Friday, December 31, 2010

The Plans of the Lord

Psalm 33:11 – “But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations. (NIV)

On Christmas eve I was reflecting upon Luke 2:7 which says, “and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger.” As I thought about those words, it struck me that Joseph and Mary never planned to give birth in a stable and lay their baby (the Son of God!) in an animal’s feeding trough. That was an unexpected twist. But at that point in their lives, just about everything was about the unplanned and unexpected.

They hadn’t planned on Mary being pregnant – no less, by means of the Holy Spirit. They hadn’t planned to travel to Bethlehem, especially with Mary so far along in her pregnancy. Nor had they planned to arrive in Bethlehem and find all the guest rooms taken. I’m sure they would have never planned to give birth among the animals.

But, neither did they plan, or could they have planned, a chorus of angels to announce the birth of their son. They could not have planned for a supernatural star to shine brightly in the east – so brightly that the Magi had to follow. And, they could not have planned to have shepherds coming in the night to see their child or Magi bringing gifts fit for a king.

The Jewish people have a saying: “We plan; God laughs.” In other words, at any time God just might step in and change our plans. Ultimately the best thing for us to do is submit ourselves to the plans of the Lord, believing that he is in control, he knows what is best, and he will take care of us each step of the way. As we do, we may face some unplanned difficulties. But we may also experience some unplanned blessings and wonderful surprises.

As we step into this new year, let’s trust God with our lives knowing that God’s word is true: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him" (1 Corinthians 2:9 – NIV)

Have a blessed New Year!

-Pastor Tim Harris

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Why In A Manger?

Luke 2:7 - "...and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn." (NIV)

"Why in a Manger?"

Away in a manger, no crib for a bed?
Have I heard right what has been said?
Did Jesus the one who was born King of all,
Sleep in a manger in some cattle stall?

Why in a manger was the Christ-child laid?
Why was there no room and no bed there that day?
Why was he placed among oxen and sheep?
Why in the hay did the Christ-child sleep?

Could God not have opened a room in the inn?
Was no one in Bethlehem waiting for him?
Did not someone's heart go out to the child?
Could no one have spared him their bed for a while?

God had His purposes, He always does.
He knew that the manger was not all that there was.
He could have provided a bed for His son.
But, God knew the manger would be the best one.

For God knew the manger would tell through all time
That Jesus had come to save all of mankind;
Not just the famous, the strong or the rich,
He came for the humble and those such as this.

So, there in a manger, the humblest of beds,
The little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head.
The stars in the sky looked down where he lay.
Our precious Lord Jesus was asleep on the hay.

-Timothy A. Harris

Have a blessed Christmas Day!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Preparations

“Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.” (Luke 3:4 – NIV)

The whole of the Christmas season is really a time of preparation. If your family is like mine you have been involved in decorating, shopping, the sending of cards, baking, etc. The plans are being made for where you will be and with whom on Christmas eve and Christmas day. In fact, if you think about it, most of the excitement of Christmas is about all of the preparations leading up to that one day of celebration.

Do you realize that for God it was very much the same? Up until the birth of Jesus, all of history was moving towards that one glorious moment when the Son of God would become the Son of man. For centuries, God had been at work within our world to prepare for the birth of this One who would be the Savior of all mankind. God had been preparing for this one moment for hundreds, even thousands of years. Now, it had finally come! It’s no wonder that God celebrated with angels and a supernatural star. It’s no wonder he had to let at least a few persons know that they might celebrate along with him (even if it was but a handful of mere shepherds and a few Magi). The Apostle Paul put it this way, “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman….” (Galatians 4:4 – NIV) That is, when the preparations were complete God sent his Son, Jesus.

Throughout the past two centuries, this period of the year has been called by Christians the Advent Season. It is supposed to be a time of preparation; a time wherein we prepare ourselves not just for the celebration that occurs on December 25th, but for the coming of Christ anew into our hearts and lives. And, it is meant to be a time wherein we prepare ourselves for his second coming into our world. Thus, each year during this time we sing, “Let every heart, prepare him room….”

In the midst of all your preparations for Christmas eve and Christmas day, be sure to take time to prepare yourself for Christ himself. Find time to worship, to pray, to simply meditate on the wonderful fact that God has sent his Son to be your Savior!

May this advent prayer be your own during this season:

Lord Jesus, Master of both the light and the darkness, send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas.

We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day.
We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us.
We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom.
We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence.

We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light. To you we say, “Come Lord Jesus!” (Henri Nouwan)

Have a blessed Advent Season!

-Pastor Tim Harris

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Season of Light

Isn’t it interesting that both Christmas and Chanukah center upon light? It’s been almost two weeks since we put up our Christmas tree and decorated our home. Thus, the Christmas lights have been shining brightly. As well, this past week we lit the Chanukah candles each night. We even have an electric menorah in our window. So, we have had both Christmas lights and the lights of the Chanukah menorah shining brightly in our home! Indeed, this is the season of light!

Of course, there is reason behind all the lights of this season. In fact, it is very appropriate that we would celebrate this season with the lighting of candles and the hanging of lights.

The Chanukah story is the story of how God helped the Jewish people win a great battle to reclaim Jerusalem and the temple. And, it tells of how God performed a miracle to keep the temple lights burning. It is the story of God stepping into a very dark time in the history of his people and bringing about a miracle that brought to them new hope and new light.

The Christmas story has very much the same message. After all, Christmas is the celebration of the fact that God has not allowed us to be plunged into everlasting darkness. Rather, He has sent to us the “light of the world!” The miracle of the incarnation is the miracle of light breaking into our darkness.

In fact, a little history helps bring home the point. As most people know, the date on which we celebrate Jesus’ birth was originally a pagan holiday (or “holy day!”). We are told that, although the ancients knew that the winter equinox took place on December 22nd, it was not until the 25th that they could see with the naked eye the lengthening of the days. From the summer equinox until the winter equinox, they knew that the days were getting shorter and shorter. The fear was that eventually they would be plunged into complete darkness. On December 25th, however, they celebrated the fact that they could see that the days were getting longer again; that light was overtaking the darkness.

It’s no wonder then, that the early Christians had no problem celebrating the birth of their savior on December 25th. It’s no wonder that throughout this season we decorate our trees and houses with lights. After all, Christmas is all about the miracle of new hope and new Light!

As you take note of the lights of this season, give thanks to God for not allowing us to be overtaken by darkness. He is the God who time and again has said, “Let there be light!”

“In him (Jesus) was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness….The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.” (John 1:4-5, 9 – NIV)

Enjoy the season of lights!

-Pastor Tim Harris

Friday, December 3, 2010

Lesson From Israel - Part 6 (and final part)

On our final day in Israel (October 25th), we spend most of the day in and around Jerusalem commemorating Jesus’ final days. We followed what is probably the real Via Dolorosa, went to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, walked the traditional Via Dolorosa (from the end to the start), and ended the day at “The Garden Tomb.”

I must say that going to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was, for me personally, a great disappointment. Rather than helping me experience something of the reality of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, I was taken back by the sight of a huge stone cathedral. The plaza in front of the church was filled with a mass of people. Inside the church were lines of people walking through a maze of a structure, waiting to kiss the slab of stone on which Jesus’ body was supposedly prepared for burial or to light candles or to get into the massive shrine that had been built on the site of the supposed tomb. The crowds of people in line made it almost impossible to even get a decent picture, no less experience some sort of worship. For me it was almost sad to see what the Church has done to places such as this (the same is true for the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem). The huge structures and ornate shrines seem to take away from the reality of what actually took place there, making it hard for the worshipper to envision what it really must have been like for those who first experienced the events of the Bible.

The contrast was found, however, in “The Garden Tomb.” Whether or not it is the actual tomb that was used by Jesus or the actual garden that his tomb was in did not really seem to matter (although there are those who claim it is the real garden that held his tomb). Because of the simplicity of the place, including the tomb dating back to Jesus’ day that has been excavated there, it was easy to worship, to pray, to envision Mary and women and then Peter and John running to the tomb and finding the body of their Lord gone. As we shared communion and sang hymns together, it was truly a joyful and spiritual time. The simplicity and beauty of the place brought the death and resurrection of Jesus to life.

It is not my intent to denounce or to detract from the beautiful cathedrals and shrines that have been built in honor of our Lord. But, I am reminded that sometimes the reality of Christ best comes alive to us in the more simple aspects of life. God is not always best experienced in the elaborate and ornate. Often He is found in the very things we take for granted; in the things that are even humble and common – a walk in the woods, time spent with loved ones, a simple prayer with a friend.

In fact, isn’t that just how Jesus came? He didn’t come dressed in the ornate robes of royalty. He was born in a stable, placed in a feeding trough, and wrapped in strips of cloth. He came as one who was humble, meek, common, and lowly that he might reach the common and lowly masses of humanity – of which you and I fit into very, very well.

Jesus said of himself, “….for I am gentle and lowly in heart….” (Matthew 11:29 –NKJV) The Apostle Paul wrote, “He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things-and the things that are not-to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” (1 Corinthians 1:28-29 – NIV)

During this Advent Season, let’s remember that we do not need the ornate and the elaborate to experience Jesus. Rather, we might best experience him in the beauty and simplicity of the very common parts of our very ordinary lives.

Have a great day!

-Pastor Tim Harris