Friday, May 19, 2017

Hold On

by Tim Howe

The Count of Monte Cristo is one of my favorite stories. It tells the tale of Edmond Dantès, an innocent man wrongly accused and sentenced to imprisonment at Château d'If near Marseilles, France. As the story begins, Dantès finds himself in an enviable position - a good job, a happy life, and an impending marriage to the love of his life. In a stroke, he loses it all and then languishes fourteen years unjustly confined. It is during this time of suffering that his steely resolve and a reversal of fortune combine to lead to an improbable turn of events. The bulk of the story details his pursuit of revenge and justice.

Fictional vs. RealityIn the story of the Count of Monte Cristo justice is deliciously served. But this is a fictional novel. Things often turn out quite differently. Part of the novel's entertainment value is that what should happen eventually happens. In reality, however, injustice often goes unavenged. 1 Peter addresses when this happens.

For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. (1 Pet. 2:19 ESV)

Colliding Values
We live in a world that pursues an agenda apart from God. The world's pursuits simply don't line up with God's will, and sometimes are even openly hostile to it. As a result, those of us who follow Christ find ourselves on a collision course with people or events that bring suffering and pain. Frequently, this suffering comes unjustly.

1 Peter teaches us that our endurance of suffering can be a powerful thing as we remind ourselves of the One for whom we suffer. The verse above even indicates that it can be a thing full of grace. The NLT translation of this verse states, For God is pleased when, conscious of his will, you patiently endure unjust treatment.

Shared Experience

God's pleasure comes at our response to the suffering. Our focus on His purpose even in the midst of severe difficulty bring joy to our Father. We share this in common with Christ (1 Pet. 2:21) and with believers throughout all ages who have experienced difficulty on account of the faith.

Hold OnMaybe no one knows what you are going through, but hold on. You might be in the middle of your fiercest battle, but hold on. Take pleasure that even in the darkest hour, God's grace is sufficient.

Monday, April 17, 2017

He is Risen

by Tim Howe

The arrival of Spring once again provides an explosion of color as flowers are beginning to bloom. With Spring comes Easter, the Christian holiday that celebrates new life through the resurrection of Jesus. It is a time for baskets of chocolate and for families to attend church and spend the day together in an egg hunt or around a meal.  

He is Risen
He is Risen. Three words that initiated many worship services this Easter. It is a well-known refrain for those who often attend Easter service in the Christian tradition. The words are spoken by the minister and often repeated by the congregants punctuated by an "indeed!" so as to emphasize the pronouncement's celebratory spirit. 

Two Eyewitnesses
Twice over the weekend I was reminded of men who heard the phrase many years ago. These were two eyewitnesses of the risen Jesus. The setting finds itself just after the events that encompass Passion week in which Jesus came to Jerusalem heralded as a deliverer, but was tried and executed as a blasphemer, and then disappeared from his grave. 

Luke 24 describes two men walking along a road leading out of the city discussing the events of the past week. They come across a fellow traveler who seems to be unaware of the tumultuous week's events. This lack of awareness surprises the two men who explained the happenings to their new companion.

Explained in Detail
The reader is in on the secret that it is Jesus who has inquired of these two men concerning the perplexing events. Once he allows them to set the stage, he turns the tables and explains to them what events have really transpired, but instead of going back over the course of the past week, he goes back some fifteen hundred years. Jesus describes Passion week against the backdrop of the entire Old Testament showing how things have occurred just as they were supposed to and just as they were foretold. 

Luke 24:27 tells us, "And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself." The text doesn't tell the reader exactly what passages Jesus elucidates. Wouldn't it have been nice to have eavesdropped on that conversation? Though we don't have their precise conversation recorded, we do have the Scriptures that Jesus quoted. Many theologians and Bible scholars since that time have done the very same thing that Jesus did. Books and articles have been written showing just how Jesus' life, death and resurrection fulfilled many OT prophecies, some of which were declared a thousand years before his birth.  

My personal faith journey spent some time exploring the writings of scholars who investigated and demonstrated just how Jesus' life did indeed fulfill ancient prophecies. Yet, the greatest thing said about Jesus was written not in advance of his birth, but just after his death. When the two men realized that it was Jesus who had walked with them, they rushed back to Jerusalem to share the surprising good news with their friends. Upon arrival, they were greeted with a similar good report. The eleven had their own eyewitness account, "The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon" (Luke 24:34). Christ's resurrection was attested by many eyewitnesses. Men and women who went to their graves testifying to what they had seen by their own eyes. These eyewitness accounts are the backbone of the Christian faith.

He is Risen Indeed
He is Risen. If the testimonies are true of the eyewitnesses who saw Jesus resurrected after death there are no three more powerful words spoken. 

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Nothing Separates from the Love of Christ

by Timothy Howe

Nisqually River Bridge, Mt. Rainier, Wa
On a recent hike, we crossed a bridge over the Nisqually River that runs down from Mt. Rainier. While on the bridge, I happened to bend down and a take a photo of the mountain through the trellis. Interesting how much bigger the beams of wood look when compared to a 14,000 foot mountain. Obviously, they are but specks in comparison to the mountain on which they rest. Though distance and perspective reduce the amount of space that the mountain takes up in the image, the mountain remains 14,410 feet. In a similar way, we too often allow our circumstances to shape our view of reality. Trials and difficulties loom large and the great things of this world seem diminished. Hold onto proper perspective.

Love of God (Rom. 8:31-39)
Dr. Randy Adams, the Executive Director of the NWBC, recently spoke to a group of pastors, pastors' wives, and church leaders. He spoke from Romans 8:31-39 and shared about God's unceasing love for us. The Scripture consists of a series of questions which summarizes our position as children of God, joint-heirs with Christ to be precise (Rom. 8:16-17). Paul uses responses to these questions to solidify what God has done for us. 

He will provide all that we need.
If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will be not also with him graciously give us all things? 

God recognized our greatest need and took care of it personally. Consider that at a deep level. He provided for us in a way that we were completely incapable. How much more can we trust that He will continue to meet our needs? Let us trust that He who is capable to meet all of our needs and who cares for us will meet those needs. And in the process let us be careful to not confuse needs and wants nor set improper expectation based on our time-table. 

He takes away our guilt.
Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. 

Have you ever caught a child doing or saying something they know they shouldn't? As long as the offense is fairly minor, the adult can take some joy out of the cute, guilty face. The sense of guilt is a whole lot less adorable as we mature. Many people retain a sense of guilt long after the offense has been forgotten or its consequences felt. The scripture above tells us that God has already justified us. What that means is that He, who is most capable of holding our guilt against us, does not charge us as guilty. Don't be subject to guilty feelings. If there are some actions for which you feel guilty that require retribution, recompense or setting things right, then take whatever necessary actions. Beyond that release any feelings of guilt.    

He removes our shame. 
Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died - more than that, who was raised - who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 

Similar to guilt, many people continue to harbor shame in our lives. There is a difference between guilt and shame. Guilt may be associated with offenses we committed whereas shame are those offenses committed against us. Shame dogs us and tells us that we are not worthy. Paul tells us that the Greatest One does not condemn us, in fact, he advocates for us. Jesus stands next to the Father seeking our very best well-being. Shame can be debilitating and may need counseling to overcome. Many offenses are too painful or too fresh and require the help of professionals and the vantage of greater distances of time to overcome. But let the work of the Spirit help in this healing process. Hold onto the promise that the Savior stands as your champion.

He sticks with us through all difficulties.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, 
     "For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
     we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered."
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This last section is often quoted by people in times of difficulty, and rightfully so. In it we are offered a promise from God that nothing will separate us from the love of Christ. What a promise! Paul goes to lengths to make clear what he means by "nothing." Each of us has experienced suffering, stress, threats, deprivation, or danger. The Scriptures remind us that in the very middle of these difficulties, our Savior's love is ever present. May you sense that love during your next trial. If you are currently in that trial, may you know that you are loved beyond measure. 

Dr. Adams challenged a group of pastors and church leaders to memorize Romans 8:31-38, a challenge which I have taken up. I encourage you to do so as well. 

Monday, May 9, 2016

Hope in Difficult Times

by Timothy Howe

Gray Days in Paradise
We live in one of the most beautiful places. Within a short distance we can be in the mountains or on the coast. Forest hikes and beach strolls are daily possibilities. We love all the natural wonder surrounding us. Yet, another constant in our area can interrupt these activities. When it rains in the Pacific Northwest, we can't fully enjoy our surroundings in the same way. Sometimes rain can set in for longer periods, and when it does, gray days can have an effect on the people. We stay inside more and as a result avoid seeing and experiencing all that our region has to offer. This serves to me as a picture of life. Each of us has a lot of wonderful things around us. We also have rain, metaphorically speaking, that prevents us from experiencing abundant life.  

Unexpected Problems
There was young girl whose parents took her in for a regular doctor's check up to be told that something was wrong with her feet. This would require a fairly extensive surgery that would leave her incapacitated for a lengthy period of time. The parents, as would any parents, were willing to do whatever for their child, but the procedure seemed like a difficult endeavor for someone so small to endure. As they looked for other options, a less invasive option would require her to wear a type of orthotic during her growth years. The doctor suggested that even by doing this, she would likely not be able to run as she grew. This option seemed the best course. 

The little girl resisted the devices at first, saying that they hurt. They were uncomfortable and limited what type of shoes she could wear. But in time, she got use to them so that resistance lessened into mere annoyance and she even forgot that she was wearing them. Eventually, she outgrew the need to wear them. Her feet had grown into their permanent form. Future orthotics could provide comfort, but not form her feet any more; the shape of her feet had set. 

We all face difficulties. The parents above had a difficult choice where either outcome would significantly affect their daughter. The girl had been given a bad physiological break. Her misshaped feet were the beginning of constant annoyance in her young life. Yet, the parents made their choice and moved on. The girl learned to live with her condition and the changes required. 

Moving Forward in Difficult Circumstances
Many people have much more difficult choices to make than these parents. Many people have much greater difficulties to endure than the girl. But the principles in their circumstances can apply to us all. We make choices and endure difficulties while we continue to move forward. 

In much of the same way that the orthotics redefined the shape of the girl's feet, our difficulties shape us and can define us. The question remains with us of how they shape or define us. We may choose to let adversity form us into defeated and broken shadows of who we are meant to be, or we can allow them to form a strong character within us. 

Discouragement Abounds
It seems that as of late many people who have crossed my path have been brought low by something in their lives. It is as if there is a spirit of discouragement just floating in the air. People have challenges faced at work, in their family relationships, health concerns and financial burdens. The effects range from mild worry to deep anxiety, even debilitating anxiety that affects health and happiness.

Joy in Difficult Circumstances
One person who has recently gone through one of life's difficulties recently shared with me something that spoke to her in the middle of the tough times. She reminded me of just what sort of joy can be found in the midst of life's difficulty. She quoted a scripture that she had memorized as a little girl:

Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, (1 Pet. 1:8 ESV) 

Her joy in the midst of difficult circumstances came as a result of her faith, not her circumstances. She placed her faith in Christ, the focus of the love in this verse. He served as her hope when facing unwanted problems. 

Each of us has our own set of problems. For some, they bring acute and seemingly unbearable sorrow. For others, it is prolonged and seemingly never-ending sorrow. Whatever the case, how can we find joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory in the middle of these circumstances? How will we let our struggles shape us? 

Romans 5:3-5 reminds us,

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. (NLT)

Let us trust that God love us dearly and allow His love to convert our trials into strong character and confident hope of salvation.  

Monday, November 16, 2015

Love the Foreigner

Love the Foreigner
So you, too, must show love to foreigners, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt. Deut. 10:19 NLT

3,000,000 Syrian refugees. These are people who are broken. One of the eight terrorists in Paris had a Syrian passport, which may or may not mean he came as a refugee. This is a very small statistical percentage. Many people are speaking about the threat that helping refugees poses. States in the USA are declaring they will not permit them into their state. This will most likely not make the USA any safer. I can't recall any of our many mass murder attackers being a refugee; nor terrorist attacks in our country coming at the hands of refugee. 

If one refugee ever becomes entangled in some horrible crime in this country, it will still not implicate all refugees any more than a crazed gunman proves the need for gun control for all Americans, one rogue police officer casts guilt on all of our fine men and women in blue, or one criminal act by any individual causes me to judge a whole group of people. Corrupted individuals in this nation have consistently found their own means to perpetrate their evil deeds. Making a general decision to keep out all refugees will not protect America. Impure hearts will still find a way to commit injustice. 

Our Actions Reveal Our Hearts
What would setting up barriers accomplish? Keeping out refugees simply reveals a fearful or calloused heart. This revelation matters because the conflict in which we see ourselves is an ideological one, not a geographical nor ethnic-based conflict. Fear plays into the hands of the terrorists. That is precisely the emotion that they want to evoke. They want for us as a people to surrender our lives to their wishes. The want us to submit to their demands. 

A calloused and hardened heart might be worse, though. Hard hearts are not natural. They are produced. A hardened heart moves from being a living thing to a calcified, impenetrable stone on account of hurt and lack of healing. Every person has had hurt. These hurts are real and can be debilitating for a time. Some of our hurts last a lifetime. I stand in the belief that hurt can be healed. Scars may remain, but hurt can become hope again.

We Are People of the Light
We are in a crooked and twisted generation. Recent events in Baghdad, Beirut, and Paris demonstrate this. So do the countless crimes we all see in our local news that never make the national or international scene. But we are not a people of fear. We are children of the light. We are called to bear the light even in this crooked and twisted generation. Light expels the darkness, not "darker" darkness. We don't bear light very well in hiding or hunkered down behind walls. Perpetua & Felicita welcomed the animals along with thousands of other early Christian martyrs. Countless believers throughout 2000 centuries stood for faith in the midst of very real and present danger, not fear of mere potential threats, and in so doing gave their lives because they counted the thing promised them more valuable that the things of this world (Heb. 11:13). 

Vigilant and Compassionate
I believe that we can simultaneously be vigilant about security and compassionate for those in grave need and imminent danger. We used to be a people that operated as a beacon of light to those with no hope. Have we lost that edge? Does fear control our hearts to such a degree that it calls the shots now? Not in my heart. I intend to face the future with hope of a risen savior, with the hope of my own eventual bodily resurrection, with resiliency and fervor that befits the tremendous legacy of which I am a recipient, and with a heart full of love for all mankind. This includes people very much unlike myself. Even people that I don't think deserve it. After all, I was offered love and forgiveness when I didn't deserve it (Rom. 5:8, 10).

When I stand before Jesus, I am convinced that he will be little concerned with how I felt comfortable or secure in this short life. Rather, I am convinced that He will inspect my holiness and how I lived out His commands to love the Father, love people (especially the widow, orphan, foreigner, and poor), tell the Story, and surrender to the Holy Spirit's purpose for my life.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Supporting vs Doing

by Timothy Howe

Getting Involved
Summer is fast approaching. It will soon be time for picnics and family vacations. And for many churches and charities it will be one of the busiest times. Like many church leaders, we have traditionally been very involved in kids ministries during the summer since parents are happy to find activities for their bored children. Personally, it is fun for us to participate in sports, music and fun kids programs. Yet it is always hard finding volunteers to help with these activities. Understandably, the timing is off for some of these activities since people work or are out of town. In these cases, individuals often contribute resources when they are not able to help. 

Supporting vs. Doing
Some people have shared with me that they cannot do such and such, so they give to an institution to accomplish that purpose. Giving to agencies which carry out Christ's teaching is good. My family regular donates to such charities. These valuable and effective ministries require this sort of support to carry out the work that they are designed to accomplished. Supporting this work extends our capacity to minister because charitable ministries are often created with specialized strengths that maximize our charitable gifts. Supporting ministry, however, should not replace doing ministry. We are called to serve. Supporting ministry is valuable, but it should only be a part of our ministry effectiveness. 

Increasing Capacity
Supporting ministry that accomplishes what we are not capable of doing extends our overall effectiveness. Yet, each of us possesses gifts and strengths that allow for us to make our unique impact in the world. This does not mean that we have to be the expert of anything that we do. In all likelihood there will always be room to grow in whatever we do, but the continued exercise of our gifts and skills develop them over time to allow us to be better servants. If we allow our gifts to remain idle they will remain inadequate. As we utilize them, they grow and we increase our ministry capacity.

Faith Impact 
Our faith should affect our behavior. What we say we believe about Jesus and His teachings should be evident in how we live our lives. As people of faith we have the intrinsic hope in Christ and of the day when He will return. We know that His Spirit goes before us in ministry, His call is already on the lives of the hurting around us, and His work is going to achieve His purposes. The degree to which we employ our gifts towards that work speaks either to the degree to which we truly believe in Him or to which we are really committed to walking in discipleship. 

Are you ready to serve as well as support ministry?
Are you ready to increase your ministry capacity?
Are you ready for your faith to have an impact outside of yourself?

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Following Directions: Living in Harmony

by Timothy Howe

One of my greatest joys has been working with new believers in Africa. Where we worked, there are many cultural divisions. No one language is spoken universally in the country and there is much animosity between different language or tribal groups. The church served as one of the only places where these tensions were erased. Believers from various backgrounds came together to worship and celebrate their faith. Outsiders were often struck by the fact that people who would normally not socialize together would dine, laugh, sing and pray together. This harmony provided a great witness to the message of Christ. 

In John 17:20-21, John records:

I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

These words make up part of a prayer that Jesus prayed over His disciples. Jesus prayed these words during His last moments with them, only hours before the crucifixion. He was fully aware of the nearness of his departure and this last prayer captured some thoughts found in His key teachings. These verses show that Jesus was concerned in part about how His followers would get along with each other.

Two observations stand out regarding Jesus' thoughts on harmony.

Our harmony draws a picture of God.
In Jesus' prayer, he requests that His followers may all be one. He wants us to be unified. The reason He gives for this is astounding. Our unity demonstrates God's unity. The Son and the Father are two parts of of the Trinity, an eternal co-existing Triune God. The relationship between the different Persons of the Trinity is complex and difficult for us to understand as we try to make sense of how each Person is separate and yet all three Persons are one. Interestingly, Jesus explains that our unity forms a picture of the Holy Trinity. The act of living in harmony with other Christians is itself a living form of theology. 

If our harmony draws a picture of God, what does disharmony among His believers demonstrate? Far too often, churches are characterized by divisions, factions, dissension, anger and bitterness. These divisions certainly do not draw a picture of God. Instead, they portray the lack of God's presence as churches depend on human instincts and talents, not the work or presence of God.

Our harmony points to God.
In addition, to serving a theological purpose, our harmony with other believers serves to give evidence to the message of Christ. One of the greatest proofs of the Christ's work and word is a life that has been changed by Him. Our ability to live in unity with other believers shows the life-changing and community-chaning power of the Holy Spirit. It gives testimony to Jesus' message. 

The harmony of the African church mentioned above points others to God as people from different cultures set aside their differences to worship together. They lived out a faithful unity with people who were different and thereby offered a good testimony of Christ. 

If our harmony points to God, disharmony among His believers weakens their witness. How differently would we treat each other if we recognize that church fights not only cause people to turn away from church, but they can cause some people to turn away from God. 

So, let's live in Harmony
Jesus taught His disciples that the world would recognize Christ through the ability of His followers to live in harmony with each other (John 17:20-21). He explained that our ability to remain in unity would demonstrate to the world the unity of the Father and the Son. His followers should be characterized by operating in harmony with each other.

This may not be easy, we are all still people. We can all be opinionated, obstinate, lazy, grumpy, frustrating or frustrated. Yet, Jesus' teaching remains. The world will know that we are His followers, it will recognize God at work and some may believe on account of our unity. May we take seriously this teaching of Jesus.