Friday, October 30, 2015

God Knows Your Name!

One of the biggest challenges of coming into a new church is getting to know a whole new group of people by their names.  It’s not that the names themselves are so difficult or unfamiliar (although at times that can be the case). It is about being able to put a person’s name with their face.  It is about getting to know people by their name; being able to call people by name. 

Most people say, “I’m really bad with names,” or, “I never forget a face but I can’t remember names.”  I think that’s the case for most of us. It probably has to do with how our brains work.  Learning names seems to take a lot more work and repetition.  For me, I find it most difficult to learn the names of people I only see once in a while—e.g. Sunday morning as they leave the sanctuary with the crowd. I do better with the people I see a couple of times per week or with whom I have repeated contact.  Thankfully, there are some people who have aided me by coming up to me and reminding me of their name. I really do appreciate the help.

I believe learning people’s names is important.  It’s a way to connect with people on a more personal level. It means something to be able to greet someone by name rather than in some generic way.  Speaking each other’s names takes us to new level of relationship; it takes us beyond being mere faces in a crowd. Thus, it’s important for us to learn the names of those around us—neighbors, co-workers, even the people with whom we do business on a regular basis.  I believe it’s especially important for me as a pastor to learn people’s names.

I’m glad to read in the Bible that God knows us by name.  The prophet Isaiah wrote these words: But now, this is what the Lord says— he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.” And, “I will give you hidden treasures, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.” ((Isaiah 43:1; 45:3 – NIV, emphasis mine)

God reaches out to us as his people—people whom he knows not from a distance, but up close and personal. We are not passing acquaintances with God.  Rather, we are known by him; known by our names.  Thus, as we come to God today, we come to him not as strangers; not as those who are merely part of the crowd; not as those whom he knows in some generic way. Rather, we come to him as those whom he knows by name! 

Be encouraged today: God knows your name! 

Have a great day!

Pastor Tim Harris 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Cheering For the Home Team!

With the New York Mets having made it into the World Series, most of here in this New York/New Jersey area have baseball on our mind, me included. Although not all of us are diehard Mets fans, we’re excited about having one of our home teams make it this far. In fact, we are hoping to see them win the whole Series.  After all, we love cheering for our home team!  

It makes me think of the old baseball song that we love to sing during the seventh inning stretch: “Take me out to the ball game. Take me out with the crowd…let me root, root, root for the home team….”  The song conjures up images of a stadium filled with people cheering on their team.  Whether it’s their local professional team or their kid’s little league team, the crowd is standing and cheering and rooting for their home team.  And, it is often the cheering of the crowd that fills that team with the energy and confidence they need to keep on playing, even when they find themselves down in the score, facing a strong opponent.  It can be the cheering of the crowd that causes that team to turn around a game or even pull out a miracle win.  One can never underestimate the power of a crowd cheering for their home team!

In the book of Hebrews we read these words, Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us….” (Hebrews 12:1 – NIV)  It’s a picture of a stadium filled with people cheering on those who yet running the race—we might say, playing the game.  They are the saints of old who have lived a life of faith and have since received their reward. Now they are in that heavenly stadium cheering us on, encouraging us to keep on going—to keep on playing even when the opponent may be strong or the score may not be in our favor.  It’s a heavenly crowd cheering on their home team. And, we who are currently living our lives as people of faith, we are that home team! 

You may be struggling today in some way, even feeling a bit discouraged. You may be tired, feeling as if you are currently behind in the score. The temptation to give up on your faith may be great. But, be encouraged today.  Keep on running the race of faith. Stay in the game. You’ve got a stadium of people cheering you on!  After all, you’re on their home team! 

Have a great day!

Pastor Tim Harris

Friday, October 16, 2015

Chopping Back the Vines

This past week I decided to do a little outside cleanup at our new home.  That meant cutting back overgrown branches and raking out leaves and debris that had collected.  As I did so, I began to realize that wrapped around many of the trees were vines that had begun to choke the life out of some of them—and had actually killed a few.  Thus in order to salvage that which was still alive, I spent most of my time chopping back the vines as close to the root as possible. 

This was not the first time I’ve had to deal with vines such as these.  Growing up, there were vines that would grow around our lilac trees, blending in so well it was difficult to distinguish the leaves.  A number of years ago I had to deal with vines that would grow around our forsythia bushes.  Our neighbor at the time called them, “bad boys!”  In each case, the vines twisted themselves around our trees and shrubbery, blending in, and choking the life out of the tree or bush it had attacked.  The only solution was radical surgery—chopping the vine at its root in order to destroy that which had grown around the tree or bush. 

Many of you already know where I am going. But, it’s true: those vines are very much like sin as it slowly creeps into our lives, often blending in so well that we can’t even distinguish that it is there—at least not until it has already begun to choke the life out of us.  The only solution is radical surgery. The only solution is to cut it out of our lives, chopping it at its very root. 

Jesus said, If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.  And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”  (Matthew 5:29-30 – NIV)  Jesus encourages us to get rid of anything and everything within our lives that would lead us into sin and thus choke the spiritual life out of us. 

Let me ask you, what may need to be cut out of your life today? What is it that may be choking the spiritual life out of you; separating you from God; keeping you from living the kind of life you know God wants you to live?  Maybe it’s time to chop back some vines.   

“…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.”  (Hebrews 12:1 – NIV) 

Have a great day!

Pastor Tim Harris

Friday, October 9, 2015

A New Phone Number

After a week of waiting, the Verizon technician finally came yesterday to hook up our phone, TV, and Internet.  And, yes we still have a landline in our home!  I know many people no longer feel the need to have a landline—after all, most people just use their cell phones.  But, I can’t take the plunge and do away with it. Thus, I justify why we need it.  And thus, we once again Kim and I have a new phone number. 

I’m not sure how many phone numbers Kim and I have had through the years, but just about every time we’ve moved, we’ve ended up with a new number.  That, of course, can be a bit inconvenient—one needs to memorize the new number, send it out to friends and family that may need it, etc.  On the other hand, a new phone number makes me feel like I’m really beginning a new chapter in my life.  It’s a sign that not only has a new phone line been run, but so many other aspects of my life have changed.  In this case, my new phone number signifies that I am settling down into a new home, getting to know a new town, beginning a new ministry, and getting to know a whole new group of people.  For me, my new phone number is kind of a reminder that during this season of my life God may want to do something new in and through me. 

Throughout the Bible, God often promises his people that which is new. He calls his people to look ahead with hope and faith, trusting him with their futures.  No, he doesn’t promise a new phone number. But, he does promise them that as he is works in their lives he will make all things new (Revelation 21:5).

To the Jewish people who were facing a terrible time in their history, God makes this promise, “No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate.  But you will be called Hephzibah, [i.e. my delight is in her] and your land Beulah [i.e. married]; for the Lord will take delight in you, and your land will be married…They will be called the Holy People, the Redeemed of the Lord; and you will be called Sought After, the City No Longer Deserted.” (Isaiah 62:4, 12 – NIV) With those words, God was promising his people a new beginning filled with new hope and new life.  God was telling his people that he was going to give to them a brand new identity—an identity that could only be found in him! 

You may be at a place in your life wherein you are in need of something new—new hope, new dreams, new life—maybe even a new name with a new identity. Trust God with your future and allow him to work in your life.  He is willing and able to make all things new. 

Have a great day!

Pastor Tim Harris

Friday, October 2, 2015

Looking For Lost Stuff

This week we finally moved to our new home in Eatontown, NJ. Tuesday the movers came and packed up the truck. Wednesday they delivered it.  And, the fun of unpacking has begun!  Although we did our best to accurately mark the boxes and pack up in as organized a fashion as possible, each time we now need something, a new search begins.  Even things we have unpacked and have already made use of are easily misplaced in the midst of shifting boxes, furniture that is being arranged and rearrange, and just the overall commotion of trying to set up a home. 

Yesterday something as simple as walking the dog became a challenge. First I needed to find a plastic bag to take along the way (to pick up after her). That took about ten minutes of going from room to room wondering where the bags may have been stored.  Then, I needed to find the leash. Although I had used it the night before, somehow it got moved out of my line of sight.  Finally, I needed to find a jacket. Well, it took me about twenty minutes to get out of the house just to walk the dog!  It became quite a game of hide-and-seek, but eventually I made it out of the house with Mabel.

Jesus told three parables about people who had lost something they eventually found. (You can find these parables recorded in Luke 15.)  He described a shepherd losing and finding a lost sheep; a woman losing and finding a lost coin; and a father losing and finding his lost son.  Each time that which was lost is found, there is a celebration.

Jesus’ point is found in Luke 15:10, in which Jesus says, “…I tell you there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” In other words, when one lost person is found and brought into the Kingdom of God, heaven begins to celebrate!  That means the day you and I came to faith and into the Kingdom of God, there was a celebration on our behalf.  And, heaven is yet waiting to host another celebration on behalf of someone else, even today.  I wonder for whom that celebration will be?  For how many it will be? Maybe it will be for that man or woman, teen or child to whom we have been praying and sharing our faith. 

I want to encourage you today to join God on his search for those who are lost. And, let’s not fail to celebrate when the lost are found! Heaven is waiting to host another celebration. 

Have a great day!

Pastor Tim Harris