Friday, March 30, 2018

A Good Friday and A Better Sunday!

Today we enter into the most important weekend in the Christian calendar.  This afternoon and evening we remember the death of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, reflecting on the cross. Then on Sunday, we will celebrate his resurrection from the grave. Today is what we call, “Good Friday.”  That being the case, I would like to call Easter Sunday, Better Sunday!

Now, a lot of people ask me, why the day we remember Jesus’ crucifixion is called, “Good Friday?”  After all, it was such a terrible day for Jesus and his disciples. There’s nothing “good” about looking at a bloody cross.  Actually, only in the English language is this day called, “Good Friday.”  In the romance languages such as Spanish and Italian it is called “Holy Friday.” In German it is called, “Sorrowful Friday.”  In Russian it is, “Passion Friday.”  So why do we call it, “Good Friday” in English?  I’ve learned that, it has to do with the fact that originally the word “good” had to do with that which was holy.  The words, “good” and “holy” were often closely tied together. Thus, in actuality we should be calling this day “Holy Friday” (even as the Wednesday of Holy Week is referred to by many as “Holy Wednesday”). 

However, although the suffering and death of Jesus was a very sad and terrible thing, we know that the cross is central to the “good news”—i.e. the gospel message.  The cross is central to our salvation and all that we experience through faith in Jesus for without it there would be no forgiveness of sins; we would be lost in our sins. For Jesus the day in which he died was a terrible day, but for we who are being saved we might rightfully call it a “good” day—i.e. “Good Friday.”

On the other hand, let’s remember that, as important as the cross is, it would have no meaning without the resurrection. Without Jesus’ resurrection from the dead the cross would have become for us the saddest symbol in history for it would have come to represent the death of our would-be savior.  The power of the cross is found in the fact that, the One who died on that cross was raised to new life three days later. Yes, it was a Good Friday, but it was a better Sunday!

So today, on this Good Friday, let’s take time to remember the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus. Let’s reflect on the cross and it’s importance to the good news we have received and the forgiveness that has been made available to us. But, let’s also allow our hearts to begin to look forward to and even begin to celebrate the better Sunday that is just around the corner! Let’s allow our hearts to be filled with hope and joy as we remind ourselves that the One who died on that cross is today our Living Savior!

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures….” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4 – NIV)

Yes, it was a Good Friday, but thankfully it was a better Sunday! 

Have a great Easter weekend.

Pastor Tim Harris

Friday, March 23, 2018

Nature's Pruning Process!

Well, here in the Northeast we’ve had another nor’easter.  Or, as some have called this one, a “Four-Easter”—after all, this week was our fourth nor’easter in the month of March!  Here in Monmouth County, NJ we received about a foot of snow from this last storm.  What a way to welcome spring of 2018!

One of the results of this last storm has been a lot of tree branches down on the ground.  Many of them couldn’t sustain the weight of the heavy snow, snapped, and came crashing down. Here at our church, a couple of pretty big branches from old sycamore trees snapped and fell. Thus, aside from the back-breaking work of shoveling the heavy snow, now homeowners and others need to get to work cutting and removing the fallen branches. 

Branches down at our church!
This morning it crossed my mind that, a storm like this just may be nature’s way of pruning the branches of trees that need to be pruned.  It may be nature’s way of doing for the trees what needs to be done—i.e. removing weak or dead branches so that the rest of the tree may remain strong and healthy.  It’s not easy, neat, or fun, but in the end the pruning process brings great benefit to the tree. Just maybe, a storm like this, as difficult as it is, is good for the trees.

In John 15, Jesus talks about a different kind of pruning process. He says, I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” (John 15:1-2 – NIV)  Jesus refers to himself as the vine, his followers as the branches, and God the Father as the gardener who does the pruning.  Those branches that are not fruitful are cut off for the good of the rest of the vine. And, the branches that are fruitful still undergo a pruning process so that they might become even more fruitful! 

It’s a painful process. The cutting, the separating, the removal of parts of our lives that need to be pruned away is never easy. Yet God in his grace and mercy comes along with his pruning tools—his Word, the conviction of the Holy Spirit, the wise counsel of others, even some of the difficulties (i.e. “storms”) that come our way—and he works to remove from our lives those things that keep us from being as fruitful and productive as we were meant to be. Again, it’s a painful process. Yet, it’s all for our good and for his glory!

So today let me ask you, what things in your life may God need to prune out of your life? What is it that is keeping you from being a fruitful follower of Jesus?  Just maybe some of the things you are currently experiencing in your life are God’s way of pruning you so that you might become so much more than you are today!

Stay connected to the Vine and give your life fully to the Gardener and you will become all that God intends for you to be!

Have a great day!

Pastor Tim Harris

Friday, March 16, 2018

The 15 Point Checklist!

This morning I’m sitting in the waiting area of the service center at my local car dealership having regularly schedule maintenance done on my Chevy Equinox.  As they change the oil on my car they will also be doing what they call their 21 Point Inspection.  That means, they will not only change the oil on my car but also check the other fluids, tire pressure, filters, belts, etc. And, they will hopefully address any concerns that they may find. They will use their 21 point checklist to make sure everything in my vehicle is at it ought to be.  It may seem time consuming and a bit inconvenient (after all, who likes sitting in a car dealership at 7:30 in the morning?), but it is of utmost importance if I’m to keep my vehicle running, as it ought to run.  

Yes, regular checkups for our vehicles are important—as they are for our bodies (that’s another subject!).  But, what about inspecting and checking on other parts of our lives such as how our relationship with God is going or how we are interacting with the people around us? What about looking for potential problems in what is happening within our hearts and minds? What about inspecting one’s emotional life or the spiritual tone of one’s life?

In this week’s Bible reading plan that our church has been using, we’ve been reading about having a spirit of love and servanthood. It’s been a great opportunity for us to evaluate the level of love and servanthood within each of our lives. It’s been an opportunity to ask God to help reveal any potential shortfalls within our lives and some things that we may need to work on. After all, the Bible is filled with checklists by which we might evaluate ourselves in this area. One of those is found in 1 Corinthians 13.  There the Apostle Paul gives to us what we might call, a “15 Point Checklist.” As you read it, allow the Holy Spirit to help you evaluate your life and see where you might be falling short, what parts of your life might need to be “topped off,” or even where everything may be going well.  Here’s Paul’s 15 Point Checklist:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

How did you do? How does your love measure up to God’s standard of love?  Maybe you need a little bit of maintenance. Maybe there are some parts that need to be “topped off” or even repaired. I know I’ve got some areas to pray about and work on! The same is probably true for you.

Let’s not be afraid to use God’s Word to help us inspect our hearts and lives. And today, let’s ask God to help us live up to his standard of love. After all, Jesus said that’s how the world will know we belong to him.  

Have a great day!

Pastor Tim Harris

Friday, March 9, 2018

In Like a Lion...Out Like a Lamb?

Who would have thought that we would have experienced two nor’easters, complete with snow in the month of March—and, within five days of each other! Surely, March has come in like a lion!  The question is, will it go out like a lamb?

I’m sure most of you are ready for spring. I know, I am.  I keep looking for the smallest signs of a change in seasons. But, today as I look outside my window I just see snow, and what looks like winter. On the surface, it seems like spring is a long way off.  Yet the truth is, signs of spring have been all around me: the daffodils that have already come up just outside my office; a few warmer days here and there; the grass looking a tad bit greener. I even did a run outside last week in shorts!  So, maybe spring is on its way.  Just maybe March will go out like a lamb and spring will make its way into our lives!

A small sign that spring is on its way!
All of this makes me think of how often in life we go through difficult and dark times that can feel like never-ending winters. Life storms in like a lion and we feel like we’re going to be ravaged by it. We wonder how the story will end. We want to hope for better days, for the pain to pass, for the season of our life to change, but we wonder if it ever will. When we look outside the window of our lives, so often all we see are the signs of what we might call “winter.” And yet, I have to believe that if we look a little closer we just might find at least a few signs of “spring.”

This is where our faith comes into play.  After all, God is the One who brings us real hope. Through him and all he has done for us through Jesus Christ we receive the assurance, we might say the “signs,” that our lives will not always be as they are; that “winter” will not last forever; that spring is on its way! Hope comes as we look to God and trust him to take care of our future and our eternity. And, he daily gives to us signs of his presence with us, and his hand at work in our lives—if only we will look a little bit closer. 

The Psalmist wrote, “We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield.” (Psalm 33:20 - NIV)  The Apostle Paul wrote, On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us….”  (2 Corinthians 1:10 - NIV) The prophet Isaiah put it this way, “…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)

With God by your side there is always hope! He is able to help you through every season of your life and lead you on to the next.  The “March” of your life may come in like a lion, but  God will send it out like a lamb!

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13 - NIV)

Have a good day!

Pastor Tim Harris