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, Michoac√°n, 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.