Friday, February 15, 2019

The Real Valentine's Day!

I know many of us just celebrated Valentine’s Day with cards, candy, flowers—maybe even a candlelight dinner.  That’s pretty much what St. Valentine’s Day has been turned into; it’s become an excuse for a little bit of romance.  But, did you know the day is named after a real person? He was a third century leader in the church who was martyred for his faith.  

The stories surrounding St. Valentine are many. What we do know is that, he lived during one of the most immoral periods within the Roman Empire.  Sexual promiscuity was rampant. And, at one point The Emperor Claudius II outlawed marriage so that men wouldn’t have an excuse not to go to war.  (Newly married men would not join the army to fight; some say such was Roman law.) St. Valentine, however, not only preached the gospel and led people to Christ, he then performed secret weddings for these new believers.  Eventually, St. Valentine was arrested for breaking the law. 

St. Valentine - A Third Century Bishop
One story says, as St. Valentine stood before his jailer and judge, he began to preach the gospel to him. The man responded by saying, “If what you say is indeed true, I want you to prove it.”  Valentine laid his hand on the judge’s adopted daughter who was blind and immediately she was healed!  However, although the judge may have converted to Christianity, the Emperor eventually called for the death of Valentine.  We are told that, just before his death, St. Valentine wrote a letter to the little girl who had been healed and signed it, “Your Valentine.”  St. Valentine was beheaded on February 14, 269 AD because he refused to renounce his faith in Christ.  

Now that doesn’t sound like a very romantic story to me!  However, it is a story that is filled with love. It’s the story of a man who had come to experience the incredible love of his Savior, Jesus Christ—the One who had loved him all the way to the point of death on a cross!  It’s the story of a man who, in return so loved his Savior that he was willing to die for that love. St. Valentine was willing to be martyred for his faith because he had come to understand the incredible love of God shown for him through the death of God’s Son, Jesus. 

The Apostle John wrote, This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” (1 John 3:16 – NIV)  Jesus said, Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13 – NIV) 
I surely don’t mind a little romance complete with cards, flowers, and candlelight dinners. But I’m reminded that real love goes far beyond an evening of romance. Real love is wrapped up in all that God has done for us through Jesus. And, real love will always cost us something, if not our lives. Like St. Valentine, let’s live our lives as examples of that love, loving God with all our hearts and loving one another as he has loved us.  That makes for a real Valentine’s Day!

Have a great day!

Pastor Tim Harris

Friday, February 8, 2019

Not What I Expected!

This past week, we had a couple of really nice days; they felt like a touch of spring! On one of those days, I decided that rather than go to the gym I would go for a run outdoors. And, since it was so nice out, I decided to take a ride to the ocean and run the boardwalk, my favorite place to run.  That was not the best decision I’ve ever made!

You see, when I left my house the thermostat in my car read 64.  However, when I got about a block from the boardwalk, which is about 5 miles from my house, the thermostat suddenly dropped to 55.  By the time I got to the place where I parked my car, it had dropped to 48—and, it was quite breezy.  I began my run, heading south and into the cold breeze that was beginning to pick up force.  Those walking on the boardwalk were dressed in hats, gloves, and winter coats. I had no hat or gloves; I was freezing in my shorts, t-shirt, and running pullover, which I had thought for sure I was going to have to take off. By the time I finished 2 ½ miles, which was all I could get myself to run in those conditions, the temperature had dropped to 43.  Of course, I was kicking myself, realizing that I should have run in my neighborhood. This was not what I expected!

Now, running in a temperature of 43 degrees with some wind is no problem if one is ready for it. But, I was not ready for these conditions. I was expecting to feel the warmth of the sun on my face, take off the pullover, and find myself in a sweat.  Instead, my face and hands were cold, and my ears began to hurt. I was definitely not prepared for the conditions I found myself in. Again, this was not what I expected. 

This is what I expected!
Have you noticed how that happens to us in life in so many different ways? We are expecting life to go a certain way, yet so often things turn out so differently.  The unexpected has a way of raising its head at the most unexpected times in our lives. And, if we are not careful we can become overwhelmed, thrown off course, disheartened and discouraged.  Maybe in some ways, we ought to expect the unexpected; we ought to always be ready for the unexpected. How? By building our faith and trust in the One for whom nothing is unexpected!

In Psalm 46, the psalmist speaks of what had to have been for him the unexpected: the earth giving way, mountains quaking and falling into the sea. He says, “nations are in an uproar, kingdoms fall.” He writes of the earth melting! No one expects earthquakes, wars, and the falling apart of kingdoms and nations—at least not in their lifetime.  It had to have all seemed quite terrifying.  Yet in the midst of it all, the psalmist declares, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” (Vs. 1) Twice he says, “The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”  (Vss. 7, 11) It seems to me that, somewhere along the line the psalmist had prepared himself for the unexpected. 

I don’t know what unexpected things might happen in your life and mine today or in the days to come. All I know is that unexpected things do happen and will happen. Thus, the best thing we can do is prepare ourselves for the unexpected by building our faith and confidence in God, so that when the unexpected happens “we will not fear.”  (Vs. 2)  Let’s put our trust in the One for whom nothing is unexpected! 

Have a great day!

Pastor Tim Harris

Friday, February 1, 2019

It's So Cold...

How cold is it? Well, it’s been so cold in parts of the US that it’s colder there than it is in the Artic or Antarctica. It’s been so cold that in some parts the postal service stopped delivering mail, schools closed, and whole cities stayed indoors. It’s so cold the whole of Lake Michigan has been frozen over. It’s so cold people are blowing soap bubbles in order to watch them immediately crystalize in the air in front of them! Tragically, it’s been so cold that as of today, 21 deaths have been blamed on this polar vortex. I think many of us are dreaming about warmer days to come. I know I am. Actually, just over a week ago I was in that warmer weather when I was down in Nicaragua. It felt so good not having to wear a bulky winter coat, hat, and gloves. I could just put on a t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops, and I was good to go. It felt so nice being able to jump into the ocean, lie out on a hammock, and just feel the warmth of the sun. Ah, now I’m dreaming again…dreaming of those warmer days to come!

The cold and ice of Chicago....

The warmth of Leon, Nicaragua...I know which I'd choose!

Our longing for warmer days reminds me of another longing within each of us—a longing that is so much deeper, a longing for something much more critical than just another warm sunny day. I’m reminded of our longing for a world beyond the one in which we live—our deep desire for a world filled with the warmth of God’s presence. I’m thinking about our longing for eternity.

The Bible says that God has “set eternity in the hearts of men.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11 – NIV) That is, God has built within each of us a mechanism that causes us to yearn for the eternal, a mechanism that causes us to seek after and strive towards something that goes far beyond what this world is able to offer. Unfortunately, all too often we block out that mechanism with the pains and the pleasures of our lives. We forget about the eternal and end up living our lives for the material and temporal. But, somehow that mechanism finds ways of once again kicking into gear within our hearts and minds. There are times in our lives when somehow we find ourselves once again longing for and even dreaming about something beyond this life—i.e. we find ourselves looking towards the eternal.

I want to remind us today that God has a wonderful eternity planned for his children. It’s an eternity that is filled with joy and peace, goodness and love. It’s an eternity that is filled with the warmth of his presence. Thus, we ought to long for, dream about, and look ahead to that day when we will find ourselves in eternity with him. We ought to live our lives filled with faith and hope, as we lean towards that which is eternal.

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:18 – NIV)

Have a great day…and, stay warm!

 Pastor Tim Harris

Friday, January 25, 2019

Just One Body!

As many of you know, I spent last week with my son Jonathan in Nicaragua.  Although there are some great challenges and difficulties taking place in the country there, we had a wonderful time doing ministry and spending time with the people with whom we have worked since 2011.  It was wonderful to see them after all they have been through this past year.  And, they were so glad to see us. 

One of the highlights of being there is being able to minister in the two churches pastored by the pastors we work with, Obed and Adele Anton.  And, we have gotten to know and love many of the people in their churches.  On this trip, Jonathan greeted the people, played his guitar, and led the people in a song—an older one that they really love.  I preached through my translator and then led a time of prayer at the altar. The people were so responsive to God’s Word and to prayer. Especially now as they are facing all kinds of challenges as a nation, they are crying out to God and looking to him for direction, help, strength, and provision. God was faithful to minister to them during each of the services.

With the people at Iglesia Monte Horeb, Leon Nicaragua! 
Each time I’m in the churches there—and, as well when I’ve been in other countries worshipping and ministering—I’m reminded of the breadth of Christ’s church.  After all, they are singing, praying, and preaching in a different language. The order of their service is usually a bit different than ours. The sound system is turned way up—yes, it’s loud!  And, the people just tend to worship a little bit differently. Yet, I can’t help but recognize our unity in Christ; I can’t help but recognize that we are all worshipping the same Christ!  We are one body!

When it comes to the church in Nicaragua and the church here in the US, it can feel like we are two nations and thus two different peoples. And, it can feel that way with the church around the world; it can feel as if we are separate entities. After all, great distances sometimes separate us. And, we all have our cultural ways of “doing church.”  But the truth is, in Christ we are one people! There is ultimately only one Church!  There is only one body!

The Bible says, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:4-6 – NIV)

Won’t you celebrate with me today the breadth of the Church of Jesus Christ, both here at home and across the world?  And, let’s be diligent to pray for our brothers and sisters around the world—many of whom are facing today persecution for their faith and great difficulties in their lives and nations.   After all, we are one in Christ! There is just one body!

Have a great day!

Pastor Tim Harris

Friday, January 18, 2019

The Power of Encouragment!

Right now I’m in Leon, Nicaragua with my son Jonathan. It’s been a year since I’ve been down here. It’s been 4 years since he’s been here. (Jonathan lived here for a year teaching at Promise Christian Academy from July 2013 - July 2014.). It’s been a reunion of sorts for us with the people with whom we have worked for the past eight years. In fact, our first night here they hosted a Nicaraguan dinner to welcome us! What an encouragement that was to us. What a welcome we received!

Our time here turns out to be very special, considering the difficulties the nation and the people have faced this year. In fact, Jonathan and I were supposed to come down in May, but due to situations here in the country, we were unable to come. Protests, roadblocks, and many other happenings have greatly affected the economy and people’s lives. Even the hotel that we had a reservation with and where we have stayed since 2011 was closed upon our arrival! (Thankfully, we found another hotel that had space for us.). And, I have found that although what we can do for the people physically may be limited—like distributing backpacks, school supplies, and uniforms to the children we have ministered to through Promise Kids Foundation—the one thing we can always do is bring encouragement. I am learning about the power of encouragement!

 Our presence with the people whom we love and with whom we have worked so hard these past eight years has turned out to be a greater encouragement to them than I ever imagined. They have told us what it has meant to them to have received the phone calls and emails through their times of great difficulty. But now to have us here with them is so much more significant than I ever thought it would be. They are encouraged to know that there are people who think of them, pray for them, and want to be by their side. They are encouraged to know that our church has been praying for them. As we sit and talk and laugh and work together, they are encouraged to know that as God’s people we are one, and that when one part of the body suffers the whole body feels it! They have told me that they feel encouraged!

 The Bible says, “...encourage one another and build each other up.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11); “...encourage one another as long as it is called, ‘Today’....” (Hebrews 3:13); and, “...encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” (1. Thessalonians 5:14). God tells us to encourage one another for he knows that there’s power in encouragement!

 Is there someone who needs your encouragement today? Is there someone in your life who needs you to come by their side and speak an encouraging word? Let’s live our lives as people who know the power of encouragement! Have a great day. Vaya con Dios! Pastor Tim Harris

Friday, January 11, 2019

It's All About the Connection!

Recently, I purchased a new set of Bluetooth headphones to wear when running or working out at the gym. It’s great not having to plug them into my phone or iPod to listen to my music.  There’s no need to have a wire that seems to constantly get in the way.  Just hook up via Bluetooth and you’re good to go. Such is the case as well with the music I play in our home.  There’s no longer any need to have wires all over the place to connect a bunch of speakers to a stereo system or whatever music device one is using. Now our speakers can be hooked up simply via a Bluetooth connection.  And, then there is WiFi. No need to plug in one’s computer via a cable to connect to the Internet; just connect via WiFi.  It seems to me that we are moving more and more towards life without wires.

In the end, however, life with or without wires is ultimately about the connection. After all, if we couldn’t connect well enough without the wires, we would all readily go back to the wires. In the end, it is all about making sure we have the right connection to our phones, iPods, computer, etc., whether it be via Bluetooth, WiFi, or even a cable.  It’s all about the connection!

Such is the case with our lives. The Bible talks about a two-fold connection that we are to have at work within our lives as followers of Jesus Christ. We are to live our lives connected to God through faith in Christ. And, we are to live our lives connected to one another.  The two go hand-in-hand.

Jesus said the two greatest commands are to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…” and to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37, 39 – NIV)  He implies you can’t really fulfill one without the other.  The Apostle Paul wrote, From him (Christ) the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Ephesians 4:16 – NIV) That is, as we become connected to God through faith in Christ, we automatically become connected to all other believers within the body of Christ. Our job is then to be a blessing to the rest of the body.  

In the end, our lives are to be lived in connection with God through Christ and in connection with one another. No wires needed, just faith in Christ, the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and a God-given love for those with whom God blesses our lives.

So, let me ask you today, what’s your connection like? Are you living your life fully connected to God through Christ? Are you living your life connected to those around you—i.e. as a blessing to the people in your life?  Again, the two go hand-in-hand.  In the end, it’s all about the connection!

Have a great day!

Pastor Tim Harris