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

Friday, January 6, 2017

Tending the Fire!

I’ve heard the expressions before: “Tend the fire” and “Stoke the fire.” But aside from an annual campfire up in the mountains, I never really had a reason to tend or stoke a fire much.  That was until now.  In recent weeks, I find myself much more preoccupied with tending a fire than I have ever been before. 

As some of you may have seen on Facebook, the home we purchased this past year came with a wood-burning stove in the family room.  It’s especially great on a cold night to get the stove going and feel the warmth coming from it. In fact, sometimes it can get the room as warm as 89 degrees—at which time we need to crack some windows open so that we don’t shrivel up in prunes!  On the other hand, if one doesn’t keep an eye on the fire and periodically stoke it, it will go out sooner than we may want it to.  I have found that it is important to tend to the fire in order to keep it burning strong and long. 

In the same way, there are many things in our lives that need to be tended to; if not they just may cool down and die out.  I think of my relationship with my wife, children, and friends. How easily those relationships die without some tending!  Then there are the disciplines of my life that need tending: my diet, exercise, devotional life, other personal disciplines that help me stay sharp, focused, and growing.  Of course, there is my relationship with God that needs to be tended; unless, I am persistent in my relationship with him it just may cool down and eventually die. 

Finally, I think about the way in which I need to tend to my heart.  Unless I take proper care of my inner life and stoke its fires now and then, my heart, like yours, may end up in a place I never intended: cold, hard, bitter, angry, cynical, depressed, disconnected from God and disconnected from others.  Unless I periodically (and even regularly) stoke the fires of my heart, I just may end up with a heart that is no longer warm and filled with life. 

The Bible speaks to us about tending to our hearts:  Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”  (Proverbs 4:23 – NIV) “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:11 – NIV)  Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts” (Colossians 3:15 – NIV)

How’s your heart doing today? Is it filled with the life of God and a love for others? Is it filled with faith, hope, and love? Is it a heart of devotion and compassion?   Maybe today each of us needs to stoke the fires of our hearts just a little bit in order to see them flame up with all that God wants to fill them. 

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart….” (Deuteronomy 6:5 – NIV)

Have a great day!

Pastor Tim Harris

Friday, December 30, 2016

Your Best Year Yet?

As I was scrolling through Google images for an image to use in this week’s church bulletin, I noticed how many churches had created slogans and images for their New Year’s services.  A number of those slogans ran along the lines of, “Your Best Year Yet!” And, I thought to myself, how do they know that? Will that be true for everyone in that congregation?  Will it be true for anyone? 

I don’t want to sound pessimistic as we step into this New Year, but as much as we’d all like to believe that 2017 will be our best year yet, that may or may not be true.  Oh, for some it may be: this may be the year of your graduation, new job, engagement, marriage, birth of a child, a promotion at work, a year of travel, etc.  Some of us just may experience a year unlike any other we have had thus far in a very, very positive way.  It just may be for some of us our best year yet! 

Unfortunately, however, that may not be true for everyone.  For some of us it may be a year of struggle, sickness, the breaking of a relationship, disappointment, loss of a job, the loss of a loved one, etc.  There have been times when I’ve begun a new year with the best of expectations only to enter a year that became, for one reason or another, a very, very difficult year.  Not every year has been my best year yet!  I suspect such has been the case for most of us. 

So, how ought we enter this New Year? Do we step into it filled with complete optimism, fully believing that this will be our best year yet, in spite of the fact that it may not be? Or, do we step into it filled with pessimism, even fearful of what may come our way?  I would offer an alternative to both. 

In the end, it’s not about whether our year turns out to be a good one or a bad one, but about whether or not we can believe that the One who said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” will be true to His word.  Can we trust God to be with us at all times and help us through all things?  Will we know his presence at work in our lives through both the good times and the difficult times that this year may bring our way? 

I want to encourage you today to step into this New Year filled with faith, confidence, and courage not because you want to believe that this will be your best year yet, but because you know you have a heavenly Father who sees you, loves you, and will care for you each step of the way.   

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:29-30 – NIV) 

Have a great day and a happy and blessed New Year!

Pastor Tim Harris 

Friday, December 23, 2016

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas?

“Have yourself a merry little Christmas, let your heart be light…” So begins the famous Christmas song first sung by Judy Garland in the movie, “Meet Me In St. Louis.”  And so we embark on the journey each year to create for ourselves a merry little Christmas—a time of sentimental and nostalgic feelings; a time in which we put on our merry little selves, smiles and all; a season in which we strive for a few days during which our “troubles will  be miles away.”  We spend a month or two trying to create for ourselves a merry little Christmas, yet when all is said and done many of us are left disappointed. Christmas doesn’t always turn out the way we hoped it would.  Our troubles are not miles away and life simply goes back to the way it was beforehand. 

Judy Garland singing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" 

We all know that we want and need so much more than merely a merry little Christmas.  We need more than sentiment and nostalgia for a day or two. The fact is, no amount of decorations can take away the pain of a broken heart, remove the fear of an uncertain future, or bring healing and wholeness to our sinful past.  We need so much more than a merry little Christmas.

On the night the angels lit up the sky outside of Bethlehem, they didn’t say to the shepherds, “Have yourself a merry little Christmas.” Rather, they said, “Today in the town of David a savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord!” (Luke 2:11 – NIV)  That is, the answer to all of your needs has arrived!  That for which you have longed is here!  Your Savior and Messiah has come; the One who will save you from your sin, heal your brokenness, and give you hope for your future has been born! 

Now, I’m not opposed to having a wonderful Christmas season.  I, like many of you, work hard to create a nice Christmas day for my family. Yes, I too want to have a merry little Christmas.  Yet, I know that Jesus came for so much more than just a day or even a season of merriment.  Jesus came to change our lives. Jesus came to change our future. He came to forgive us of our sin. He came to bring us into eternal life. Jesus came to bring to us the salvation of God! 

So, today I wish you a “Merry Christmas. But I also wish you so much more. I pray that you would know throughout this season and most of all, throughout your life, the blessing of knowing Jesus Christ! He came to give to you so much more than a merry little Christmas.  He came to be your Savior!

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests!”
(Luke 2:14 – NIV)

Have a great day and a blessed Christmas!

Pastor Tim Harris

Friday, December 16, 2016

What Child Is This?

I always look forward to that time of the year when we pull the dust off the Christmas carols and for three to four weeks insert them into our church services.  Not only that, but we even get to hear them at times while shopping in the mall or listening to the radio.  Unfortunately, however, after singing them so many times and hearing them for so many years, it’s easy to lose touch with the true meaning of the songs and allow them to simply become words flowing off our tongues with little impact upon our lives. 

One of my favorite is “What Child Is This?” written by William Chatterdon Dix in 18656 and set to the music of the English folk song, “Greensleeves.” The song begins by asking us to look into the stable wherein the baby Jesus lies.  As we do we are forced to ask a number of questions regarding whom this baby really is.  We have to ask, “What child is this?”  And, why is it we celebrate his birth?  Who is it whom, “on Mary’s lap is sleeping?”  Who is this baby “whom angels greet with anthems sweet?”  And, why is he lying “where ox and ass are feeding?”  They are good questions for us to ask lest we go through the Christmas season without a realization of what Christmas is really all about. 

Well, you probably know the answer found in the chorus of the song, “This, this is Christ the King!”  In other words, he is not an ordinary baby.  He is the One sent by God to be our Messiah and Savior!  He is the King of kings and Lord of lords who has come as “the silent Word,” pleading for the salvation of sinners like you and me (see verse 2). 

The prophet Isaiah answered the question, with these words, “He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  (Isaiah 9:6b – NIV)  The child born in Bethlehem was so much more than an ordinary baby. He contained in him the fullness of God. He came to fulfill the plan of God.  Thus, we must respond to him as the carol calls us to: “Haste, haste to bring him laud….” And, “Let loving hearts enthrone him!”

This Christmas, won’t you take the time to ask yourself, “What child is this?”  And, as you answer the question I encourage you to open up your heart to him and to worship him!  After all, “This, this is Christ the King” the One sent to save you from your sin!

Have a great day!

Pastor Tim Harris