Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Honorable and Faithful Service!

This past Monday evening, my father’s brother (i.e. my uncle), George passed away at the age of 92.  He was the uncle who was always a bit of a mystery, a bit eccentric, and at times even a little intimidating.  Since his death, I learned that he served in the army just after the close of WWII.  Previously, I had heard that he couldn’t serve during the war because of a disability.  I did not know, that he was sent to Europe after the war. 

As I was going through his papers and cards, I found his discharge paper, better called his, discharge card.  Apparently, back then the army would take the discharge paper, shrink it down, and laminate it so that the veteran had it as a card to carry in his wallet.  A the top of the card it says, “Army of the United States Honorable Discharge.”  On the back I found out all kinds of details—e.g. he trained in Aberdeen, MD, was an army truck driver, was “separated” at Fort Dix, served from September 27, 1945 to January 27, 1947.  And, he received two medals: an “Army of Occupation Medal” and a “WWII Victory Medal.”

What touched me the most were the words I read on the front of the card, words that almost brought me to tears:  “This certificate is awarded as a testimonial of Honest and Faithful Service to this country.”  If you knew my Uncle George, you would know that he was a man who struggled with his lot in life.  He never achieved the things he seemed to have wanted to achieve; he never married and had a family of his own; in many ways he seemed to feel as if he were an outsider.  In fact, the words on this card may have been the only words of commendation he heard throughout his adult life.  Yet, they are probably the most significant of all. “Honest and Faithful Service!”

Although I would not have initially thought of these words in regard to my uncle, as I reflect back on his life, I realize his “Honest and Faithful Service” was seen not only in the way he served his country, but as well in the way he took care of his parents and never-married sister; the way he faithfully did his job at the NYC Parks Department; the decision he made to go into a nursing home, even though it cost him his life savings, so that, as he said, the family would be forced into helping his sister Catherine, doing for her what he knew he himself could not do for her.  It was a strategic and sacrificial move on his part. It was part of his “Honest and Faithful Service.” 

Someday each of us is going to receive our own discharge papers from this life.  We will all be “separated” from our life here on this earth. When that day comes, I wonder will we receive an “Honorable Discharge?” What will our papers say?  I would want mine to say, “Honest and Faithful Service.”  Or, as Jesus said, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  (Matthew 25:23 – NIV) 

Thanks, Uncle George for your “Honest and Faithful Service!”

Have a good day!

Pastor Tim Harris

Friday, November 17, 2017

Too Early For Christmas Music?

This week one of our local Christian radio stations switched to playing all Christmas music.  I was a little surprised that they didn’t wait until the day after Thanksgiving—or at least the week of Thanksgiving.  It seemed a bit too early for me.  After all, I’m still raking leaves, getting used to the cooler weather, and trying to get to Thanksgiving.  I’m not quite sure I’m ready to step into the Christmas mode by playing a radio station that’s all Christmas music. 

On the other hand, when I think about it, I’ve spent a good part of the past few weeks preparing for the Christmas season here at the church. We’ve been working on the decorating schedule and ordering poinsettias. I’ve been preparing a Christmas sermon series for the month of December. And, yes I will admit I’ve been listening to a ton of Christmas music in preparation for our Christmas services! Maybe it’s not too early for Christmas music? 

If you think about it, it’s really a shame that we relegate just one day of the year (or a relatively short season of the year) to remembering one of the most important events in history: the incarnation.  God coming to earth as a baby, in the person of Jesus, was no small feat.  The Son of God becoming flesh is no ordinary occurrence.  Aside from the cross, the incarnation is the most incredible expression of love that we will ever know.

The Apostle John wrote, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (John 1:14 – NIV) And, “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”  (1 John 4:9-10 – NIV) 

Wow! When I read scriptures such as these I say to myself, it’s no wonder we celebrate Christmas!  In fact, we ought to celebrate the incarnation year-round,  That being said, I don’t know that we can ever say it’s too early to play Christmas music!

Have a great day!  

Pastor Tim Harris

Friday, November 10, 2017

When Worship Turns Into Terror

I don’t usually like to use this devotional blog as a forum to reiterate the latest news. That would make these Pastor’s Devotions less than encouraging—even a bit depressing.  However, as a pastor it’s only natural that throughout this week my mind has been on the terrible massacre that took place at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. 

As I read the accounts of what took place, especially the methodical way in which the shooter sought to kill every person in the church from the youngest to the oldest, my mind couldn’t help but see the events taking place in the church that I pastor.  I have envisioned what it would have been like to be in the pulpit leading a service with a congregation in worship, when suddenly terror erupts.  I have wondered how I would respond, if I had any time at all to do so.  If I did survive, I have thought what it would be like to be left with a congregation that has been decimated. How would I minister to them? Could I get over my own pain to bring some sort of comfort and semblance of order back into the lives of the flock that has been left behind? What happens to a congregation when a morning of worship turns into a morning of terror?

I have no answers.  At times, I’ve almost burst out in tears over it all.  I’ve prayed for God’s protection over our church—and, the churches throughout our nation.  I’ve talked with other pastors and to leadership about better security and lockdown plans.  In the end, however, I have realized that, although we will need to put plans into place, and although we will continue to pray, there are some things in life that are way out of our control. That is where our faith in God comes in. In fact, this is where our faith in God is tested.  

In spite of our best -laid plans (which are good and necessary) and in spite of our prayers (which we ought to be praying), sin and evil will continue to impact our lives.  The terror may not always come in the form of a shooter breaking into a church service—or, a vehicle driving full speed into a crowd (as per the NYC attack)—but, evil has a way of touching our lives over and over again, stealing from us our health, our loved ones, our relationships, our sense of confidence in the future.  But, it cannot steal from us our faith. Evil cannot take from us our faith that one day God is going to step into our world, the Kingdom of God will come, and on that day evil will be eradicated and the good that God has planned for his people and for our world will be instituted once and for all. 

In faith we must continue to say. “The Lord is good and his love endures forever.”  (Psalm 100:5 – NIV) Or, as the prophet wrote, “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble.”  (Nahum 1:7 – NIV) In faith, we must continue to trust God not only during the good times of our lives, not only during the times of worship, but even when evil and terror step in.   

I want to encourage you today to continue to trust God with your life; to continue to believe that he is good; to know that the terrors of today will not last forever. 

I leave you with the poem below.  It’s not yet Christmas, but its words speak well to us as we pray for the people of Sutherland Springs, Texas and seek to hold onto our faith.

-  Pastor Tim Harris

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play;
In music sweet the tones repeat,
“Peace on earth, good will to men.”

I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along th’ unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound, the carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn, the households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong, and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor does He sleep,
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

(Henry W. Longfellow - 1864)

Friday, November 3, 2017

Where Have You Been?

Last week I was back in Leon, Nicaragua.  It had been ten months since I had been down there—the longest gap between visits in six years.  During the week, I visited the children of Promise Kids Foundation in the three rural communities outside of Leon where the program meets. When I got out of our vehicle at the first community, a 16 year-old, Erick, came immediately to me, gave me a hug, and said, “Where have you been, Pastor Tim? I thought I’d never see you again!”  The same thing happened a couple of days later. Carlos who is now 18 years old and studying at the university came to me and said, “Pastor Tim, where have you been? I think about you and your family every day!”  In each case, I was somewhat speechless and left holding back my tears. 

Where have I been? Well, I’ve been busy with the church here in New Jersey. I’ve been taking care of my family. I’ve been living life here in the U.S.  I’ve been going about the regular and some of the not-so-regular stuff of my life here at home. And, I know that, although some of the kids and families there may miss me, they’ve been going about the stuff of their lives.  (I doubt they’re just sitting around waiting for me to show up!)  After all, we are all busy with our lives. 

Carlos and I in Fortin, Nicaragua
It’s true that, I’ve got my life here in New Jersey—and, they have their own lives down there.  But, I am reminded how, in the midst of all of the busyness of life, we can so easily lose sight of one another and the relationships with which God has blessed us.  We can become so caught up in what we are doing that, we forget about the people with whom we are supposed to live our lives connected: spouses, children, friends, family, brothers and sisters in Christ, etc.  Before you know it we are asking each other, “Where have you been?” 

The Bible tells us to, “Be devoted to one another” (Romans 12:10); “encourage one another” (2 Corinthians 13:11); “serve one another” (Galatians 5:13); “Be kind and compassionate to one another” (Ephesians 4:32); “admonish one another” (Colossians 3:16); “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24); “Keep on loving one another” (Hebrews 13:1).  None of that can be done unless we live our lives connected to one another.  It’s a call for us to live our lives in constant relationship with those around us.      

Is there someone who today might ask you, “Where have you been?”  If so, pray for them. Give them a call. Set up a time to get together. Renew your relationship. Take the time to live your life in relationship with the people God has called you to bless—and through whom God will bless you!

Let’s not become so busy with the stuff of life that, before you know it we are asking each other, “Where have you been?”    

Have a great day!

Pastor Tim Harris

P.S. – I hope it won’t be ten months till I get to see Erick, Carlos, and some of the others again!