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. 

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


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. 

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?
     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.

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.