Friday, December 2, 2016

Charlie Brown's Christmas Tree

One of my all-time Christmas favorites is Charles Schultz’s, “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”  Into his little story about Charlie Brown and his friends, Schultz weaves the essence of the gospel message in some subtle and not so subtle ways. One of those messages comes through the little tree that Charlie Brown chooses to be their Christmas tree.

The other children, especially Lucy, want a big, beautiful, and aluminum Christmas tree. They want the glitz and the glamour of Christmas. They want something to show off—a tree that comes already put together.  But, as Charlie Brown and Linus go out looking for a tree, there’s one tree that catches Charlie Brown’s eye. It’s a little tree that is anything but glitz and glamour.  In fact, it’s quite pathetic looking.  Linus is pretty hesitant about getting that tree, for he knows what the others are going to say.  But, Charlie Brown responds by saying, “I think it needs me.” 

Of course, Charlie Brown does get chastised for picking the worst Christmas tree of all.  And, after some name-calling he ends up feeling dejected and stupid.  But then something incredible happens. After Linus speaks up and shares the real Christmas story and thereby the true meaning of Christmas, the hearts of the kids are changed and eventually they take Charlie Brown’s little Christmas tree and decorate it into a tree of beauty. When Charlie Brown comes back on the scene he can’t believe his eyes!  His little Christmas tree has been transformed!

The story reminds me that, when Jesus came into our world, he didn’t run after the bold and the beautiful nor the rich and the famous. Jesus didn’t look for those who had it all together. Jesus went after those who were broken, lost, rejected, and sick.  Jesus came looking for the Charlie Brown Christmas trees of our world saying in so many words, “I think they need me.”  And, we did! 

By the time Jesus was done with those to whom he had ministered, the broken were whole, the lost were found, the rejected had found acceptance, the sick were healed, and most of all, sinners were forgiven. Those whose lives had been quite pathetic experienced a total transformation at the hands of Jesus.

Jesus said of himself and his ministry, “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” (Matthew 11:4-5 – NIV)  Jesus came looking for those who needed him and did for them what no one else would or could do for them. 

If today you are feeling a bit like a Charlie Brown Christmas tree, I want to tell you Jesus came especially for you. He’s not asking for you to have it all together, but to simply to allow him to step into your life. He knows you need him.   And this Christmas he is still more than able and willing to transform your life into one of incredible beauty!

Have a great day!

Pastor Tim Harris

Friday, November 18, 2016

God's Interruptions

I can remember how, when my kids were little, they would come running up to me while I was in the midst of a conversation and without thinking interrupt me and the person to whom I was speaking with some news of something they were doing or a question that had come to their mind.  As nicely as I could (and maybe sometimes not so nicely), I would point out to them that they would have to wait until I was finished.  Yet from that point on, in the back of my mind I couldn’t help but think about what it was they were trying to say or ask.  My thought process had been interrupted and I had become distracted. 

We all know what it’s like to be interrupted.  We might be in the middle of an important conversation or trying to complete a task when, the phone rings or someone steps into your office with an emergency or your child starts to tug on your sleeve.  At that moment whatever you were saying or doing comes to a halt and your attention is diverted to whatever has come along and interrupted you.

At our Wednesday night Bible study we’ve been studying the book of Amos. The prophet Amos knew what it was like to be interrupted—in his case, interrupted by God.  Amos says of himself, “I was neither a prophet nor a prophet’s son, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. But the Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go prophesy to my people Israel.’”  (Amos 7:14-15 – NIV) In other words, Amos was just going about the daily routines of his life when he was interrupted by God and called by God to take a message to the nation of Israel. 

Amos’ experience was not necessarily distinct.  Many of the men and women who were used by God in the scriptures experienced such an interruption: Moses while taking care of his flocks, Gideon while threshing wheat, David while watching his father’s sheep, Mary while going about the routine of her day, Peter and John while washing their fishing nets, Paul while on his way to persecute Christians.  And, such has been the case throughout the centuries.  Men and women who, as they were going about the business of their daily lives, have been interrupted by God and sent to foreign fields, called to pastor churches, given the task of preaching the gospel, serving the poor, taking a stand for justice. 

Two questions arise in my mind when I think about God’s interruptions:  (1) Am I sensitive enough to the voice of God to know when it is he is interrupting me? (2) Am I willing to stop what I’m doing in order to answer God’s call when he interrupts me? I would suggest that you ask yourself the same questions. After all, I don’t think we want to miss out on what God may be calling us to do. Nor ought we brush him off.

Have a great day and get ready: God may interrupt your life today!

Pastor Tim Harris

Friday, November 11, 2016

A Soldier's Letter

My paternal grandmother used to tell about the day my dad was drafted into the Korean War.  For her, seeing her youngest son/child going off to war was devastating.  She told me how, while he was gone, she would cry and pray for him every day.  The whole family was living on pins and needles, especially while he was deployed into Korea itself. Thankfully (and obviously), my dad came home from war, but not after having been injured by an exploding grenade.  In fact, throughout his life he could not have certain medical tests done because of shrapnel that was lodged in his face. 

Not too long ago, I found some pictures of my father from the war and a letter that he had sent to his family back home in NYC.  Apparently, just a few months earlier, April 1951, he had been on a short leave and was able to visit with his family.  I found the pictures from that visit and it seems like the family was having such a great time having my dad around.  Then it was back out to Long Beach, California and then to Japan.  That’s when my dad wrote the letter I found to his family back home—June 1951 from Camp McNair in Japan. 

He began the letter noting that it had been almost a month since he had received any letters from back home.  He blamed it on a bad mail system. He noted he was concerned that everyone back home was ok.  Mostly, he was letting them know, in an indirect way, that he missed them and that he was feeling a bit homesick.  He then went on to ask about the family, talk about a friend who had been stationed at Fort Monmouth, NJ (right where I live now), and then a lot of talk about the Yankees and the “Bums” (the Brooklyn Dodgers)!  At one point he wrote, “If I were back home I wouldn’t care where I was, as long as it was the good old U.S.”  He ended the letter noting that he had run out of things to write and hoping that just maybe there would be a letter for him in that night’s mail call. 

As I read that letter, tears welled up in my eyes as I gained a glimpse into a part of my dad’s life I had never known.  The fact that he was feeling lonely and homesick was something new to me as his son.  The young 23 year old that he was came through—a part of his life I obviously was not a part of. 

Aside from thinking about my dad, his letter makes me think about the millions of mostly young men and women who have served our nation throughout the years and the many times they have been afraid, lonely, homesick—just wanting to get back to their families, eat a home-cooked meal, and watch a baseball game.  And, it reminds me of the moms and dads, brothers and sisters who have held their breath, praying that their son or daughter would come home.  For sure, on all sides a huge price has been and continues to be paid for our freedom by those who have served us.

To all who have served us in our armed forces and to their families I say, “thank you.”  And, I pray God’s blessing on you today.  

“May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”  (2 Corinthians 13:14 – NIV) 

Have a great day! 

Pastor Tim Harris

Friday, November 4, 2016

Missing the End of the Game!

I don’t follow baseball too closely during much of the season, but I do love the postseason. And this year, I really enjoyed watching the World Series.  Unfortunately, most of the games went pretty late into the evening.  Knowing I needed to get up early the next morning, I would eventually go to sleep before the end of the game and get the final score the next day (which I would check on my phone as soon as my alarm went off!). But, as the series between the Cubs and the Indians progressed and each game became more and more significant, I would stay up just a little bit later watching. When it came to the final game, I was determined to watch until the very end. I was not going to miss the last couple of innings. 

By the time that final game got to the bottom of the ninth inning, the game was tie, it was midnight, and a rain delay was called—and, in spite of the excitement, my eyes were beginning to close.  I was losing my ability to stay awake.  My determination began to wane.  Who knew how long the rain delay was going to last?  How many innings would it take to finish off the game? Would I have to wait and watch until 2 a.m. or later?  I couldn’t do it.  I had to go to bed. My spirit was willing, but my flesh was weak!

As many of you know, the rain delay lasted only seventeen minutes and only one more inning was needed to complete the game in order for the Cubs to take home their first World Series win in 108 years.  I had missed it! In the end, I missed the best part of the game—all because I couldn’t stay awake; I couldn’t continue to wait and watch. 

Jesus, speaking about the coming of the Kingdom of God, tells a parable about ten maidens with oil lamps who were supposed to be waiting and watching for the arrival of a bridegroom.  Eventually, they all became sleepy and dozed off. When the bridegroom finally arrived, those who had brought with them extra oil for their lamps were prepared, but those who had not brought extra oil missed out on his arrival.  Jesus concludes the parable with these words: “Therefore, keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”  (Matthew 25:13 – NIV)

It’s one thing to miss the end of a baseball game; it’s quite another to miss the coming of the Kingdom of God and the return of our Savior, Jesus! We must be ready. We must stay awake. We must keep watch for his coming as we continue filled with faith, perseverance, and determination.  Let’s not miss out on the end of the most important game of all!

“…keep watch, because you do not know on what day our Lord will come.” (Matthew 24:42 – NIV)

Have a great day!

Pastor Tim Harris

Friday, October 28, 2016

Lots of Company!

Last weekend we had lots of company.  It seemed to be a series of visits in our home for one dinner after another.  On Saturday some friends who this past year had moved out of the area came back for a visit and that night had dinner with us.  On Sunday, Kim and I were blessed to have a young missionary couple come eat with us after our Sunday services.  And, on Monday we received a call from a couple from North Jersey whom we have known for many years; they were in the area and wanted to stop by and see us—so, we gave them dinner as well.  I have to say, Kim is a real trooper when it comes to entertaining guests.  Before you know it, she has a cake in the oven and dinner on the table. 

We tend to love having people in our home.  In fact, our children grew up with lots of people, and all kinds of people, coming in and out of our home.  They got used to the missionaries, evangelists, family, friends, and church families sitting at our dinner table.  They knew that their friends were always welcome.  It got to the point that, when we didn’t have company coming to eat with us after a Sunday service, they thought something was wrong.  At times it felt as if we never knew who would be at our table next. 

Unfortunately, in today’s culture, few people open up their homes to others.  After all, people are so busy, running from one event to the next that they have little time for hospitality.  Missionaries such as we had in our home last week have told us, they rarely get to visit with a pastor and his family in their home; most of the time they are in restaurants.  As I observe our church people today, I find less and less people invite others to their homes. And if they do, it is often a very small circle of friends. 

The Bible speaks much about hospitality.  Peter wrote, “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” (1 Peter 4:9 – NIV) Paul wrote, Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”  (Romans 12:13 – NIV)  And in the book of Hebrews we read, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”  (Hebrews 13:2 – NIV)  In fact, the word used in Hebrews specifically speaks of having a love for strangers—i.e. people with whom we are not closely associated; more specifically the word alludes to the alien, foreigner, immigrant.  It’s a call to open up our homes to people outside our own circle. 

I want to encourage you today to follow the mandate of scripture to open up not just your home, but your life to those around you.  Maybe today seek out someone who may need your hospitality.  By doing so, you just may end up associating with an “angel”—i.e. a messenger of God for your life—and experience the blessing of God that they may bring into your life. 

Have a great day!

Pastor Tim Harris