Friday, February 17, 2017

Stressed Out By the News!

This week I heard a news report with which I could identify well.  The report spoke of a study that showed, during and since this past election cycle the stress level of Americans is higher than ever before.  And in fact, the report said, the more a person listens to or reads the news the higher their stress level becomes.  The solution: to limit the amount of news one listens to, reads, and watches per day (which seems like an odd solution coming from a news agency!). 

As I said, I could identify well with the report.  Between what’s been happening politically within our nation, the events that take place on a local level, and what is happening around our world, I find it is very stressful to follow the news. Over and over again, I find myself asking, how could they? Or, why? Or, what’s going to happen next?  I find myself angry with our political leaders, upset with the way people respond to one another, saddened by what is happening in our culture.  Yes, I get stressed out by the news! I’m sure the same is true for many of you. 

Thankfully, in the midst of all the stress-inducing news of our day there is still a piece of enduring good news!  It’s a piece of news that overrides all of the bad and stressful news that we hear and read every day. It’s a piece of news that gives us hope, brings comfort, and even instills a bit of peace in the midst of all the conflict.  That good news is of course, the good news of the Gospel.  It is the good news of Jesus!  It is the good news that you and I can have our sin forgiven and know God as our heavenly Father! And, it is the good news that, in spite of what we see happening in our world, God is still on the throne—and one day he will set all things straight!

The prophet Isaiah wrote, How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’’ (Isaiah 52:7 – NIV) The Apostle Paul wrote, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel (i.e. “good news”), because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. (Romans 1:16 – NIV) 

Maybe it’s time for some of us to turn off the newsfeed or switch television and radio stations.  Maybe it’s time for us to get back into our Bibles and read the good news that God has given to us; to remind ourselves of the good news that has been given to us through Jesus Christ our Savior!  Think about the good news of the Gospel and I guarantee you, your stress level will begin to drop! 

Have a great day!

Pastor Tim Harris

Friday, February 10, 2017

What A Game!

As you may know, I’m not much of a football fan. I watch but a couple of games a year, including the Super Bowl.  But, I was glad I watched this year’s Super Bowl game from start to finish.  It was an incredible game as we watched the underdogs, the Atlanta Falcons, take a huge lead in the first half of the game, even leading 28-3 in the third quarter, and then lose the game and the title to the New England Patriots. 

I’m not quite sure if the Patriots won the game by digging their heels in, letting their huge deficit motivate them to play harder, and rallying together by becoming more offensive in their play; or, if the Falcons lost the game by allowing their huge lead to make them complacent and a bit sloppy in their defense and lackadaisical in their offense. After all, no team has ever lost a Super Bowl with the kind of lead that the Falcons had.  In the end, all I could say was, “What a game!” I’m sure you felt the same. 

   Atlanta Falcons kicker Matt Bryant after the game

It reminds me of Paul’s words found in the New Testament, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Corinthians 10:12 – NIV)  The warning is given because every one of us is vulnerable to temptation and sin.  We all have the potential to fall into sins that we never thought possible. Especially during those times when we feel like we are winning, we must work hard to maintain a strong defense against sin and keep up a strong offense as we continue to grow in our faith and knowledge of Christ.  

The Apostle Paul goes on to say, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13 – NIV)  If we will continue to live in wisdom, grace, and dependent upon God (the ultimate quarterback!), he will help us overcome every temptation that comes our way.  He is faithful!  With him on our side, we can and will win the game! 

Have a great day!

Pastor Tim Harris

Friday, February 3, 2017

Stuck On the Parkway!

Last Saturday my sister Lois and her husband Luis were coming to our home to celebrate our Aunt Catherine’s 93rd birthday.  They live in Spring Valley, NY and thus, have to take the Garden State Parkway all the way down.  On a Saturday afternoon, it is usually an easy ride with little traffic. However, on that day, their one and a quarter hour trip became a four hour plus trip due to an accident.

As they came down the Parkway, they were suddenly brought to a stop just about 15 miles north of our exit.  Apparently, about one mile in front of them, there had just been a big accident.  Soon police cars, fire trucks, and ambulances were on their way.  And, for the next three hours Lois and Luis, along with everyone else who was making their way down the Parkway, were stuck. Just stuck!  Nowhere to go!  Nothing they could do!  They were just stuck! 

It’s a terrible feeling.  Has it ever happened to you? You need to be somewhere, you’ve got something to do, but the traffic has come to a stop—or you find yourself home sick in bed or your child has an emergency…or…etc.  Something has come along interrupting your plans, stopping you in your tracks, and there is nothing you can do about it. All you can do is wait it out and hope for the best.  You are stuck!

Worse yet, is when we begin to feel as if our lives themselves are stuck. Sometimes we get to a place in life wherein we feel as if we are not going anywhere; we have begun to lose our sense of direction and purpose.  Maybe some things in life have not turned out the way you once thought they would. It might be that the routine of life has become just that, too routine.  You may have lost your vision for the future and hope for what might be. You have begun to feel as if you are unable to move forward in life. You feel stuck!

I don’t believe God wants us to live our lives stuck. Rather, God wants to continually move us forward.  He wants to continually grow us, bless through us, and use us to help build his kingdom.  He has something ahead for each of his children. Yes, sometimes he brings us to a place wherein we need to slow down a bit and maybe hear from him. But, he doesn’t want us to feel stuck. Rather, he wants to use the pauses in life to strengthen us and prepare us for our next step forward. 

“…but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31 – NIV)

Don’t allow the situations of your life to tell you, you are stuck. Rather, allow God to work in your life—even in the middle of the traffic jams of life—to prepare you for what is ahead.  After all, every traffic jam eventually comes to an end and you will once again begin to move forward!

Have a great day!

Pastor Tim Harris

Friday, January 27, 2017

When Everything is Gone!

The last time I wrote this Pastor’s Devotion blog, I was on a plane, on my way to Leon, Nicaragua with a team of ten people.  Well, we arrived at the airport safely, made it through immigration and customs without a hitch, and picked up our minibus for the week.  Since it was lunchtime (actually past our lunchtime), we stopped where I have stopped dozens of times in the past: a Tip Top chicken restaurant within a little strip mall on the way out of Managua.  It was there that the “fun” began!

As we were getting out of the vehicle to go into the restaurant, some of us decided to leave our backpacks on the floor and under the seats of the bus rather than take them in with us.  Even our driver did the same. We figured they would be out of sight, it was broad daylight, and the parking lot had a guard.  In the past, however, I have never done this. I’ve always taken my backpack with me. I knew better! 

I’m sure you know where this story is going.  When we finished eating and got back out to the minibus, we found that one of the locks had been broken and the thieves took whatever was close enough to grab. Four of us had our stuff taken.  In my backpack were my iPad, new headphones, iPod Nano, glasses, and my passport—along with a whole bunch of personal items.  In one moment all of it was taken. Before I knew it, everything was gone!

Over the next week or so, while in Nicaragua and now back here at home, I’ve had to replace certain things. I had to get a new backpack in Leon and some personal items that I needed. I got a new passport from the U.S. Embassy in Managua. And, I had to purchase a new pair of glasses the day after returning. Some items I’ll be able to replace, others probably not for a while. 

All of this reminded me of how dependent and how attached we can become to our possessions.  Without my backpack, iPad, glasses, etc. I felt almost naked, even a bit empty.  I had to figure out how to function without the things upon which I depend on an almost daily basis.  I came to realize just how much I lean upon certain things for my work, for my pleasure, and sometimes for comfort.  I had to ask myself, what happens to me when everything is gone? 

    With the kids in Troilo, Nicaragua 

At the same time I came to see that there were and are certain things that the thieves could not take from us:  the presence of God—which became very real for all of us during this trip; the blessing of relationships—which only grew among our team; the blessing of being a blessing to the people whom we seek to serve—which became very evident as we ministered and served over the next week.  There are some things in life no one can ever take from us.

Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21 – NIV)

When everything is gone, there are some things that remain!

Have a great day!

Pastor Tim Harris

Friday, January 13, 2017

When Everything Changes!

I'm currently aboard my flight from Newark, NJ to Miami, eventual headed to Leon, Nicaragua.  There's a team of ten of us that will be down there this coming week.  We will be painting classrooms at Promise Christian Academy, preparing the school for the new upcoming school year; deliver backpacks and school supplies to the children of Promise Kids Foundation; and thanks to the generosity of the people of Shrewsbury First Assembly, the church I currently pastor, we will also leave them with the monies needed to purchase uniforms and shoes for the children!   Oh, yes we will also be able to deliver "Christmas" gifts to the kids (again due to the generosity of some people, including La Vid Verdadura (thanks Pastors Jose and Madelyn Rivera!), along with Christmas cards made by the children of First Assembly!

So, what exactly are we looking to accomplish as we paint, work with the kids, and minister in the churches we will attend?  Is it a feel-good moment for those who are part of the team? Is it an act of charity to help some people in need? Is it to make the people there feel loved and cared for?  Well, yes it's some of those things. But in my mind it's so much more.  Ultimately it's about wanting to see change in the lives of those whom we are going to serve. It's about wanting to see the children to whom we minister recieve the education they need; helping them learn of the goodness of God at work in their lives and seeing them follow Christ; giving them hope for their future; teaching them that what they know and experience today is not all that God has for them.  It's about letting them know that their are people outside of their daily environment who care about them.  Most of all, it's about letting them know that God really does love them, sees them, and cares about them.

Yet, I'm also reminded that to see their lives changed takes so much more than an act of charity or a visit here and there by a team from the U.S. Ultimately, it takes the work of God's Spirit to come into their lives, to touch their hearts and minds, and begin to change the way they think and live. It takes a touch of God's Spirit to take the education, the nurture, the charity and somehow bring it all together into a life-changing experience that will affect these kids and their families for years to come.

Isaiah, writing to people who were about to face a very, very difficult time in their nation wrote, “till the Spirit is poured on us from on high, and the desert becomes a fertile field, and the fertile field seems like a forest.” (Isaiah 32:15 - NIV) In other words, the ministry of God's Spirit would change everything!  Even the calming that was coming would be reversed.  The coming of God's Spirit into the lives and circumstances of the people would turn everything around!

I'm praying that we as a team would not merely be channels of backpacks, school supplies, and newly painted classrooms. I'm praying that we would not merely be instruments of a bit of charity, a little bit of hope, and a season of love. But, I'm praying that we as a team would somehow become channels of the work of God's Spirit into the lives of those whom we will serve.  After all, it's the Spirit of God who changes everything !

Have a great day!  Bendiciones! Nos vemos en pronto!

Pastor Tim