Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Participate in Life: GIVE

“For God so loved the world he gave . . .”  John 3:16

We all know the rest of the verse. The miracle of the Christ story is all about the gift of Jesus. But before we get to Jesus, contained in the verse is a key to the nature of God. He GAVE. God breathed on man and he became a living soul. Jesus came that we might find life. God is all about life. Where ever we find God, life flourishes.

Giving is participating in life.

God is not a bystander. 

God is not an observer.

God gives.

God joins in the stories of men. He calls those of us who have found him, who have experienced his life changing gift, to participate in the life he gives.

John 1:4 tells us that Jesus’ life is the light of men.  Once we see that light we get to walk in it, and perhaps help others to see it as well.  He compels us to shine his light into the dark spaces near us.  We begin to share what we have freely received from him with . . . “the world.”

Life ensues.

The Gathering is our part of “the world.” We have become something of a cross cultural mission. God has gathered us into a beautiful, eclectic, diverse assortment of Christ-followers. We now have over 40 Congolese refugees that share life with us in our community of faith. We are helping them learn how to make it in the US and they are teaching us about faith, hope and love.

This year, it looks like our gatherers will be expanding into the rest of our current meeting space, and we will begin to implement our Community Center strategy. It is an exciting time for our part of God’s work in our county.

If you would like to participate by giving to what God is doing with The Gathering in Carmel this year, you can donate by following this link :

 or by writing a check and mailing it to:

The Gathering in Carmel
434 E. Carmel Dr., Ste 285
Carmel, IN  46033

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Christmas, Jochabed and Hope

I was asked to participate in an Advent devotional Facebook page.  Here is the devotional I submitted.  Merry Christmas.

Hope is frequently the first candle lit in the Advent season. It is the red dot on the spiritual map to which we are drawn by faith.  Hope is the joyful expectation that the promises of God are not only true, but that they will be fulfilled. It is a light glimmering in the darkness, calming our fears, warming out hearts, and strengthening us to face the long odds menacingly stacked against us. Mothers are famous for holding on to hope.

Moses’ mother’s name was Jochebed. We don’t know much about her other than the outside-of-the-box plan she came up with to save her son—a plan that wound up working so well it changed the course of human history. The Pharaoh at the time of Moses’ birth was concerned about the number and increasing power of the Jewish immigrants in his land. Since he was the head of a strong central government, he chose to solve his problem of immigrant proliferation by having all the Jewish baby boys killed at birth. The mothers were told to throw their infant sons into the river. This is not the sort of solution that would have worked well in a modern democracy, but it was definitely in the wheelhouse of ancient Pharaohs.

Jochebed decided to comply with the letter of the law, if not the spirit, and “cast” her son “into the Nile” – only her cast included a floatation device, a basket transformed into a tiny boat. She put her son into the part of the Nile where the Pharaoh’s daughter liked to bathe, hoping that Pharaoh’s daughter would see the boy, like him, and keep him as her own. She positioned Miriam, his sister, to watch the whole drama transpire. Jochebed hoped and prayed that nothing bad would happen—and her hope was rewarded when the princess took Moses in.  Miriam then ran up and asked if the princess needed a wet nurse for the boy, and so Jochebed was brought to the palace to be his caregiver. Everything turned out fine, and what could have been disastrous, had the boat somehow been less than sea worthy, became a miracle story. It all worked wonderfully.

We don’t know whether Jochebed was moved by faith, or desperation, or inspiration, or some combination of the above. We do know that God’s hand was on Moses and that he was being protected and lifted up. God is the source of our hope. He sometimes moves in our lives in such a way as to make desperate measures seem like reasonable alternatives. One of the largest ironies of the story is that Moses became the son of the Pharaoh who had ordered him killed.

Joseph, the man who started the whole Jews-in-Egypt adventure, when he finally confronted his brothers who had sold him there in the first place, says in Gen 50:20, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” This is the dualistic dance that God has with evil in the world.  Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” The enemy often cooks up a nasty circumstance, then God moves in the lives of his people to rescue and transform it into a “good.”

This is why our hope is in the Lord. He embraces us in our times of trouble and invites us to join him in overcoming the world (John 16:33). He is the one who catches us in the midst of our dark circumstance, our slavery, and winds up turning us into Palace dwellers; into King’s kids. Romans 15:4 says, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide, we might have hope.”

Moses was rescued and wound up talking to God in a burning bush, delivering the Children of Israel from Egypt’s oppression. He called down plagues, walked on dry land across the Red Sea, received the Ten Commandments, and saw God in the “cleft of the rock”. When it was all over, God buried him.

All Bible stories teach us that: 1) God is there. 2) He is active. 3) He will rescue us. Look at the stories of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Elijah, Elisha, David, and many others. All faced desperate circumstances.  All were rescued, lifted, helped, saved, elevated and improbably secured. God saves us. He gives us hope. The significant and difficult piece to the puzzle, though, is that our hope is in Him, and not in ourselves. We are called to wait and trust while He works things together for good.

A few thousand years after the baby Moses story, another baby appears and is called into a desperate and improbable circumstance and against long odds and overwhelming adversity eventually becomes the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. As Jesus was approaching the end of his journey he tells his friends, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” In other words, “HAVE HOPE!”

Rich Mullins once wrote, “stories like that make a boy grow bold, stories like that make a man walk straight.”

Psalm 43:5 says, “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Dancing into the Pain



Like children
playing in the rain
they didn’t notice the storm, until
it hit them.

I used to wonder why
they kept on playing  ?

But not anymore.

(Copyright @ 2014, Sam Howard)

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
      for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
                                                                                           Matt 5:10

This is the last of the beatitudes.  It is, in a sense, a culmination.  The final truth is that if we pursue this path we will be persecuted. Jesus let everyone know this right up front. It is one of the many amazing things about him.  Jesus tells even the difficult truths. 

The first few beatitudes are beautiful, even oddly compelling.  They resonate with our inclination to know God. We are invited into God’s realm, the place where he rules.  We are promised that we will get to see God and that our lives will even start to look like his.  These words are hopeful and inspiring. They bring us a sense of lightness and encouragement. 

But, there are more words and a further truth which is, if we find God we will be changed.  And, as we are changed into His image, we will find ourselves less at home in our current realm.  It is one thing to recognize that our world is evil and inadequate; it is quite another to move away from it, and then, even further, to move against it.  The more we embrace God’s realm, the more we find ourselves at odds with the world. 

The world does not passively tolerate opposition.  It shames, hurts or kills those who do not conform to its dictates. 

So we start walking on this path of goodness, mostly unaware of the choices we are making. God starts working in our hearts and our world begins to look different. Matthew 6:21 lets us know that, “… where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  And so in practical ways, we start making daily decisions about which kingdom we are going to live in. As our hearts change we discover that so do the items that appear on our banking statements. All of sudden this “God stuff” starts showing up. Our calendars start changing too. We are all of a sudden being forced to choose between amusing ourselves or doing stuff with and for others. Messy stories are in our lives that aren't our mess.  We discover that we are increasingly giving our time, talent and treasure to those who are hurting, both physically and spiritually.  And, now that we are in it, this kingdom work, we find ourselves speaking and acting against the darkness that is destroying the lives of those that we have come to love.  This love that God has placed within us is beginning to spill out into our world.  The world takes notice and the opposition begins.

It must be understood that we cannot move passively towards persecution.  Passion is required.  All we have to do to avoid the pain is to stop opposing the world.  By the time the persecution begins we have made our choice. We have aligned our hearts with God.  We now burn with a passion that says love is stronger than selfishness or violence.  Justice is better than silence.  Hope is stronger than despair.  Our mourning has been comforted.  Our hunger has been filled.  We have become the ones who show mercy.  Our hearts have been purified by Jesus and we now catches glimpse of God’s glory. We are aligned with the peace of Christ, the one we follow. 

The world rewards these choices with persecution.  God’s reward is much different. He says he has something “great” in mind, namely, “the kingdom of heaven.”

Jesus taught the beatitudes early in his story and then he lived them out.  He described the path of faith and then he walked it.  The early part of the journey appeared to be relatively easy, almost fun.  The crowds grew.  Everyone wanted to see him.  Miracles were everywhere.  People began to understand who God really was and they were amazed at his grace and goodness, but this new perspective created a conflict with the old ways.  Some embraced this new revelation with joy; others struggled to hold on to what they had always known. The conflict grew into a fresh start for those who believed and anger and opposition from those who did not.  Eventually those who rejected Jesus decided that he needed to be dead.  And so, Jesus was “persecuted for righteousness.”  It all culminated in the last week of his life. 

This week has become known as “The Passion of the Christ” because it took passion to walk it to the end.  At any moment, Jesus could have stopped resisting and saved himself. Of course, if he would have saved himself the rest of us would have been lost.  Jesus’ passionate love would not allow him to abandon the world of people he came to rescue, and so “for the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame.” “He humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross,” the NLT version of Philippians tells us. “Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Jesus brought us the kingdom of heaven, and “great was his reward.”

He told us. He showed us. Now he invites us to join him.

His love compels. 

Will you allow yourself to follow?

(Copyright 2014, Sam Howard)

Thursday, March 20, 2014

God, the Rock and Me

I was in junior high the first time I heard the question. And, it kind of shook me. I knew it was sort of a joke …sort of.  But somewhere along the way I had gotten it into my head that it was my job as a Christian to “always have an answer” to these kinds of puzzling questions.  So I wracked my adolescent brain to come up with an explanation that would leave no doubt in anyone’s mind (especially my own) about the existence of God.

So, what was the question?  Here it is, “Can God make a rock so large that He himself cannot lift it?”

That’s it. This was the cause of my early-teen spiritual angst. It has been called the omnipotence paradox. I knew it wasn’t right, but somehow it still troubled me. I think it inadvertently brushed up against my own deeply hidden spiritual disquiet. Beneath the surface of my normal Christian life was an emerging harvest of questions and doubts that would eventually blossom into a period of atheism in my life. It wasn’t the question itself that bothered me as much as the niggling awareness that many of my answers did not even really work for me. 

“Is God powerful enough . . . ?”  Hidden in the question is the subtle implication that, “if He can’t do everything, then perhaps He can’t do anything.”

It is, of course, all word-play. God is all powerful. “All” is all encompassing. If there is something more than “all” then “all” is no longer “all.”

The question is an attempt to find a limit to God’s power. What it reveals is the limit of our logic and language. There is no end to God, but we can very quickly reach the end of ourselves. Our ability to comprehend much of the world around us is really very limited. All of us, on most subjects, are two or three questions away from, “I don’t know.”  The “I don’t knows” of our life create a tension between all the things we think we know and the gaping holes of uncertainty that tell us we really don’t.   And so, we are led to an uncomfortable and yet inevitable need for finding peace with mystery.

If there is a god he must necessarily be shrouded in mystery. Any god that we could completely understand would not be much of a god. So, by his very nature, God is beyond our reach. This is why the story of Jesus’ incarnation is such a surprise. God chooses to reveal His unknowable nature through His Son.

John 1:14 says, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”

God reveals Himself to men by becoming a man. If this makes sense to you the first time you hear it, then you are not paying attention. The mystery of how God can become a man . . . must stop us.  We have no way to make sense of this.  The idea that the God who made everything, would write himself into our story and then for a time be both within while remaining outside is literally incomprehensible.  We have no way to make sense of such a mystery.

The Christian faith is not really about making things understandable.  It is about making God known. How God does what he does is not explained, but who he is, is literally fleshed out. The particulars of God remain mysterious but he chooses to pierce through the mystery and reveal his heart through the story of Jesus.

“For God so loved the world that gave his one and only son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” John 3:16-17.

The important part of everything is that everything was created by a God who loves. God’s love moves Him to act. And, the action He takes is to sacrifice himself through Jesus so that we, His creation, can have life and be rescued from perishing.

My journey out of atheism was not about answers. I found my way back to faith by asking “the God that I did not believe in” to reveal himself to me. And he did. I know that sounds like the end of a bad Christian movie, but it’s what I experienced. I encountered Jesus and he began to change me. I still don’t have a good explanation to lots of my questions, but I do have an answer.

Jesus is the rock of our salvation. God lifts him up and he draws all of creation (including people like me) back to himself. God’s love, as demonstrated through the story of Jesus, changes everything. Jesus is the ultimate omnipotence paradox.

As you embrace this Lenten journey ask, “God, let me see you.  Reveal yourself.” If we seek, we will find, and we will be lifted.

(Copyright 2014, Sam Howard)

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

All Things New

And Another Thing . . . All Things New

“Look, I am making all things new.”
Revelation 21:5                               

The Greek word used here for “new” is kainos (kahee-nos) and in addition to meaning new, it also means fresh. Fresh is similar to new, but there are some differences that are unique and important.

The ideas of “new” and “old” are tied to time. Time makes new things old. A new car is valuable because it does not have any miles on it. The paint is shiny, there are no dings in the doors, the tires are full of tread and the motor hums.  The more a car is exposed to miles and roads it begins to change, to fade, to diminish. Suddenly, the “new” begins to morph into something else. The time and use begin to take a toll on the vehicle.  If it is kept long enough, things will begin to break and in the (notice this key word) end it will be scrapped.

The words “new” and “old” are related to “beginning” and “end.”  New things are found at beginnings, and old things are, for the most part, found at the ends.  The words “fresh” and “rotten” frequently correlate to new and old, but not always.  Sometimes, things can stay fresh in spite of being exposed to time.  For a bit, the effects of aging can be postponed. Freshness can be infused and the process of decay delayed.  But in this world, death always wins.

So here’s the thing. Old and dying are not part of God’s perfect plan.  God is only in the business of new, in the business of life. Death came with the enemy and the Fall. In the Garden of Eden everything was eternally fresh.  When Jesus speaks at the end of Revelation and tells us to “watch” as he makes “everything FRESH” again.  God wants to restore His natural order.  He sent Jesus to insert an extravagant, invigorating, revitalizing, reviving, restoring, fortifying, enlivening, story into the tale of humans that altered the storyline away from destruction and toward redemption. 

Jesus was a breath of fresh air blown into a world suffocating from a long fall in the wrong direction.  Isaiah tells us that “the people walking in darkness have seen a great light.”  John tells us “and that light was the life of all mankind.”  Paul tells us that “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.”  God is the source of life.  Sin is anything that separates us from God.  When we are far from God we begin to decay and die.  When we “draw near” to God we find life and become fresh.

So in this New Year let’s resolve to “be still and know that He is God.”  Let’s find ways to set aside time to draw near to God so that life can become fresh and new.  “His mercies are NEW every morning.” “His love never fails.”  Everything touched by God comes alive.  It started in the Garden and will never end.

God is making everything new.  Even me.  Even you.

Happy New Year . . . and that’s all I have to say about that . . . for now.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

And Another Thing . . . Passion week.

Jesus replied, "Now the time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory.  I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone.  But its death will produce many new kernels--a plentiful harvest of new lives.  Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity.  Anyone who wants to be my disciple must follow me, because my servants must be where I am.  And the Father will honor anyone who serves me.  John 12:23-26

Jesus most likely said this the day before his big deal entry into Jerusalem. He is about to ride in to the city knowing he will lose his life. The city is full of stories, as the film noir movies say. Most in the city are trying desperately to keep, horde, survive, preserve, stabilize, improve, or win in their stories. Jesus was going to the city to die and be the kernel that would produce a “harvest” of life.

I wonder, though, if most people in the city were too busy to notice.

This is the week of Jesus’ passion, as it is called. Perhaps it should be called the week of his crazy love. This is the week his love drove him to do crazy things to save the ones he loved. This is the week when for love’s sake he decided to intentionally walk into pain, shame and death. He loved us so much that he “despised the shame and endured the cross.” He loved us so much that he allowed himself to be abandoned by everyone . . . even God.

You probably know the story.

I woke up this morning thinking about how busy I am. And then, “oh yeah, this Sunday is Easter.”  Now I have been thinking about my Easter sermon, but that is different than thinking about Easter. So I am sending out this little note to encourage us to notice what God did in this week all those years ago.

I am frequently haunted by the thought of missing God. Not in terms of going to hell, but in terms of just missing what he is doing all around me. I wonder if the people two of three streets over from Jesus’ “Palm Frond” entry into their city had any clue that the messiah was just a few blocks over. Maybe they were invited to the parade but felt like they were too busy. So they kept doing their small things and missed a really big one.

Don’t miss Easter this year.

Don’t miss it right now.

Take a moment and notice God.

Think about what He did in that ancient Spring.

Think about what he is doing right now.

And that is all I have to say about that . . . for now.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas. . . . no, really, Merry Christmas. Put down the “to do” list and take a moment. 

Stop already. 

Jesus Christ has come. 

Jesus is the reason for the season. 

So, stop scurrying and take a moment and . . .
. . .be still and know that he is God.

God so loved you that he sent his only son, Jesus, to save you and make you new.

Jesus Christ is born!

Jesus lived among us for a time.

Jesus came so that we could have life and have it to the FULL.

Jesus died . . . was buried . . . resurrected . . . ascended . . . and is COMING AGAIN!

Woo-Hoo, or Hallelujah, or fist-bump, or some other culturally applicable expression of joy. (Do your version now. Go ahead already!)

So be still. Know. Bow. Worship. Rejoice.

Merry Christmas.

It is the end of the year and if you want to help out our little church with a financial gift we would greatly appreciate it. But only give if it comes from a place of Joy. 

Each new church is prayer for revival and a place where we hope Christ’s Kingdom will flourish and be born all over again.

Please give if you feel led. 

We are close to having a 24/7 space (please join us in praying for this).

Our small group has committed to give $5,500 monthly—this is 10% more than our budget. But our budget does not include any extras. We are asking the larger community of Gathering watchers to help us get some equipment, supplies and budgetary margin to accomplish some outreach activities. 

Thank you for praying for The Gathering as we chase our vision to change life as we know it through the love, loyalty and friendship with Jesus.

Send checks to:
The Gathering in Carmel
484 E. Carmel Dr., Ste 285
Carmel, IN  46032

Blessings and Merry Christmas,

The Gathering Team

Sam & Kim Howard

David & Amanda Foust

Marc & Amy Imboden