us to get rid of anything and everything within our lives that would lead us into sin and thus choke the spiritual life out of us. 

Let me ask you, what may need to be cut out of your life today? What is it that may be choking the spiritual life out of you; separating you from God; keeping you from living the kind of life you know God wants you to live?  Maybe it’s time to chop back some vines.   

“…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.”  (Hebrews 12:1 – NIV) 

Have a great day!

Pastor Tim Harris