Friday, May 19, 2017

One Final Graduation!

This Saturday, May 20th, our daughter Joanna will graduate from Lafayette College in Easton, PA.  Joanna will receive two bachelor's degrees, one in psychology and one in music, with a minor in Spanish.  Since she is our youngest, this will be our final college graduation as a family.  Thus, with Joanna's graduation, Kim and I are officially done with the college years! 

Of course, this is a bittersweet occasion for us.  No doubt, we are very proud of our daughter. And with her graduation, we are glad to be moving past the years of trying to choose the right school, filling out applications and the annual financial aid forms, the endless moving in and out of dorms, and the mountain of complications that are just a natural part of attending college these days (not to mention the financial matters!).  Since 2009, Kim and I have had a child in college—that eight years worth of college!  In fact, for five of those years we had two attending at the same time!  So, yes we are glad to be moving past the college years.

Joanna & me by the river in Easton, PA
On the other hand, it's also a bit sad for us as parents, for we know that once our children graduate they begin to focus on the stuff of their own life much more than on the stuff of our lives. They become much more independent from the home and from us as their parents, and rightfully so. In fact, Joanna will be moving within just a few weeks to New Haven, CT for her first post-college job.  Thus, with this final college graduation, Kim and I know that we ourselves are moving into a new stage within our lives. For us, it's as if a chapter of our lives is coming to an end.

As it does, I look back with great thanksgiving for the years we have spent together as a family. I know I speak for Kim when I say that we are glad to have had the privilege of raising our children. And, with God's help we will continue to do our best to bless them as each of their lives progresses. Truly each of them is a gift from God—which is the meaning of each of our boy's names: Jonathan and Nathaniel. And, each of them is a sign of God's grace upon our lives—which is the meaning of Joanna's name.

My prayer for them, for each of you who is reading this blog, and for Kim and me as well comes from the last few words of the book of Hebrews:  “Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (Hebrews 13:20-21 - NIV)

I pray that in each stage of life, God will bless and use each of us for his glory!

Have a great day!

Pastor Tim Harris

Friday, May 12, 2017

A Lesson From My Mom: Live in the Moment!

Yesterday I went to visit my mom who has been struggling with dementia since 2014.  Mom is only 79 years old and yet she can hardly speak due to really bad aphasia, is wheelchair-bound, and is unable to feed herself or take care of her own daily needs.  Thankfully, she still recognizes our faces (although she can’t come up with our names) and seems to get excited when she sees one of my siblings or me, or even our spouses or children. What strikes me the most, however, is that my mom has very little concept of either the past or future.  She is pretty much just living in the moment. 

A great moment with my mom and dad in 1960!
With Mother’s Day coming this Sunday, I stopped at a nearby supermarket on my way to see her and picked up a Mother’s Day card and flowering plant.  Since mom can’t read, I needed to make sure the card would be visually attractive to her, so I got her a card with lots of little kittens on the cover (she always loved cats!).  The plant had large daisy-like flowers in a very bright peach color. Again, I wanted to make sure it would be visually appealing to her.  Although my mom doesn’t understand that it is Mother’s Day or what that means, when I gave her the card and plant her face lit up.  It was for her, a moment of pleasure. And, that’s our goal: to simply make the most of the moments we are with her and the moment in which she is living. 

The Apostle Paul speaks of “making the most of every opportunity” or literally, “making the most of every moment.” (Ephesians 5:16) The writer of Ecclesiastes writes, “I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live.” (Ecclesiastes 3:12)  Later on he writes, “Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let your hands not be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well.” (Ecclesiastes 11:6 – NIV)  In other words, we are challenged us to enjoy and use well the moments in which we find ourselves living.

We all know we have a tendency to keep on looking back, often holding onto regret and pain; while at the same time looking ahead, often with anxiety and fear. We can become so taken up with the past and the future that we begin to miss the moments at hand. Before we know it, the moments we were meant to enjoy and use wisely have passed and we are left wondering where life has gone. 

Although I grieve over my mom’s current condition, she has reminded me to not allow myself to become trapped in the past nor to obsess over the future. It’s as if she is teaching me another lesson: Don’t forget to live in the moment!

Have a great day! And, happy Mother’s Day to all the moms!

Pastor Tim Harris

Friday, May 5, 2017

Heroes of the Faith

Last night Kim and I had the privilege to attend the 50th anniversary banquet for the Walter Hoving Home, a Christian rehabilitation program.  Modeled after Teen Challenge, the Walter Hoving home has seen hundreds of women set free from drug and alcohol addiction and set on a new course of life as they experience a nurturing environment, learn new life-skills, and most of all receive spiritual care. 

I remember as a child and teen how every year on Thanksgiving Eve, the women of the Walter Hoving Home would come to our home church in Spring Valley, NY. The women would sing and share their testimonies under the direction of Elsie Benton, followed with a message by John Benton. (The Bentons were the founders of the ministry.)  After the service, the women would join us for a time of refreshments and then be sent off with bags of groceries for their Thanksgiving meal. 

Last night I suddenly found myself face to face with the Bentons.  They are, of course, much older and a bit frail. Yet, as they were making their way through the crowd of people who had come to the banquet, they greeted people and stopped for pictures.  I greeted them, told them of my childhood memory, and that I am now a pastor of a church that supports the ministry.  We took a picture together. And, I felt like I had just taken a picture with a couple of heroes!

Kim and I with the John & Elsie Benton 
I’m sure if the Bentons were walking through an airport, few people would stop and ask them for an autograph or a photo. After all, they’re not rock stars, actors, or athletes.  Few people would recognize them or have any idea what they have accomplished through their lives. Yet, their achievements far outweigh those of the man or woman who can sing or act or hit a ball or throw a pass.  Through their lives hundreds of women have been brought into a relationship with Jesus Christ, set free from lives of addiction, and had their lives restored.  That is truly much more significant than what any rock star, actor, or athlete can accomplish on a stage, a screen, or field. 

The writer of the book of Hebrews writes a whole chapter wherein he lists heroes of the faith—i.e. men and women of faith—and citing their accomplishments. At the end of that chapter he says, “These were all commended for their faith….” (Hebrews 11:39 – NIV)  He then goes on to write, 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)

John and Elsie Benton are two people who will one day be “commended for their faith” and who will one day become a part of that “great cloud of witnesses.”  In the meantime, they are two people whose lives even now challenge and inspire the rest of us to keep on running this race called the life of faith.  I count them as heroes of the faith. 

Have a great day!

Pastor Tim Harris

Friday, April 28, 2017

The Senior Recital

As I sit here writing this morning, I am listening to the music from our daughter Joanna’s senior recital on her viola.  It took place last Sunday afternoon at Lafayette College, the school from which she is about to graduate.  The truth is, I had never heard Joanna play at the level at which she played during her recital. The music was as difficult as could be and the fact that she played her own concert for almost an hour was, to me at least, quite a feat.  As you can imagine, mom and dad were on the edge of their seats!  (I know there are lots of parents out there who understand the feeling!) 

As a music major (she is also a psychology major), Joanna’s recital was the culmination of her four years of music studies at the college, especially her time spent on her viola.  In some ways, however, it was also the culmination of her time spent learning, first the violin since she was five years old and then subsequently taking up the viola in 8th grade.  Over the last few years, she has studied, practiced, taken lessons, and played with just about every group within the college—as well as taken advantage of as much play time outside the boundaries of the college as possible.  For the past couple of years, there has been great focus, discipline, and intensity to her studies and practice times which all culminated in last Sunday’s recital. 

I’m reminded that, as followers of Christ we are meant to live our lives with that same kind of focus, discipline, and intensity.  After all, one day everything we have been and done will reach their climax. The whole of our lives will reach their culmination and we will stand before the greatest and holiest audience of all, Jesus our Lord. We could say we will reach the day of our “senior recital.”

This is why the Apostle Paul wrote as he did to the church in Philippi: But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ…Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:7, 12-14 – NIV)

Let me encourage you today to live your life in such a way that, at the culmination of it all—we might say, at your “senior recital”—you will hear from the most important audience of all those wonderful words, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”  Let’s be people of focus, discipline, and intensity as we live our lives for Christ. 

Have a great day!

Pastor Tim Harris   

Friday, April 14, 2017

It All Begins With a Cross!

As we enter into this weekend leading up to Easter Sunday, I know that it is going to be a very busy couple of days.  Today our church will host two Good Friday Services—we are hosting one on behalf of the community and then tonight we will have our own Good Friday communion service.  Tomorrow we are holding an Easter Egg Hunt for the kids.  And, Sunday will be our Resurrection Day Services, complete with an Easter morning breakfast!  It’s going to be a great weekend of celebration.  And, it ought to be.  After all, we are celebrating the pinnacle of our faith: the resurrection of Jesus Christ—the event upon which all of the Christian faith stands!

Today, on this Good Friday, I am reminded that it all begins with a cross.  Our whole weekend of celebration that will include Easter eggs, chocolate bunnies, special breakfasts, and churches that will be filled music and joy, begins with a symbol of suffering and death: the cross of Jesus Christ.  All of our joy and high resounding praise begins with the sounds of mourning, sorrow, and death as we recall and recount the huge price that was paid for our sins, as the very Son of God gave his life as the ultimate sacrificial lamb. 

I have said many times, there would be no meaning to the cross without the resurrection. That is true. But, it is also true that there would have been no resurrection without the cross. There is no celebration of Easter unless we first pass through Good Friday—unless we first take the way of the cross. 

The Apostle Paul wrote, May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Galatians 6:14 – NIV) The Apostle Paul knew that all he had and all that he was, it all came first of all through the cross. He knew that everything good he had experienced through Christ came first of all because of Jesus’ suffering and death. He was eternally grateful for the cross.    

Today on this Good Friday, even as we prepare for the celebration of Easter Sunday, may we remember that it all begins with a cross!

Have a great day!

Pastor Tim Harris