Friday, January 27, 2017

When Everything is Gone!

The last time I wrote this Pastor’s Devotion blog, I was on a plane, on my way to Leon, Nicaragua with a team of ten people.  Well, we arrived at the airport safely, made it through immigration and customs without a hitch, and picked up our minibus for the week.  Since it was lunchtime (actually past our lunchtime), we stopped where I have stopped dozens of times in the past: a Tip Top chicken restaurant within a little strip mall on the way out of Managua.  It was there that the “fun” began!

As we were getting out of the vehicle to go into the restaurant, some of us decided to leave our backpacks on the floor and under the seats of the bus rather than take them in with us.  Even our driver did the same. We figured they would be out of sight, it was broad daylight, and the parking lot had a guard.  In the past, however, I have never done this. I’ve always taken my backpack with me. I knew better! 

I’m sure you know where this story is going.  When we finished eating and got back out to the minibus, we found that one of the locks had been broken and the thieves took whatever was close enough to grab. Four of us had our stuff taken.  In my backpack were my iPad, new headphones, iPod Nano, glasses, and my passport—along with a whole bunch of personal items.  In one moment all of it was taken. Before I knew it, everything was gone!

Over the next week or so, while in Nicaragua and now back here at home, I’ve had to replace certain things. I had to get a new backpack in Leon and some personal items that I needed. I got a new passport from the U.S. Embassy in Managua. And, I had to purchase a new pair of glasses the day after returning. Some items I’ll be able to replace, others probably not for a while. 

All of this reminded me of how dependent and how attached we can become to our possessions.  Without my backpack, iPad, glasses, etc. I felt almost naked, even a bit empty.  I had to figure out how to function without the things upon which I depend on an almost daily basis.  I came to realize just how much I lean upon certain things for my work, for my pleasure, and sometimes for comfort.  I had to ask myself, what happens to me when everything is gone? 

    With the kids in Troilo, Nicaragua 

At the same time I came to see that there were and are certain things that the thieves could not take from us:  the presence of God—which became very real for all of us during this trip; the blessing of relationships—which only grew among our team; the blessing of being a blessing to the people whom we seek to serve—which became very evident as we ministered and served over the next week.  There are some things in life no one can ever take from us.

Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21 – NIV)

When everything is gone, there are some things that remain!

Have a great day!

Pastor Tim Harris

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