Thursday, May 12, 2016

An Irreligious Faith

As a pastor whose job it is to encourage people to come to church and experience community, fellowship and corporate worship, it was always a bit disappointing to me that my own dad rarely attended church for quite a number of years.  Early in my life, he was the one who always made sure we  (the “kids”) were in church. But once he no longer needed to get us to and from church—or, when he felt we were old enough to decide for ourselves—he pretty much stopped going to church himself. 

Because of his lack of church attendance, most people in the church questioned his faith.  I know I did too. Yet, even when he was there he didn’t quite fit in with most of them. After all, he liked to drink a beer on a hot day or a glass of wine with dinner. He didn’t mind his kids going to the movies.  He loved playing his sax in the Big Band—music that was considered by some to be “worldly music.” And, he was a pretty good dancer (I always enjoyed seeing him dance with my mom).  Oh...he didn’t like taking Sunday afternoon naps—he’d rather be out playing tennis or doing something active after church (which some used to consider breaking the Sabbath!).

At times he was a bit sarcastic about church. He had seen his share of charlatan preachers.  He had experienced conflict between church members—and how nasty they could be towards each other (even towards him). And, he had seen too many pastors hurt by the flock they tried to feed.  After a while I think he just had enough—enough of church.

Yet, he never gave up his faith in God.  I can clearly recall coming down the stairs early in the morning and seeing dad sitting at his desk reading his Bible.  He continued to love the hymns (although he disliked newer Christian music).  For many years, he continued to give generously to support the aging pastor under which he had grown up.  And, he continued to listen to preaching on the radio and television, even telling me at times the sermons he had heard.

Beyond all of that, he was a faithful husband and dad. He was not perfect, but he brought stability and strength into our home. He worked hard and provided well for a family of seven (plus whatever pets mom brought home at the time).  He spent time with his kids, especially his boys, teaching us to swim, ride a bike, and swing a bat. And, he was always ready to dispense his advice—asked for or not.    

When, at 85 years old, Dad was given the news of the brain tumor that would eventually take his life, he refused any treatment with these words, “I’m ready to see Jesus.”  And, during the next couple of months of decline, you could see in his eyes that, although he was sad and worried about our mom, he was not afraid.  He knew he was going to “see Jesus.”  His heart was yet filled with faith. 

Dad passed away on May 7, 2014. His funeral was held on what would have been his 86th birthday (May 10th). As I reflect on his faith journey, a few lessons come to my mind. The first is, we in the church—pastors and congregants alike—need to be careful as to how we live, minister, and interact. After all, how we behave may result in people either staying in fellowship with the church or deciding that they have had “enough of church” and thus leaving. 

Secondly, I’ve come to realize that, not everyone who has left the church has given up their faith in Christ.  Some, like my dad, may end up with what I would call, an irreligious faith—yet, it is faith indeed.  Rather than ostracize them, judge them, and push them further away, we in the church should be building bridges to them, gently leading them back into fellowship, and, at the very least, treating them as brothers and sisters in Christ. 

Finally, I’m reminded of the true message of the gospel: Our salvation and fellowship with the Church of Jesus Christ is not first of all based on church attendance, involvement in church ministry, or the positions we hold.  Thankfully, our salvation is based solely on what Jesus Christ has done for us, and our faith in him—even if sometimes that faith might appear to be a bit irreligious. 

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God….” (Ephesians 2:8 – NIV) 

Thanks for "listening" as I reflect on my dad this week.  Have a great day! 

Pastor Tim Harris

Friday, April 29, 2016

It's the Little Things!

As some of you may know, this past week I’ve been hobbling around.  Last Saturday, I stepped on a woodchip that pierced its way into my foot.  I was able to quickly get the woodchip out, but the damage was done.  Even now, almost a week later, the foot is still injured and the pain persistent causing me to continue to hobble as I walk. 

As I’ve told a number of people this past week, it’s the little things in life that sometimes have big consequences.  After all, I never would have imagined that the act of taking off my sneaker and walking to the beach from the car would have ended up with a bloody foot and me sitting on the boardwalk with a tissue pressed against my foot.  I never would have thought that a woodchip in my foot would cause me to have to preach the next day sitting down or leave me unable to fully stand or walk almost a week later.  Yet, so often it is the little things in life that get to us, change our course, slow us down, and sometimes have long lasting effects. 

Such is the case with small injuries.  Even more so, such is the case with, what we may consider to be, small sins.  For some people, it was that little lie they told that has begun to spin into a much larger and uncontrollable web.  For someone else it may have been that seemingly innocent glance that turned into a relationship that never should have begun. For someone else, it was that small remark they wish they had never made, but has now come back to haunt them.  And, the list can go on of small things—small sins—we allow into our lives that often have large and lasting consequences. 

The Song of Songs says, Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom.”  (Song of Songs 2:15 – NIV) It’s a reference to the little things of life that have the potential to destroy us and thus must be dealt with sternly and swiftly.  The writer of Hebrews says, “…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.”  (Hebrews 12:1 – NIV)    

Let’s be careful as to what “little things” we allow into our lives for some of those “little things” can have big consequences.  Let’s live our lives carefully, thoughtfully, and always according to God’s Word. 

Have a great day!

Pastor Tim Harris

Friday, April 22, 2016

One Lonely Flower

Last week, as I was walking around our property at home, I came upon a bush with one large, beautiful, and seemingly, very lonely flower. In fact, the rest of the week I waited for more flowers to appear, but none did; I have never seen a bush with just one flower.  As the week went on, all of the rest of the buds merely opened up into leaves. In the end, for whatever the reason, this year that bush will have just one large, beautiful, lonely flower. (If this is normal, will someone let me know!)

Although it seemed a bit strange, I will also say it was a bit stunning.  This one large and beautiful flower sat like a prince on that bush, declaring all its beauty and attracting all the attention to itself. Unlike the rest of the trees and bushes that have a host of flowers that share in each other's beauty, this one flower was there all by itself, calling attention to itself alone. It was, as I said stunning. But it was also a bit sad.

Unfortunately, so many people are just like that one flower.  They want to make a name for themselves, draw attention to themselves, and bask in their own beauty. They talk about being a "self-made man or woman" as if they don't really need anyone else's help. And, they end up living very lonely lives, separated from those around them. 

I want to remind us today that God never intended for us to live our lives apart from one another, just to bask in our own beauty and glory.  In fact, when God created Adam, for the first time during the creation process he said, "It is not good."  What was not good?  "For man to live alone."  Yes, each one of us is beautiful individually. But God did not create us to live alone and to bask in our own beauty.  God created us to live our lives corporately; to share our lives with one another; to share our beauty with each other; and to allow our corporate beauty to overtake our individual beauty. God made us to live in relationship, first with him and then with each other.

Rather than sit like a lonely flower on a bush, find a way today to connect with those around you.  Let’s live our lives like a host of blossoming flowers on a tree that is filled with a beauty that comes only by means of living together in relationship with one another.

“Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” (Romans 12:10 – NIV)  “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2 – NIV)

Have a great day! Enjoy the springtime and all the beautiful flowers!

Pastor Tim Harris

Friday, April 15, 2016

Dreaming in Spanish!

Kim and I just returned from a week in Nicaragua (you can see photos on FB if you like).  We had a wonderful time of five days of ministry including teaching a marriage seminar, followed by a couple of days of time for just the two of us. Each time I’m down there I find myself being able to understand and speak Spanish just a little bit better. My ear, my tongue, and most of all my mind seem to be acclimating bit by bit to the language. 

One of the difficulties I usually have while down there, however, is that after two to three days of hearing and speaking Spanish (as limited as mine is), I begin to try to translate everything I think in my mind, including what is going through my mind as I am dreaming.  This tends to interrupt my sleep for I wake up each time I get to something in my dream that I cannot translate.  It’s kind of weird, but it happens every time I’m down there.  With so much Spanish all around me, I can’t help but have my mind be affected by it all. 

This reminds me of the importance of being careful what it is we put into our minds.  Ultimately, the things we take into our minds will begin to rise to the surface and even take over our thought processes.  That which we allow into ourselves will eventually come out through the things we say, what we do, and maybe even what we dream. 

The Apostle Paul wrote these words to the Philippians, “…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8 – NIV) To the Colossians he wrote, “Set your minds on things above.” (Colossians 3:2 – NIV) Paul reminds us of the importance of being purposeful regarding what it is we think about and thus allow into our minds. 

Let’s purpose today to think about those things that God would have us think about, that we might live the way God would have us live. Maybe we will even begin to dream about some things we never expect to dream about!

Have a great day!

Pastor Tim Harris

Friday, April 1, 2016

Overcoming the Distance!

Last night I had an on-line meeting using Google Chat.  There were seven of us who had “gathered” for a board meeting of Promise Kids Foundation, an organization of which I am currently the president.  Each of us was in different locations including Long Island, Queens, North Jersey, and myself in Monmouth County. Yet, in spite of the various locations and distance, we were able to meet and discuss the business at hand. In fact, one person came into the meeting while yet in a taxi in NYC!

This was not the first time I have had such a meeting. Yet, I am always amazed at how the technology we have today is able to connect us in this way.  In spite of the distance and various locations, we are able to see and hear one another, doing what needs to be done.  The distance that was once a barrier to our communication and a meeting such as this is no longer the barrier that it once was.

That’s very much the way it is between God and us.  There is a great distance between us.  Communication could be difficult. Yet, God has made a way for the barriers to be broken and the distance to be overcome. That is why Jesus has sent to us the Holy Spirit; the coming of the Holy Spirit has provided a means for us to communicate with God and experience him in spite of the distance. By means of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives we can regularly meet with God, experience God, speak to God and hear from him!

Jesus said, And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth…you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you…. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” (John 14:16-18, 20 – NIV)  Through ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives, the distance is overcome! God is near to us, with us, even at work within us!  We get to meet with God every day, wherever we may be, in spite of the fact that he is in heaven and we are on earth!  

I want to encourage you today to realize how very near God is to you. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, then the Holy Spirit is with and even within you. And, that means the distance has been overcome!

Have a great day!

Pastor Tim Harris