Thursday, December 31, 2015

A Time to Look Forward!

As we come to the eve of a new year, most of us our looking forward towards 2016 with all kinds of hope and expectation.  Some of us are looking forward to graduating or towards a marriage or the birth of a baby.  Some of us are hoping to make some progress with our exercise plan or diet.  Others are hoping for a new job or financial stability.  Some of us are simply hoping 2016 will be better than 2015. 

The eve of a new year is just naturally a time of hope and expectation. It is a time to look forward. Unfortunately, however, there are many people who, after hoping and dreaming for so many years and not having their hopes and dreams realized, have given up on hope.  They have thrown in the proverbial towel on hope. Thus, they no longer look forward. They no longer dream of what might be, could be, or should be. If that is you, I want to encourage you to know that we serve a God who always brings new hope. He is a God who calls us to look forward—to look ahead with great expectation—and who gives us reason to do so!

Through the prophet Isaiah, God said to his people, during a time when they had given up hope, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:18-19 – NIV) As the Apostle Paul put it, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him!” (1 Corinthians 2:9 – NLT)  Notice, God calls his people to look forward filled with hope and expectation not based on their current situation or based on what they were able to accomplish. He calls them to look forward based on who he is and what he is able to do for his people. 

It’s true that life does not always work out the way we thought it would. Maybe 2015 revealed that to you. But that does not mean that God is done with you.  And, it does not mean that your life will always be as it is today.  God is yet at work and is more than able to do something new in your life. So, as you step into this new year, put your trust in God. I know he is able to fill you with new hope, making this a time to look forward. 

“I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.”  (Romans 15:13 – NLT)   

Have a great day and a blessed New Year! 

Pastor Tim Harris

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Silent Night! Holy Night!

This morning I was reading the story behind the Christmas hymn "Silent Night! Holy Night!"  At times, the song's lyrics and melody can seem overly nostalgic. They breath a sense of serenity that is unknown to most of us in our daily pace of life.  Yet, maybe that is why we return to the song year after year.  Could it be that we all long for the kind of peace, serenity, and holiness that the song creates in our hearts and minds? We all want to experience something of "Love's pure light!" 

I want to remind us today that, Jesus is the One whom the writer refers to as "Love's pure light."  Jesus is the One for whom the angels sang, "Peace on earth!" He is the Prince of peace, the One who is able to bring peace to our hearts and minds, not only during Christmas but throughout the year--throughout our lives.    

I pray that God would fill you with the peace that Jesus came to bring.  May you know what it means to experience "Love's pure light" within your heart, your home, and wherever you may go.  

Thank you so much for faithfully reading and passing on my devotional blog throughout the year.  

Have a blessed Christmas! 

Pastor Tim Harris 

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Scent of Christmas!

One of the things I love about this time of year is the scent that often permeates the house as Kim bakes the dozens of cookies that we normally only have this time of year.  In fact, the other day I walked into the house, caught a whiff of that which had been baking and began to spontaneously sing, “It’s beginning to smell a lot like Christmas!”  The scent of those cookies that had just come out of the oven made it seem as if Christmas was really on its way.  I felt as if I had caught the scent of Christmas!

Yet, as I think back to the first Christmas—i.e. the birth of Jesus—it appears that the scent of Christmas was anything but that of cookies coming out of an oven.  The scents that filled the air on that first Christmas had little to do with baking and pine and any of the other scents that today we associate with Christmas Day.  On that first Christmas the scents that surrounded the baby Jesus were more likely those of hay, animals, and all the smells that are associated with a barn.  Even the people involved would not have carried on themselves the most pleasant of scents.  Joseph and Mary had just finished a long journey; the shepherds had come in from the fields where they had been spending time with their sheep.  None of them would have had the pleasure of washing themselves up with perfumed soaps, putting on some deodorant and dabbing themselves with colognes and perfumes. Instead, their own bodily scents were probably raw and harsh to our modern senses.  I even wonder, what kind of scent the rags in which the baby Jesus was wrapped carried on them?

We could say, Jesus was birthed into a very smelly setting!  And, that was true on every level.  For the world into which he came was filled with the stench of sin. It was a world that smelled of despair, pain, sorrow, brokenness, and all the effects that sin brings.  Jesus, the Son of God, had left the beauties and glories of heaven and came into a world that to him must have smelled like the worst of garbage dumps. Yet, he came. Jesus came into the smell and stench of our world for one purpose: “To seek and to save that which was lost.”  (Luke 19:10)

This Christmas, as you enjoy the scents that today we associate with Christmas—the baking of cookies, the smell of pine, etc.—remember that they are really only a temporary fix to the real stench of the world in which we live.  Ultimately, Jesus is the only one who can forever rid our world of the stench of sin.  And, he is still on a mission to seek and to save those who are lost; to rescue those who are trapped in the stinking garbage dump of sin so that in the end, we may all carry on us the “aroma of Christ!” (2 Corinthians 2:15) And, that’s the true scent of Christmas!

Have a great day! 

Pastor Tim Harris

Friday, December 11, 2015

Unlit Chanukah Candles!

This week the Jewish people have been celebrating Chanukah, the “Festival of Lights.”  Each night they light another candle on their Chanukah menorah until, on the eighth night all the candles of the menorah are lit.  Many towns, including the new town in which I now live (Eatontown), have large electric menorahs in the town square or in front of the municipal buildings.  And, each night another candle is supposed to be lit.  But this morning, as I was driving by the large menorah set up in our town, I noticed that, although five candles plus the center one (called, the shamash) ought to have been lit, only three candles plus the shamash have been lit. In other words, they are two nights behind.  The result is, the Chanukah menorah in Eatontown is not shining as brightly as it ought to be shining.

Through the lighting of the candles, the Jewish people remember the great victory God gave to them at one point in their history and the miracle that took place—one night’s worth of oil lasting eight nights so that the Temple lights could burn brightly until new oil was found.  Not only that, but the holiday is a reminder that, according to God’s Word, one day light will overcome the darkness of our world.  And, the Chanukah candles speak to the fact that, God has ordained that each of our lives are meant to bring light into the darkness. 

Jesus said to his followers, “You are the light of the world.”  He talked about the fact that a light is meant to shine, not to be hidden.  And, he concluded by saying, “…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”  (Matthew 5:14, 16 – NIV)  Jesus reminds us that, our lives are meant to shine brightly for the glory of God!  Each of our lives is meant to be like a Chanukah menorah, shining with ever-increasing light. Or as the Apostle Paul wrote, shining with an “ever-increasing glory.” 

Unfortunately, we all know that there are many times when we fail to shine as brightly as we ought.  Although we ought to be at a place wherein four or five or eight of our candles are burning, we have left some of our candles unlit. The end result is our lives fail to shine the way they were meant to shine. Thus, there is more darkness than there ought to be. 

The next time you pass by a Chanukah menorah this week, ask God to help you be the light that Jesus has called you to be, allowing your life to shine brightly for the glory of God.  Don’t leave any of your candles unlit!

Have a great day!  And, Happy Chanukah—go eat a latke or, at least a donut! 

Pastor Tim Harris

Friday, December 4, 2015

It's Got to Be Dark to Shine!

Recently someone gave to me as a gift the “As Seen on TV Star Shower Laser Light” to help me decorate the outside of our house for Christmas.  The way it lights up a house or tree is pretty incredible. From a distance it can look as if one has placed hundreds of little lights on a huge tree or all across the front of a house. Instead it is just one device projecting its laser beams of red and green.  It does look pretty awesome. 

But there is one catch with the Star Shower Laser Light: it must be dark for it to turn on (it is photosensitive). And, the darker it is the better the lights are seen.  Initially, I had the laser lights projected against our house, but the lights I have on the bushes and the spot I have on our wreath caused the laser lights to appear washed out.  So, last night I changed the placement of the device to now project on a couple of the trees on the other side of the front yard, where it is much darker. With the deeper darkness, the lights appear so much brighter and more vibrant.  The darkness helped the light shine so much better. 

I’m reminded that the Christmas season is ultimately about light shining into darkness.  And in fact, the darker it is the brighter the light is able to shine.  The Christmas story is about the light of God breaking into the darkness of our world through the person of his Son, Jesus Christ.  If there had been no darkness, there would have been no need for Jesus to have come.  After all, it’s got to be dark for the light to shine!

The prophet wrote, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:2 – NIV) Then many years later, the Apostle John wrote, In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it….The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.” (John 1:4-5, 9 – NIV)

I know that our world is feeling increasingly dark.  The recent events of just the past few weeks—e.g. the shootings in Paris, Colorado Springs, and San Bernardino—remind us of just how dark our world is.  We see poverty, injustice, and war across our globe. On a more personal level, every day people (including ourselves) face sickness in their bodies, the breakdown of their families, the loss of a loved one, the loss of a jobs, etc.  Our world can seem like a very dark place.  But, the good news is that the birth of Jesus was the coming of light into that darkness.  And in the end, the greater the darkness the brighter the light will shine! 

O little town of Bethlehem, How still we see thee lie!
Above your deep and dreamless sleep, The silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth The everlasting Light,
The hopes and fears of all the years, Are met in thee tonight.
(Phillips Brooks)

Let’s not give up hope. Rather, during this Christmas season let’s allow the light of Jesus to shine brightly.  After all, it’s got to be dark to shine! 

Have a great day! 

Pastor Tim Harris