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. 

Conversely, 
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. 

Conversely,
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. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

Following Directions: Meeting the Needs of Others

by Timothy Howe

Recent posts have dealt with the question of "What did Jesus expect from his followers?" As we have seen, these expectations are not mysterious. Jesus gave clear guidance for those who want to follow after him. The clearest directive from Christ was to love. We know this by the fact that when specifically asked what was the greatest commandment, Christ offered the command to love God and love others. I have spent time with each of these components. Jesus had more to say, though, on what it takes to be a follower. 

Meet the Needs of Others
Jesus explained to His disciples that how they treat other people is very important to Him. He makes this teaching very clear. Feed the hungry, welcome the foreigner, provide clothes for the needy, visit the sick, visit the incarcerated (Matthew 25:31-46). In no uncertain terms, He indicates that one's participation in these action reflects which eternal path one is traveling on. His followers are to be characterized by such actions, those who neglect these actions are not functioning followers. 

We can find the heart of Jesus' teaching on this subject in the Old Testament. God provided many regulations regarding taking care of the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the stranger. Jesus' teaching builds on the Old Testament foundation. He explains that when we minister to these, we are in effect ministering to Him. 

Effective Ministry
Feed the Hungry
Welcome the Foreigner
Provide Clothes for the Needy
Visit the Sick
Visit the Incarcerated
The above list is an excellent checklist for us to evaluating how effective we are in ministry. In using the term "ministry" I am not referring to those who serve in the clergy, but rather I am referring to the work all followers of Jesus are called. Jesus didn't applaud having good intentions towards those in need, he extolled turning intentions into realities. We do that in three ways.

Praying Ministry
The first thing we can do is pray. There are many facets to prayer, too many to cover in detail here. But regarding ministry, prayer accomplishes at least two things. First it puts ministry on our hearts and minds. Our prayers focus our attention on the needs at hand. Our prayer demonstrate what is important to us. Second, prayer turns our attention from what we are capable of accomplishing to what God is capable of accomplishing. Prayer demonstrates our faith. It moves our eyes from our capacity to God's capacity. 

Who are you praying for specifically by name today? 
What ministry are you praying for specifically by name today?

Supporting Ministry
As potent as prayer is, the Lord expressed that more is required of his followers. We are to actively support the causes that make a difference in this world. It is easy to take for granted all the agencies out there meeting the needs of people without realizing that these agencies only exist on the basis of voluntary donations of our resources. We are to employ our financial resources, our energy, our time and our attention to meeting the needs of other people. It is easy to find a ministry that fits your interests and passions. There is a charity for every cause. Get behind one and support it.

What ministry are you supporting with your time?
What ministry are you supporting with you finances?

Doing Ministry
Prayer is important. Support ministry is important. But neither of these actions completes the calling. Christ explained that what we did to the "least of these" equates to ministering to him. We regularly pray and support many ministries. But this does not substitute for actively participating in ministry. Make it a priority to actually engage in helping those in need. 

Where have you gone out of your way to meet needs?
Who are you specifically meeting the needs of today?

Each of us have been called to make a difference. Are you doing your part? What can you write on your calendar right now that will be an activity that will make a difference?

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Following Directions: Loving

by Timothy Howe

Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque
The Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque is one of our favorite places to visit. Of course, we made it a point to plan at least one visit during the summer months when the lavender was in full bloom and all the senses are fully engaged. The aroma captures attention the moment you step out of your car. The sounds of bees buzzing about and the song of the cicadas reminiscent of an ancient Gregorian chant lull the traveler to another place and time. After a brief walk one peers into field of lavender set in the bottom of towering green valley walls, the scene almost too much to take in. Taste and touch are not to be excluded as lavender honey and lotions await to be tried inside the Abbey.

Arriving at the Abbey was not a simple task from where we lived. It requires travel through a very picturesque region where one interesting hilltop village follows after another, but it also traverses a mountainous area with very narrow roads on cliff's edge or between extremely narrow ravines. Clearly, the monks did not have large numbers of visiting tourists in mind when they built the structure a thousand years ago.

Good Directions
Proper directions are a requirement for obtaining the prize of sensing Sénanque. Apparently, local authorities have concluded that the beautiful country roads retain their charm at least in part by the infrequency of directional signs. This is compounded by the fact that the snaking shape of the valley between to rows of mountains easily throws off one's perspective of North and South. So a word of advice, if you want to get to the Abbey, follow good directions. Really, this is good advice in all of life's journey, isn't it? To arrive anywhere we need to know where we are going and we need to know how to get there.

I have written about following directions for the past couple of weeks. Two weeks ago I listed a few of the major directions that Jesus left for His followers. Last week I highlighted His command for us to love other people. Today, I want to touch on the first part of that command, loving God.

The Great Commandment
When specifically asked what was the greatest commandment, Jesus answered in two parts. Love people and love God (Matthew 22:36-40). Jesus was actually quoting an ancient principle found in Deuteronomy 6:5 (NIV):
          Love the Lord your God
          with all your heart and
          with all your soul and
          with all your strength.


I believe in a Creator that is not only all powerful, but who cares for His creation. We are part of His creation. One of the things that this Creator desires is devotion. Yet, how do we show love to an invisible, seemingly not present Being? I offer a few thoughts below.

Keep His Commandments
Jesus tells His followers in John 14 that the simplest way to demonstrate love to God is to keep His commandments. This is why I search the Scriptures to understand them and then try to line up my life with what they teach. His commands range from how we treat other people to how we spend time with Him. I am not perfect, nor will I ever be, but I can daily strive to be better.

Spend Time in His Presence
We are commanded to spend time in the presence of the Divine. Why? Does God need us? No. Rather, I am convinced that we are created to need Him. Prayer, fasting, meditation and worship are spiritual disciplines that bring us into an encounter with God. The Scriptures are full of teachings regarding all four of these. Sometimes I will hear a person say something like, "I don't feel very close to God." After which, I ask, "How are you doing in these four areas?" All relationships require spending time with the other person. Our relationship with the Divine is the same.

Work Hard
The monks who built Sénanque valued hard work. They saw that part of their devotion to God was in manual labor. Hard work in and of itself is not a classic spiritual discipline, but I would suggest that it functions quite similarly. By devoting ourselves to hard work, we improve ourselves. Long hours of solid effort has an effect on the final product and on the producer. Proverbs 13:4 describe the result of laziness as "getting very little" out of life, but the result of hard work as "satisfaction."

Take Care of His Creation
Part of God's command to humankind was to rule over creation. This charge does not mean that we are to exploit it, but that we are to take care of it. When God created the world he stated that it was "good." Unfortunately, most of humanity's interaction with nature has been more akin to exploitation of the land and not taking care of it. We are called to be God's stewards. The monks at Sénanque worked to create a place people want to visit. I enjoy gardening in my yard because it makes my plot of earth a little better place to be. How are you taking care of God's creation?

Personal Checklist
How are you doing at Jesus' teaching to love to God? What are ways that you can think of write now that will help you do a better job?

Remember, we can show love to Him by
     keeping His commandments,
     spending time in His presence,
     working hard, and
     taking care of His creation.



Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Following Directions: Loving

by Timothy Howe



Throughout my work, I have often found myself in large cities that were new to me. One of the things that I love most is traveling through unfamiliar streets especially ones that were off the beaten path in order to better understand a host culture. One consequence of this is that I have been lost a lot. I have wandered a lot of narrow streets in Casbah's or Old Medina's all throughout North Africa. One constant has been the helpfulness and kindness of people I have met. They take the time to meet me, show me hospitality usually with something to eat or drink, and instruct me on how to find my way. 

Last week I wrote about following Christ's instructions on life's way. Although, He left many directions for His followers, I keyed in on four of them. It is apparent that these were very important to Jesus. If they are so important, then a good follower will be consistent in carrying them out. So time to measure up. Today, I want to look at the first command of the four - love. 

Love
Jesus instructed us to love God and love others. Of his teachings, this seems easiest. There are no explicit intricate commands to follow. Just love. Who can't do that? Well, the events in our world suggest that this is much harder than that it appears. The evidence of love is too often in short supply. 

There is much hatred, vitriol, and anger in this world. If only we could demonstrate the principle command of Jesus. It is not surprising that this command has its counter parts throughout all religions. God created His people to be in relationship. The cornerstone of relationship is love. 

Love Defined
Love can be defined many ways, but I like the way Jesus defined loving one's neighbor. When he was specifically asked who is one's neighbor, Jesus did what He was good at. He told a story. This story was about a person that history has come to call the Good Samaritan. 

The story is familiar to many people, even those who don't follow the Christian faith. Hospitals are named after this nameless individual. There are even laws named after him. You can read Jesus' story in full in Luke 10:25-37.

Here's what can be taken from the story. 
Jesus taught that love was not just an emotion aimed at someone. It is more than just thinking positive thoughts or good wishes towards those around us. It's more than tolerating someone. Jesus makes clear than love is demonstrated by action towards others that embraces mutual care and respect mixed with mercy and kindness.

Personal Checklist
To accomplish this means much more than saying you love someone. Demonstrating love of this sort requires personal investment of time and effort. To how many people have you demonstrated this sort of love today? How about during this past week? If you are not satisfied with the answer, you can make a change. 

Start by asking, 

"How will I demonstrate love today 
that shows care and respect 
mixed with mercy and kindness?" 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Directions

by Timothy Howe




Walking with Directions
I love walking through the city. There are so many interesting sights to see. On a trip not too long ago, there was a specific store that we wanted to take our children to visit. The parking around that area is expensive and hard to find, so we parked some blocks away and walked there. It was an area that I knew fairly well, so I served as the guide for the family on this trip. I was aware of the most direct path and I also knew what way to go in order to see the most interesting things. So, I led and the family followed. We walked past parks, fountains, beautifully designed architecture, markets, cafes, a museum and an old church. Each turn around a corner offered a new vista and adventure. We took as much pleasure in the going as we did in arriving at our destination. How much better our walk went because I knew the way to go! 

Walking without Directions
Contrast this with how a trip goes when you are in an unfamiliar place, when no one knows where to go. That is a less relaxed trip. You can spend all of your time trying to find the correct path and you care much less about seeing the sights along the way. There is much more anxiety. Directions make a big difference!

Directions for His Followers
Last week I mentioned that as a follower of Jesus, I have life directions on account of my faith. Jesus is the leader that I follow. And as one would expect of a leader, he left us many clear directions to follow. As I looked throughout the books that describe his ministry (called Gospels), I notice that he actually left a lot of directions. Some were specific to those around him, like when he told his disciples to go and prepare a meal for him or to go fishing. Other commands were aimed at crowds gathering around him, such as when he tells them to change their ways of living or simply to sit down. 

The directions I am most interested in are those that He gave in general to anyone who wanted to follow after him. What did Jesus expect of his followers? Various people have tried to count precisely how many commands Jesus issued. I have seen lists that contained 50. He offered much teaching in a famous speech called the Sermon on the Mount. For various reasons, I'll pass over it at the moment. Besides that, there were many other direct teachings that he offered His followers. There are four that I perceive to be among His most important. 

Love
When specifically asked what was the greatest commandment, Jesus answered in two parts. Love people and love God (Matthew 22:36-40). This was a good typical answer of His faith community of His time. Jesus was not surprising anyone with this answer. Yet, the answer is profound in its simplicity. Our faith is based on a simple truth - love. The chief characteristic of the followers of Jesus is love. 

Meet the Needs of Others
Jesus explained to His disciples that how they treat other people is very important to Him. He makes this teaching very clear. Feed the hungry, welcome the foreigner, provide clothes for the needy, visit the sick, visit the incarcerated (Matthew 25:31-46). In no uncertain terms, He indicates that one's participation in these action reflects which eternal path one is traveling on. His followers are to be characterized by such actions, those who neglect these actions are not functioning followers.  

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 be remain in unity would demonstrate to the world the unity of the Father and the Son. His followers should be characterized by operating in unity.

Make Disciples
One of the most often identified commands of Jesus is found in Matthew 28:19-20. The essence of this command is to focus on making more disciples. He elaborates on this directive in three parts. Go to those who have not heard, share your faith, teach them how to live it out. 

How are we doing?
These are only a few of His teachings. I think they are among the most important. How do we measure up to just these four? If we are really His disciples, won't we do what He teaches? In examining your faith, are you fulfilling each these commands? How? I'll consider that in more detail in my next blog. For now, I encourage you to consider the following question.

How am I actually living out these directions?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Following Directions

by Timothy Howe



Another Fine View
We were walking in the city when a glance down this street reminded us that awe-inspiring views strike us from all angles everywhere we look. This street is up near the hill that has the famous "Crookedest Street," Lombard Street. It overlooks the Bay into Oakland with a shot of one section of the Bay Bridge. 

When we decided to take the photo, I looked for the perspective with the least obstacles in sight. I wished that the view didn't have all the street signs and such so that I could capture an unobstructed shot at the Bridge and Oakland. I took several photos, including this one. 

Upon later reflection, though, I realized that I preferred the image with the signs. They seem to give it character. And in a bit of irony, it was the red light visible in the photo which caused all traffic to stop so that I could get the photograph in the first place. Imagine here the Howes literally standing in the middle of an intersection with cars all around us.

The signs in the image offer important information. Certain signs tell drivers and pedestrians when to go and when to stop. Other signs explain which street you are on. Not visible in this photo but all around this very location are signs which indicate where and when you may park your car, who to call in an emergency, that you are to "curb your dog" (always an odd phrase to me), and what time trash pick-up and street cleaning exist for that area.

Life is full of such directions. I made dinner with a new recipe last night. The recipe gave precise directions on how to make the marinade, how to prepare the meat, and how long to cook the meat. Medications we take give precise directions. Assembling furniture from a box store comes with a sheet of directions, often minus one screw. 

Faith Directions
Faith also comes with directions. I am a follower of Jesus. This means that I have placed my trust in Him. I know many people who claim to have done the same thing. What I have discovered is that someone who says he or she follows Jesus doesn't always act like Jesus. Now, I know that none of us are perfect. I am far from it. But shouldn't being called the follower of someone suggest that we do what they did? 

Jesus Gave Directions
More importantly, Jesus did not just live an exemplary life for us to emulate. He actually spelled out how His followers should behave. Shouldn't being a follower of Jesus mean that we do what He commanded us to do? Many people say that they are Christians and yet do not give evidence that they are following Christ's directions.

So, what did Jesus tells us to do? My next blog will list some of those commands. But I am curious as to what you already feel that Jesus commanded us to do. Please let me know what should characterize the life of a follower of Jesus.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

When God Seems Absent

by Timothy Howe




     Lord, how long with you forget me?
     Forever?
     How long will you hide Your face from me?
     How long will I store up anxious concerns within me,
        agony in my mind every day?
     How long will my enemy dominate me?

     Consider me and answer, Lord my God.
     Restore brightness to my eyes;
        otherwise, I will sleep in death.
     My enemy will say, "I have triumphed over him,"
        and my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.

     But I have trusted in Your faithful love;
        my heart will rejoice in Your deliverance.
     I will sing to the Lord
        because He has treated me generously.

                                                          Psalms 13 HCSB


Where are you, God?
Questioning God is an ancient tradition. Humanity has been questioning him since the beginning. This Psalm questions why God seems to remain absent in the life of His follower. David suffers from sorrow and wants help, but none seems to come from God. Where is He? What sort of character would ignore the pleas of His follower? Is David angry with God? Does he seem to doubt His existence?

Something else is happening in this Psalm. David demonstrated throughout his life that he has a steadfast faith in God. But he still is unsatisfied with God’s perceived “hiddenness” at this point in his life. Divine Hiddenness is a dominant theme throughout the first portion of the Psalms. Later Psalms respond to this question through the promise of hope that we have in Him.

By asking “How Long?” four times, David makes known his anxiety and fears due to God’s perceived inactivity. David demonstrates real boldness in his questioning. He speaks as if he was in the real presence of God. This indicates the nature of his relationship with the Divine. David was close enough to God that he could feel free to talk with him this way. This psalm also reveals how painful it was when he felt alienated from God.

Answer me
David is honest with God about his hurts and fears. His cries of “consider me” and “answer me” reveal the frankness with which David communicates with God and the urgency of the response needed.  He does not simply want God to notice his presence. He wants God to really take a deep long look at his situation. He feels like he is on the brink of annihilation and the purpose of his cries is to secure complete deliverance. He requests immediate rescue.

Loving Trust
The Psalm reveals that David's trust in the steadfast love of God is greater than his fears. The Hebrew word for steadfast love means more than emotional affections. It emphasizes loyalty at least as much as it does love. It is a word of commitment. It represents enduring loyalty and faithfulness to fulfill obligations because of a deep sense of love. God over and over again showed this love to the people of Israel and to David.

David is sure that the Lord will provide rescue from his situation. How can he have this depth of faith in the Lord even in times of His absence? David’s faith came from all the previous times he had seen the Lord work on his behalf. It is his deep ongoing relationship with the Lord, including past ups and current downs, that provided him opportunity to trust in the Lord again.

Wrestling with a sense of God’s Absence:
Many people live with a sense of absence of God in their lives. All people, even the most devout experience times where they sense an absence from the Lord. Even the atheist existential philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre mourned the sense of loss of the divine, stating that each human is “forlorn, because neither within him nor without does he find anything to cling to.” How much more does this sense of loss compound when felt by those who count on God’s activity in their lives?

This Psalm can help us to regain a sense of God’s presence by…

Voicing our complaint.
Whenever God seems absent, tell Him so. The reality is that in talking with Him, we acknowledge His presence in our lives and can sense His activity once again. Talk to God about how we don’t sense Him in our lives. Many people that don’t sense His presence tell it to other people. Focus that attention on Him. Do this through prayer, poetry, singing, reading scripture aloud. God was able to handle David’s complaint, along with many others in the Psalms. He can handles ours.

Focus attention away from ourselves.
Pity parties feed on self-pity which feeds on self-absorption. So turn your attention away from yourself and your problems and focus on others and their needs. This step alone pulls us out of isolation and aloneness which builds on the sense of the Absence of God. Amazingly, seeking the welfare of others opens us up to the gracious action of God in our lives as well as theirs.

Stay in the Community of Faith.
Spend time with God’s people. Standing shoulder to shoulder with fellow Believers strengthens my faith and theirs. When I hear songs of praise sung to God even when my heart seems silent of that praise His presence begins to well up in me again.


May You Experience the Divine Today.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Sending Place Is Being Sent

by Timothy Howe


View over San Francisco from Golden Gate Seminary
(The photograph is from sfgate.com.)
I heard some sad news this week. My graduate school made public a decision to relocate its main campus. This decision was not made lightly. The rationale was presented clearly by the seminary president, Dr Iorg. He lays out some of the actions projected to take place during the transition period from Mill Valley to a new campus. I am encouraged by the courageous, visionary leadership that made this hard decision.

Perspective
The announcement made the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle. The photo above was the photo in the story. Of all the photos that could have been selected, this one speaks volumes. Undoubtedly, the journalist chose it because of the spectacular view. Hearing about the "view" is very normal in Marin. Houses purportedly increase in value based on the "view" and more so with each additional "view." 

Yet, the photo captures something more than I think the photographer intended. Many institutions are known for the architecture of their buildings. It would be challenging to describe Golden Gate's architectural signature. One thing that does stand out, however, is that bench. For people who have spent much time on campus, the bench in the photo will resonate deeply. It has been a place of quiet contemplation and of important decisions made. 

Looking Out
Here is one of the least valuable structures in monetary terms on campus, yet it is highly valued in great part because of the direction it faces. It looks out. It looks over the Bay to a city in need. It looks out onto a world that needs its students while not even realizing that need. How fitting that in such an important announcement about its future, the photograph used to depict the seminary does not even show the school. Instead, it captures the view "looking out."

God who sends
Golden Gate has long been known as a "Sending Place." I remember Francis Dubose discussing "God Who Sends." Many, many people have been sent from this place. We have traveled the globe, near and far. Countless numbers have heard the gospel in numerous languages, in various settings, all because one place sent them. Now it is Golden Gate that is being sent. The "sending place" is being sent into a new future. It is being sent into a more strategic location where it can make an even greater impact. The sending place recalls that our faith is based on our sending. 

Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
                                              Matthew 28:19-20 HCSB

We are to make disciples as we are sent. Many of us have been sent throughout the years from this beautiful place. Now the school is relocating in order to better carry out this command. It's Golden Gate's turn to be sent.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Pray

by Timothy Howe

Recently, I came across the prayer of a desperate man. Here's a portion of it.

Now I bow down before you,
from deep within my heart,
begging for your kindness.
I have sinned, Lord, I have sinned,
and I know the laws I've broken.
I am praying, begging you:
Forgive me, Lord, forgive me.
Prayer of Manasseh, 11-13 CEB

Manasseh's prayer moved me. It is so raw, so real. He had made terrible mistakes and now he, his family and his kingdom were suffering the consequences of those mistakes. 

Why pray?
His prayer spoke to me. And it caused me to think a bit about prayer itself. Why do we pray?  Obviously, that question is answered different on account of the prayer itself. Quite simply, we pray for different reasons. Here are just some reasons why we pray.

Relief
We pray for relief. Manasseh cried out in anguish for relief from the predicament into which he had placed himself. Have you ever felt like Manasseh? Does his prayer sum up thoughts at any specific time in your life. When life seems too hard or seems to press in at every corner. We ask for relief. 

Encouragement
We pray for encouragement. When we are down, prayer causes us to elevate our thoughts and intentions. Prayer lifts us out of the bog that we can often find ourselves. During a particular time of depression in my life prayer was the one thing that lifted my spirits.

Joy
We pray out of happiness. I think back to when my children were born or when I fell in love. My prayers were answered. And they were just starting. Sometimes my requests of the Lord usually outnumber my "thank you's." Yet, I do regularly respond in joyful prayer to His Goodness to me.

Hope
We pray for hope that things will get better. Prayer reminds us that dismal circumstances do not have to be the end. They might only serve as the means to a better end. Prayer gives us the focus to trust and hope for better things.

Expectation
We pray because we believe Someone is listen. We pray because we believe that the Divine One is not only listening, but that He cares and that He acts. We pray, hope, trust and expect that He will act on our behalf and for our benefit.

Closeness
We pray because we are close to God. Prayer is not just about getting something from God as if His sole function is to be our "Giant Magic Genie." Prayer brings an individual into communion with the Creator of the universe, the Maker of our souls and the Intimate One. That closeness reminds me of my place and purpose in the world.

Find time to pray today. 
For whatever purpose, a reason stated above or not, find time to pray. 

And may you be rewarded. 



Monday, March 24, 2014

Feeling Guilty?

by Timothy Howe



Our dog, Anzus, loved laying on his mat. He rarely got excited about anything except to bark at the door bell or when he noticed us getting ready to go on a walk. Other than that, he loved laying on his mat. Occasionally, one of us would give him enough attention that he would come over to us and beg us to scratch and pet him, which we did. If the kids were too loud, though, he'd go into his indoor doghouse and lay on the mat there.

There were three other times throughout the day that he would be active - just before breakfast, lunch and dinner. As soon as we started preparing our meals there was Anzus in the kitchen waiting beneath our feet hoping that we would occasionally drop something to the floor. 

On one such occasion, my wife accidentally dropped some noodles from the spaghetti she was preparing. Immediately Anzus gobbled up what he could. As he was doing so, my wife exclaimed in a loud, startled voice, ANZUS! Eating human food is not always good for pets, but Anzus had particular dietary issues which gave us serious concerns and spaghetti was not on his diet. 

What happened next is still legend in our house. Upon the reprimand, Anzus immediately stopped eating the spaghetti, bowed his head low, and began to trudge off to his usual mat with a long piece of spaghetti hanging out of his mouth onto the floor and dragging behind him as he was sullenly walking away.

My wife and kids burst into so much laughter at the scene that it prompted me to come from another room to check out what was happening. Just as I entered the room, Anzus glanced back as if on cue with his sad puppy dog eyes and spaghetti still hanging from his mouth. 

For Shame!
Oh the guilt that was expressed on Anzus' little face! He hadn't planned on doing something bad. He was following his normal routine and when the opportunity arose he jumped in to seize his prize, some spaghetti noodles. It was the reaction to his action that brought on his shame. He recognized that he had done something not right and responded accordingly. He wanted to get out of the situation.

This feeling is far too common to each of us. We have all been in circumstances where we have been embarrassed, accused, or felt guilty for actions we have done. The sensation might have been on account of legitimate wrongdoing or on account of some innocent mistake. A word misspoken, a calculated misdeed, or public misconduct can all bring doses of condemnation. Self-condemnation is often worse.

Who Causes You to Feel Guilty?
Shame and guilt can be effective tools. They are used well by parents, teachers, bosses and ourselves. But the people with which they may be the most associated are religious leaders. People often link "religious leaders" to strict religious school teachers or fire-and-brimstone preachers. They think of people who aim to heap guilt on them. 

When I tell people that I am a preacher, one common reaction is for them to apologize for a word they have said in our conversation up to that point or to validate that "they do in fact believe even if they haven't gone to church enough lately." I always find these reactions a bit funny because it makes me feel like they view me as part of a divine covert team out there to determine everyone's spirituality. That of course is not the case. My goal is to bring good news, not guilty feelings. 

Not Guilty
And here is the good news. You don't have to have to feel guilty. Now, I am not saying that wrongdoing or honest mistakes should not nor will not induce regret. Regret is a normal reaction to any offense and the size of the offense will increase the size of the regret. A great offense might even bring with it pangs of sorrow. Regret can be a profitable tool that prevents recurrence of the offense. What the Bible says though is that there is One who is greater than our guilt, regret, sorrow or shame. 

     Even if we feel guilty, 
     God is greater than our feelings, 
     and he knows everything. 
                            1 John 3:20 NLT

An analysis of the passage surrounding this verse causes us to recognize that there is a strong connection between our actions and our guilt. This is undeniable. I think we would all agree with that thought. But this particular verse points us to the fact that the Lord is greater than our guilt. He loved us and provided a means for our hope even when we did not deserve it. 

     But God showed his great love for us 
     by sending Christ to die for us 
     while we were still sinners.
                            Romans 5:8 NLT

Look at the last phrase in each of those verse: 
          and he knows everything. 
          while we were still sinners. 

God knows everything we have and still did not wait for us to get our acts together before He demonstrated His love us. He offers us mercy. That is, he gave to us forgiveness when we did not merit it. Furthermore, his removal of our guilt strengthens our confidence when we approach Him. We do not have to be ashamed before our God. 

Here I do offer two observations.

Observation #1:
Some people take the approach that since God forgive anyway, then I'll do whatever I want and not worry about it. What I have witnessed over the years is that people who live according to this perspective might indeed find forgiveness, but very little else. God did not forgive us so that we can keep living a life of regret. He did not clean us up to go get dirty again.

Observation #2:
Some people take the approach that God's forgiveness offers the opportunity to get it right this time. Forgiveness unchains them from that which caused the guilt in the first place. Whoever turns over regrets and shame to the Lord can move forward in life, can find great freedom and can accomplish great things for God. They don't ever have to return to their mistakes.

Those who fall into the second observed group understand the teaching that follows the verse above about feeling guilty.

     Dear friends, if we don’t feel guilty, 
     we can come to God with bold confidence. 
     And we will receive from him whatever we ask 
     because we obey him and 
     do the things that please him. 
                            1 John 3:21–22 NLT

Are you tired of feeling guilty? Of living a life of regret? Are you ready to put shame behind you? Today, accept forgiveness and move on to great things. 

P.S. re. Anzus
By the way, when we saw how sad Anzus appeared to be, we went and got a doggy treat and gave it to him. He instantly cheered up as all five of us crowded around him and loved on him. His mood changed instantly because he knew he was loved and that we did not hold anything against him.

As much we cared for our pet, the scriptures teach us that God cares far more for His creation. He cares for you.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Happy St Patrick's Day



by Timothy Howe


Today, is St . Patrick's Day. Patrick is one of my heroes of the faith. His story is one mixed with fact and legend. And it is one little known by most people. Though it is sometimes difficult to differentiate between was is true and what is legendary, the story below offers account about the man behind the legend. 

Details of Patrick’s Life
Patricius, his Latin name, was kidnapped from his native Britain when he was a teenager and taken to Ireland as a slave where he was made into a slave-shepherd, in which capacity he served for 6 years. He spoke of two constant companions – hunger and nakedness.

Patrick had been raised in a Christian home, but it was while alone in the fields he really began to know God. He didn’t speak Irish Gaelic initially and so God was the only companion with whom he could talk. It is said that he would often pray more than 100 times a day and then 100 more times during the night.

One night he had a vision from the Lord, “your hungers are answered, you are going home.” He sat up startled, “look your ship is ready.” He got up and walked 200 miles across territory he had never before crossed.

He negotiated passage with some sailors. When they landed, probably in France, all they found was devastation in the land with no towns or food. This was about the time that Germanic tribes were sweeping through the region destroying everything in site. 

When the group had walked for many days and had run out of food, the sailors began to taunt him from praying so much and asked him where his God was. He asked them to "turn trustingly to the Lord…and today he will send you food until you are filled." They bowed in prayer for a moment and just then a stampede of pigs came towards them and they had enough to eat.

Patrick stayed in France for some time and did some theological training then moved back to Britain returning to his parents’ home. While there he had a vision of a man he had known in Ireland called Victoricus. Victoricus was holding letters, one of which was called “The Voice of the Irish.” During this vision he heard the voice of a multitude saying, “we beg you come and walk among us once more.” 

Patrick seemed to have no desire to return to the land of his kidnappers and tried to ignore this and other similar visions, but one day Christ spoke to him saying, “He who gave his life for you, he it is who speaks within you.”

After accepting the task to return to Ireland, he was appointed to be a the first recorded missionary bishop in church history.

Like Paul
Patrick received a calling much like Paul’s. He became a missionary to a new people, and is the first missionary historically recorded to venture outside of the civilized world. Legend tells us that Thomas may left the Greco-Roman world and may have gone to India, but India had an ancient and respected civilization. For someone to willingly go to Barbarian tribes in the early 5th century in order to share the gospel was a first. It was as bold a step as Columbus sailing across the Atlantic or of the US astronauts stepping on the moon. Most medieval maps had listed in the barbarian world “here be monster!”

He moved to Ireland and began to preach and live among the people. He helped to make what had been a violent society become a peaceful one. He was the first person to speak out vehemently against slavery. Having suffered at it hands, he was in a good position to refute it. He spent 30 years in ministry to the Irish, expecting everyday to be murdered, betrayed and enslaved, but continued on.

The Irish culture was one of warfare, fear and betrayal. They shared three prominent values: loyalty, courage and generosity. To them Patrick exhibited extreme courage. In fact, he didn’t seem to fear! That immediately caught their attention. Patrick preached faith, hope and love as the Christian forms of the Irish loyalty, courage and generosity and found an open and interested audience. 

His influence on Ireland is unmistakable. By some accounts, he is singularly responsible for the establishment of the church in the entire country. At the very least he had a major role in its growth. His work also had an enormous impact on societal norms so that violence and slavery greatly decreased.

Lessons from the Life of St Patrick
1. God spoke to him and had a plan for him in the midst of his despair.
2. God gave him clear visions for his appointed tasks.
3. Patrick responded to the Lord’s radical vision.
4. Patrick changed an entire culture.

Application for us:
1. What is God stirring you towards?
2. Are you looking and listening for His prompting?
3. How will you respond?
4. What impact does He want you to have on your world?

Monday, March 10, 2014

Pray for Christians Condemned to Death



by Timothy Howe

Recently, the government of North Korea has condemned 33 Christians to death for what it calls subversive activity. Unfortunately, this action is not something new in that country. North Korea is one of the most repressive governments in the world. Our brothers and sisters have suffered a great deal there. Please pray for them. The following link offers a brief description - 33 Christians to be executed. The video on the webpage is hard to watch but very informative.

And yet they are not the only ones suffering around the world right now. We have brothers and sisters in many countries who cannot express their faith with freedom. Recent reports coming out of Syria indicate that Christians are not only suffering during that countries civil war, but are also direct targets of attack on account of their faith. Similar attacks have occurred throughout much of the region that has experience political turmoil in the past couple of years.

This should not surprise us. Persecution of Believers has been the more common reality in most times and places during the church's history. It has only been a relatively short time in human history that religious freedom has existed. All throughout the New Testament we are told that this would happen. In one place, 1 Peter 4:12 tells us:

Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. (1 Pet. 4:12 NLT)

Someone might argue that we are the blessed ones to live in a country with freedom of religion, but history and personal experience has shown that those who endure hardship for the sake of faith tend to walk in a deeper faith. I pray for increased struggles and lessened comforts for free Christians even as I pray for the end of suffering for those experiencing it.

Please pray for our brothers and sisters in North Korea.
Please pray for our brothers and sisters in Syria.
Please pray for our brothers and sisters in ...
     throughout the world
     who are being
     persecuted for their faith.











Monday, March 3, 2014

Mexico & San Quentin Thank You and Update

by Timothy Howe

I wanted to take a moment to thank each of you who supported two recent mission opportunities and give you an update on each of them. 



San Jeronimito, Mexico
As many of you are aware, I taught at the Seminario Teológico Bautista del Sur (Baptist Theological Seminary of the South) near Ixtapa, Mexico. My course in January went very well. For two weeks I taught each day from 7:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. with a couple of breaks throughout the morning. Though it was a bit warmer than I am used to in Northern California, having the classes in the morning helped a great deal.



Professors and Students at STBS
I cannot say enough positive comments about the quality of the students and the direction of the school. I had 17 sharp students who all sense a great passion for the work of the Lord and who want to have an impact in Mexico and the world. They combine a sincere faith with active service for the Lord. The director and professors at the seminary assist in this by providing them practicums each weekend where they go and serve throughout the states of Guerrero, Michoacán, Puebla and nearby.

An exciting aspect of the seminary is its virtual presence. The seminary offers an online course that students can take without having to change physical locations. Their goal is to get education to ministers regardless of where they are live. This can have a huge impact for the not only Mexico, but all Spanish speaking regions. More info is available about that program at Distance Learning at STBS.

If you are interested in knowing more about this seminary, how to pray or support it, you can find out more information on its website: Seminario Teologico Bautista del Sur or facebook page: STBS Facebook Page.

San Quentin Prison CLD
After returning from Mexico, my Intermediate New Testament seminary course at San Quentin Prison began. This is a program where Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary offers seminary courses and degrees through its CLD (Contextualized Leadership Development) program. This ministry does a great job of carrying out Jesus teaching found in Mathew 25:36. My students demonstrate a deep knowledge of the Bible and encourage my faith.

Neither of these opportunities would have been as successful without your prayer and financial support. So, again, I thank you all.



Thursday, February 27, 2014

Disappointment - Have things not turned out as expected?

by Timothy Howe

Thomas Midgley was one of the most successful research scientists in history. Not just one, but two of his ideas have impacted every person in the world. And in large doses. His brilliance was recognized by the numerous prestigious scientific awards he received during his lifetime.

Though he provided many contributions in research, his two most significant were his role in adding lead to gasoline to prevent “knocking” and developing clorofluorocarbons (CFCs) as a relatively safe means for producing refrigeration. The latter were also used in aerosols.

Though both of his designs worked extremely well for their intended purposes, it was their negative unintended consequences that would eventually concern most people.

Adding lead to gasoline did eliminate knocking in cars, but it also meant large doses of lead was being pumped into the atmosphere which eventually would settle on the ground, and then into our food and water supplies. Fears of adverse neurological effects eventually caused lead additives to be removed from gasoline. There are many recent studies that suggest that these concerns were valid.

CFCs also accomplished their purpose, but have been linked with depletion of ozone in the atmosphere. Again, the evidence was substantial and governments banned or highly regulated their use in an effort to stem adverse effects.

Two inventions which accomplished the purpose for which they were created and which seemed excellent at the time proved to be mistakes. They were not just disappointments, they were distasters.

Many of our best plans turn out terrible. Just as these, they have great promise, bring accolades, and even seem to be successes initially; only to sour over time. Only the passing of time shows the true value of what is accomplished – whether something is worthwhile or worthless.

This is even true when our plans don’t go awry, but when they go exactly as intended. Midgley’s ideas were not failures. They were successes. They were considered immediate successes and were even considered successful for the rest of his life. But time has revealed how terrible the ideas really were.

Ecclesiastes 2:10-11 speaks to a similar condition:
All that my eyes desired, I did not deny them. I did not refuse myself any pleasure, for I took pleasure in all my struggles. This was my reward for all my struggles. When I considered all that I had accomplished and what I had labored to achieve, I found everything to be futile and a pursuit of the wind. There was nothing to be gained under the sun.


Throughout the section from where these verses come, Solomon laments the lack of lasting worth he has received from pleasure, riches, laughter, indulgence, hard work, fame and importance. He eventually calls everything futile, or meaningless.

Is everything in this world really meaningless? I don’t think so. In fact, we can each find some degree of meaning even in the very things that Solomon laments. But what this passage depicts is the lack of lasting significance. How do we finding lasting significance?

I suggest that we can learn from the experiences of Thomas Midgley and King Solomon to find lasting significance through 3 considerations:

1. Consider the broader effects of actions.

Midgley was only thinking about how to fix an acute problem related to a combustion engine. Yet his solution had widespread impact. His remedy exposed any person who came near a gasoline engine (which means virtually all people everywhere) to what was deemed unsafe, toxic levels of lead. Had he considered the broader effects of adding lead to gasoline, could he have averted this “unforeseeable” consequence?

2. Consider the permanent effects of actions.

The development of CFCs made refrigeration easier, safer and cheaper, which means that more people now had access to safer food. This was good. But by not sufficiently answering the environmental impact question regarding the compound, his invention created an atmospheric impact that will likely take decades to reverse.

3. Consider the deeper effects of actions.

Solomon pines that he has tried everything and it all proved to be meaningless. But does “trying something” provide someone a valid vantage point to appraise it? Ruling over people is not the same as leading them. Having many lovers does not equate finding true love. Obtaining riches and investing wealth are not the same thing.

If Solomon had considered the deeper effects of his actions, he might have sought deeper significance rather than surface-level success. A deeper life produces a Washington in lieu of a Napoleon; a devoted spouse rather than a Casanova; or a Buffett, not a Madoff.

Regardless of how life’s mistakes or even life’s successes may have left you feeling a little cold, now might be the time for you to begin to find meaning.

If you would you seek a life of significance:
Consider the broader effects of actions.
Consider the permanent effects of actions.
Consider the deeper effects of actions.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

When All Seems Like a Desert

by Timothy Howe
Save Me, O My God
Psalm 3 ESV
A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.
  O Lord, how many are my foes!
Many are rising against me;
  many are saying of my soul,
there is no salvation for him in God. Selah
  But you, O Lord, are a shield about me,
my glory, and the lifter of my head.
  I cried aloud to the Lord,
and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah
  I lay down and slept;
I woke again, for the Lord sustained me.
  I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
who have set themselves against me all around.
  Arise, O Lord!
Save me, O my God!
     For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;
you break the teeth of the wicked.
  Salvation belongs to the Lord;
your blessing be on your people! Selah

This is the first of 13 Psalms taken directly from military or family crises of David. Psalm 3 has been associated with dealing with the worst of the 13 events – the insurrection of Absalom, his own son, against his rule found in 2 Samuel 15:12-14. It was a situation that was not just bad, but it was one that kept getting worse. David was certainly in a "desert place."

Verse 2 seems to hint that those who support David see the “writing on the wall” and pronounce that help won’t even come from God. Yet even at the very depth of despair, when all else have given up hope that God would intervene and save David, David still proclaims that his confidence is in the Lord. His problems are still very real present. Look ahead to verse 6 were he still declares that his enemies are set all around him. Yet his confidence in the Lord has already been declared!

David’s faith
David demonstrates tremendous faith in the Lord.
1.   He declares confidence in the Lord to protect & sustain him. (3)
2.   He seeks his answer from the Lord not his circumstances. (4a)
3.   He receives an answers from the Lord. (4b)
4.   He rests assured because of the Lord. (5a)
5.   He refuses to fear things that are fearful. (6)

When it is said that God will not save him, David sees this more as a slur against God than against himself or his situation. He knows that God is the only one who can protect him and provide for him. When he hears of and acknowledges this lack of faith, he counters it with a strong declaration of his faith. He expects God to respond.

David’s cry
In his cry to the Lord, David asks for and receives…

Protection 
First, he acknowledges the Lord as his shield, one that completely encircles him. His faith was not that God would provide a partial release from the difficulty, but a complete one. God’s protection covers all. His protection is complete.

Dignity 
David was under attack. His reputation and dignity were being maligned. His only hope was to place his reputation with that of the One from whom he sought protection – the Lord. He thus praises the Lord as the one who ultimately gets all credit, “the glorious one,” but on a more personal basis, “my Glory!” This personal aspect reinforces the personal relationship that David has with YHWH. It also links David’s dignity and esteem with that of the Lord’s.

Approval 
Finally, David confesses that all his assurance, even seeming self-assurance or confidence in his own abilities, really only come as a result of God lifting him up. The term “lifting one’s head” was used when one would approach a monarch or high ranking official who had authority over you or your circumstances. If that authority approved of you, he would “raise your head” thereby showing his approval (Genesis 40:13). If the ruler ignored you, left without doing anything, or dismissed you without raising the head it would mean lack of approval or, in a worse case, judgment against you.
The personal intimate knowledge of God finds fresh profundity in verse 4 as David takes his concerns directly to YHWH. God answered David. He received a personal word from the Lord. We do not know the content of God’s answer to David. What we do know is that in his hour of need David heard from the Lord.

This caused David to have peace. David was a man after God’s own heart. Indeed, he may have heard a direct word from the Lord. Most of us do not have the privilege. But the peace of the Lord is itself a response of the Lord, especially when that peace comes in times of turmoil. 

May you find peace in difficult circumstances.
May He bring water to your desert.