Friday, February 24, 2017

Rough Trails

Last weekend, my family and I went out to Sourland Mountain Preserve in Somerset County for the first time.  While my sons, Jonathan and Nathaniel, spent the day bouldering (which is why we ended up going there; they have patches of great big boulders that are well known in the area for “bouldering”), Kim and I, along with our daughter-in-law Danielle, did some hiking. It was a beautiful day to be outside, far different than it ought to have been in February. Who would have thought we would have been hiking, as we were this time of year?  Yet (and I don’t mean to complain), the trails were not my favorite to hike.  In fact, the trails were kind of rough, not because they were particularly strenuous, but for a number of other reasons. 

    Jonathan & Nathaniel "bouldering! 

For one, in many spots the trails were quite muddy (which is to be expected in February). Thus, at times we had to make our way off the trail into the brush.  Where they weren’t muddy, the trails were filled with sharp and jagged rocks, which made them uncomfortable to walk on.  Finally, the trails were not well marked. Time and again we found ourselves looking at our map trying to figure out where we were and which way we needed to go to get to our destination.  Overall, they were, what I would consider to be rough trails to hike.

We all know that, sometimes life puts before us some pretty rough trails.  We can find ourselves having to walk some paths that can be quite uncomfortable—paths filled with all kinds of obstacles and which, at times, can be unclear.  You know what I mean: the terrible diagnosis from the doctor, the loss of a job, the aging of a parent, the baby that cannot be conceived…and the list can go on and on.  Time and again we find ourselves walking down trails we never imagined we would have to walk.  Some of you are walking those rough trails even today. 

I want to encourage you not to give, nor fall into despair.  Rather, continue to trust God as you recall his Word to us--promises to take us through and get us to our final destination; promise like:

“Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.” (Isaiah 40:4 – NIV)

“I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.” (Isaiah 42:16 – NIV)

Sometimes we may find ourselves walking some rough trails, but let’s trust God to help us each step of the way. He can make the rough places smooth.  And, he will always be with us every step of the way!

He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.  Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me, your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”  (Psalm 23:3-4 – NIV)

Have a great day!

Pastor Tim Harris

Friday, February 17, 2017

Stressed Out By the News!

This week I heard a news report with which I could identify well.  The report spoke of a study that showed, during and since this past election cycle the stress level of Americans is higher than ever before.  And in fact, the report said, the more a person listens to or reads the news the higher their stress level becomes.  The solution: to limit the amount of news one listens to, reads, and watches per day (which seems like an odd solution coming from a news agency!). 

As I said, I could identify well with the report.  Between what’s been happening politically within our nation, the events that take place on a local level, and what is happening around our world, I find it is very stressful to follow the news. Over and over again, I find myself asking, how could they? Or, why? Or, what’s going to happen next?  I find myself angry with our political leaders, upset with the way people respond to one another, saddened by what is happening in our culture.  Yes, I get stressed out by the news! I’m sure the same is true for many of you. 

Thankfully, in the midst of all the stress-inducing news of our day there is still a piece of enduring good news!  It’s a piece of news that overrides all of the bad and stressful news that we hear and read every day. It’s a piece of news that gives us hope, brings comfort, and even instills a bit of peace in the midst of all the conflict.  That good news is of course, the good news of the Gospel.  It is the good news of Jesus!  It is the good news that you and I can have our sin forgiven and know God as our heavenly Father! And, it is the good news that, in spite of what we see happening in our world, God is still on the throne—and one day he will set all things straight!

The prophet Isaiah wrote, How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’’ (Isaiah 52:7 – NIV) The Apostle Paul wrote, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel (i.e. “good news”), because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. (Romans 1:16 – NIV) 

Maybe it’s time for some of us to turn off the newsfeed or switch television and radio stations.  Maybe it’s time for us to get back into our Bibles and read the good news that God has given to us; to remind ourselves of the good news that has been given to us through Jesus Christ our Savior!  Think about the good news of the Gospel and I guarantee you, your stress level will begin to drop! 

Have a great day!

Pastor Tim Harris

Friday, February 10, 2017

What A Game!

As you may know, I’m not much of a football fan. I watch but a couple of games a year, including the Super Bowl.  But, I was glad I watched this year’s Super Bowl game from start to finish.  It was an incredible game as we watched the underdogs, the Atlanta Falcons, take a huge lead in the first half of the game, even leading 28-3 in the third quarter, and then lose the game and the title to the New England Patriots. 

I’m not quite sure if the Patriots won the game by digging their heels in, letting their huge deficit motivate them to play harder, and rallying together by becoming more offensive in their play; or, if the Falcons lost the game by allowing their huge lead to make them complacent and a bit sloppy in their defense and lackadaisical in their offense. After all, no team has ever lost a Super Bowl with the kind of lead that the Falcons had.  In the end, all I could say was, “What a game!” I’m sure you felt the same. 

   Atlanta Falcons kicker Matt Bryant after the game

It reminds me of Paul’s words found in the New Testament, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Corinthians 10:12 – NIV)  The warning is given because every one of us is vulnerable to temptation and sin.  We all have the potential to fall into sins that we never thought possible. Especially during those times when we feel like we are winning, we must work hard to maintain a strong defense against sin and keep up a strong offense as we continue to grow in our faith and knowledge of Christ.  

The Apostle Paul goes on to say, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13 – NIV)  If we will continue to live in wisdom, grace, and dependent upon God (the ultimate quarterback!), he will help us overcome every temptation that comes our way.  He is faithful!  With him on our side, we can and will win the game! 

Have a great day!

Pastor Tim Harris

Friday, February 3, 2017

Stuck On the Parkway!

Last Saturday my sister Lois and her husband Luis were coming to our home to celebrate our Aunt Catherine’s 93rd birthday.  They live in Spring Valley, NY and thus, have to take the Garden State Parkway all the way down.  On a Saturday afternoon, it is usually an easy ride with little traffic. However, on that day, their one and a quarter hour trip became a four hour plus trip due to an accident.

As they came down the Parkway, they were suddenly brought to a stop just about 15 miles north of our exit.  Apparently, about one mile in front of them, there had just been a big accident.  Soon police cars, fire trucks, and ambulances were on their way.  And, for the next three hours Lois and Luis, along with everyone else who was making their way down the Parkway, were stuck. Just stuck!  Nowhere to go!  Nothing they could do!  They were just stuck! 

It’s a terrible feeling.  Has it ever happened to you? You need to be somewhere, you’ve got something to do, but the traffic has come to a stop—or you find yourself home sick in bed or your child has an emergency…or…etc.  Something has come along interrupting your plans, stopping you in your tracks, and there is nothing you can do about it. All you can do is wait it out and hope for the best.  You are stuck!

Worse yet, is when we begin to feel as if our lives themselves are stuck. Sometimes we get to a place in life wherein we feel as if we are not going anywhere; we have begun to lose our sense of direction and purpose.  Maybe some things in life have not turned out the way you once thought they would. It might be that the routine of life has become just that, too routine.  You may have lost your vision for the future and hope for what might be. You have begun to feel as if you are unable to move forward in life. You feel stuck!

I don’t believe God wants us to live our lives stuck. Rather, God wants to continually move us forward.  He wants to continually grow us, bless through us, and use us to help build his kingdom.  He has something ahead for each of his children. Yes, sometimes he brings us to a place wherein we need to slow down a bit and maybe hear from him. But, he doesn’t want us to feel stuck. Rather, he wants to use the pauses in life to strengthen us and prepare us for our next step forward. 

“…but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31 – NIV)

Don’t allow the situations of your life to tell you, you are stuck. Rather, allow God to work in your life—even in the middle of the traffic jams of life—to prepare you for what is ahead.  After all, every traffic jam eventually comes to an end and you will once again begin to move forward!

Have a great day!

Pastor Tim Harris