Thursday, January 30, 2014

What's in a Name?

by Timothy Howe

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
         Psalm 8:1a, 9

Psalm 8 uses the phrase above at the beginning and end of the psalm as a sort of frame. The phrase is poetic, beautiful and very descriptive.

In Hebrew, there are two different terms that are translated as “Lord” in many English translations. The first one is Yahweh (Jehovah) and the second is Adonai. Yahweh carries the meaning of “I AM WHO I AM” or “He who causes to be.” He is the one who spoke into existence all of creation and He is the one who spoke to Moses out of the burning bush. This name must be respected (Exodus 20:7). It is beyond human understanding and embraces all His Divinity.

A reflection on this repeated verse might tell us a few things about the nature of the Divine.

God’s name is intimate.
In addition to the meaning described above, it is important to know that Yahweh, even with all of its intended grandeur, is also considered his personal name. This is how He called Himself to the Hebrew people. The use of a personal name indicates that God wants more than blind obedience. He initiated a relationship with His follows. He makes Himself accessible. The great, amazing Divine who created all things, is also available to us in our most secret place. He meets us where we are. He wants personal communication with His creation. He wants us to know him relationally.

God’s name is authoritative.
By attaching this Name to the term “lord,” the psalmist indicates that the personal God of Israel is also its ruling sovereign. He is in charge. He is certainly the supreme God above all things, but He is also “Adonai” who takes interest and charge of human affairs. David is showing the God who rules over all creation is the same God who has personally chosen the Israelites above all peoples to be a priesthood to the world.

God’s name is effective.
The double name indicates that God is the creator of everything and the one who gives order to everything. He is agent of both creation and re-creation (order). For Christians this carries the idea of God as Creator and Redeemer. We owe our existence to Him. He made us. And we also owe our redemption to Him. He remake us when the first version needs improvement.

God’s name is regal.
The word “majesty” carries with it magnitude and power and even suggests miracle. God operates in openly. Even as His name is intimate and He connects with us in a secret place, His domain also remains the public sphere. He is at work in the world, operating for the world to see. His creation is majestic to witness, His action on our behalf profound to consider.

God’s name is available.
Earlier we saw where the Lord makes Himself accessible. Now the end of the phrase expounds on that idea. He makes His names accessible to all people. There is not limitation on who can know Him. His name is majestic in all the earth. The psalmist declares that the name of the Lord should be worshiped openly and universally.

God’s name is marvelous.
David repeats the stanza in verse one again in verse nine. He reinforces the majesty of Yahweh by singing again of His Name. His name is marvelous. His name is magnificent. He is greater than the enormity of the universe and in comparison we are hardly anything. But in His majesty, He makes Himself available to us.

The following link is to "Blessed be Your Name" by Matt Redman. As you listen to it, may you be blessed.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

My Magic Camel

by Timothy Howe

The image above is an ingenious vessel called a "magic camel." I bought it on the island of Djerba off the coast of Tunisia about fifteen years ago. The potter made the clay pot so that you can pour water into both the top and the bottom of the jar without any leaking out as you turn it upside down. The water remains inside the vessel until it is poured out of the camel's mouth. Kids love seeing this "trick." So do most adults.

I am not much of an artist. There have been a few art projects in my life that have turned out better than hoped for, but for the most part, my efforts at art have reflected my limited skill-set and experience.

As a result, those who are capable of making something aesthetically pleasing out of their imagination have always impressed me. It is fascinating to watch a painter dab colors onto a canvas that eventually turn into a beautiful landscape. Likewise, the ability of the sculptor to mold clay or chisel stone so that in time a recognizable form appears also amazes me. 

An important aspect of the work of an artist is that the artist obviously is in charge of his or her medium, not the other way around. When watching artists work it is not uncommon to see the artist paint over previous work or remold wet clay before it has a chance to set.

The artist might do so because the work up to that point is below a personal standard. Another reason might be that the vision the artist has in mind has changed. Whatever the reason, the key is that the artist is clearly in control, not the substance he or she is utilizing. 

Jeremiah 18:4 draws on this idea. 

          But the jar that he was making from the clay 
          became flawed in the potter’s hand, 
          so he made it into another jar, 
          as it seemed right for him to do. 

This verse depicts a potter working with clay when he becomes unsatisfied with what he is producing so starts over and reworks the clay into something different. Clearly the analogy is that God is the potter and humans are the clay. 

Seen one way, this demonstrates to us that God has something so much greater for us than our current situation allows. He knows what He can do with our lives and wants to mold us to be make us ready for His plans. He reshapes our lives as it seems right for him to do because He knows precisely what He wants to accomplish in and through our lives. 

We might be the reason for the "start-over." Our mess-ups may have caused us to miss out on God's plans for us. Our hesitancy or miscalculation might have made our lives turnout differently than we had anticipated. We all need continued growth. God is constantly at work around us and He is ready to accomplish something new in our lives if we release control over to Him. 

Won't you let Him reshape you as He sees fit so that when it comes time for you be used by Him, you will be the right instrument He intended all along?

And realize this, when he reshapes the vessel, it is really a fresh start. Until the vessel is hardened, it can be reshaped multiple times and the finished product will be exactly what it needs to be. Even the most marred pot can become splendid. 

May you allow Him to remold you as it seems right for him to do
God has something splendid in mind for you.

Friday, January 17, 2014

How Beautiful Are Your Feet?

by Timothy Howe

Today, I am finishing up a project in Mexico. It has been a good two weeks in which I taught future leaders in the Mexican church. 

My time here has taken me back to many previous moments in my life. Mexico is not very different than many other places where I have worked. The faces I see are so familiar to me even as I see them for the first time. The students are eager to make a difference in the world. They are ready to face challenges that they cannot imagine. They say that I inspired them with my teaching and my stories. But they inspire me. 

They cause me to remember what it was like to be on a the cusp of launching into the world to accomplish that for which we were created. They push me to continue to pursue the same goal in my life. I am sure that I will add a little more gusto in my efforts in the near future because of them.

I shared a story with them of the life of a young man whom God allowed me to befriend about 10 years ago. This young man (someone who resembles the young man in the photo above) showed me how much my life could make a difference. He had never met a Christian before me and when a mutual friend told him that I was a Christian, he wanted to meet me. In time, the Lord allowed a friendship to develop between us. During that time he decided to follow the path of Christianity as well. He then became a leader in the church. I was able to see much of his journey. 

Interestingly, the telling of his story served as part of the process of training others who are on the same path as he was 10 years ago. They do not know him, but I believe one day will meet him. At that meeting there will be people who were separated by thousands of miles and several years who shared similar journeys - journeys that I helped influence.

I am not called for myself or my own sake. 
I am called to make a difference in this world for my Lord. 

All of us are called to make that difference. 
Whose journey are you effecting today? 
In whom are you investing today?

     As it is written:
             "How Beautiful are the feet of those
               who bring good news!"

                                    Romans 10:15b NIV

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Forget the Former Things

by Timothy Howe

     Forget the former things;
       do not dwell on the past.
     See, I am doing a new thing!
       Now it springs us; do you not perceive it?
     I am making a way in the wilderness
        and streams in the wasteland.
                                       Isaiah 43:18-19 NIV

These words came from one of Israel's most important prophets. Isaiah had previously pronounced an impending judgment that would come upon the nation as a result of turning away from God. After predicting this judgment, though, Isaiah promised that God would once again restore His people. In this promise, he evoked the many other times when God worked on behalf of His Chosen People. The verses preceding this one speak eloquently of all the times that God had delivered them. Now the Lord speaking through His prophet tells the people to forget all of that! It does not compare to what He is about to do. In fact, He states that he is already doing a new thing. 

It is very easy for all of us to get caught up in what is happening right now, whether good or bad, so that we lose sight of the bigger picture. Let's take this start of a new year to lift our eyes up and try to focus on what God is doing around us. I believe that we can perceive what God is doing around us if we keep four things in mind.

1. Don't dwell on past mistakes.
Judah was going to experience judgment because of its constant failure to meet God's standards of righteousness. The OT prophets listed charges against them of unrighteousness, hypocrisy, idolatry, neglect of the widows and orphans, exploitation of the foreigners in their land, and worst of all a heart that rebelled against God. Their mistakes were huge. But even as bad as they were, they did not completely alienate them from a God who wanted to redeem them. They could make a choice to put those mistakes behind them and prepare for something new.  

All people have regrets. Each person can quickly think of things that they wish had happened differently. Don't be a prisoner of your mistakes. Don't dwell on past mistakes. Yesterday is done. Tomorrow is waiting.

2. Don't dwell on past successes.
Interestingly, the list of things that Isaiah has just commanded the people of Judah to forget were not their misdeeds. He actually had just recited many of the times that God had worked on their behalf. Why would he want them to forget all of God's redemptive acts? Perhaps they had become too reliant on past victories and neglected to pursue present ones. We can be slaves of success as well. The people of Judah had come to think that they would never be judged for wrongdoing because, after all, God had always gotten them out of previous jams. Isaiah's call was one that reminded them that they needed to depend on God every day in a fresh way. 

Past successes are noteworthy. They can serve useful purposes as platforms for future efforts. But they can also become stumbling blocks. If we are not careful, past successes can create blind spots to our weaknesses or vulnerabilities. Don't dwell on past successes. Celebrate them accordingly. Then move on. It's time for a new work.

3. Expect God to be working around you.
Even in the worst of the judgment, God was still at work on behalf of the people of Judah. They would not see it for generations, but here was the promise. This was the promise that they would cling to when things were at their worst. 

Whenever life is at its worst, we can lose sight of the fact that nothing catches God by surprise. He created this world and is still in charge of it. Expect God to be working around you. Each morning pray that God will disclose that work and show you what He is up to.

4. Expect to participate in God's work.
Isaiah was alerting the people of Judah that not only was God working on their behalf, but He was offering them an invitation to join in that work. They were His chosen people. He still had a plan for their nation. Any who would join Him could participate in that plan. 

The same is true for us. Not only should we expect God to be working around us, we should expect that He desires for us to participate in His work. Are your spiritual eyes open to see what the Lord is doing? Expect God to be working and join Him in that work. Knowing that He is at work around us and that He desires us to be a part of that Divine work should free us up to try amazing things.

William Carey summed this up best. 

        Expect great things from God, 
        attempt great things for God.

So, in 2014 

Don't dwell on past mistakes
Don't dwell on past successes
Expect God to be at work around you
Expect to participate in God's work