Saturday, September 16, 2017

Love as Meeting Needs-by Linden Malki

Jesus' ministry was spent with people. He said over and over that the most important thing He had to say was that we are called to love God, and love people. Wherever He went, He drew crowds. The first public appearance of Jesus after His baptism, as described in John's Gospel, was at a wedding in Cana, in Galilee, His home territory. It is probable that the family putting on the celebration--a major event usually covering several days--were relatives or friends of Jesus' family. Jesus' mother found out that the host, apparently faced with a larger than expected crowd, was running low on wine. We know the story--she told Jesus, who quietly dealt with the situation. It is worth noting that no fuss or public hullabaloo was made over the miracle; it was simply a case of Jesus knowing of a need that He was capable of filling, did just that. When we do things to help or serve people, we're really not supposed to make a big show of it. In fact, Matthew tells of Jesus being scathingly critical of those who do "good deeds" for their own credit. We see Jesus seeing something that needed to be done, something that He was in a position to do, and He did it.

We see at the very end of Jesus' days with His disciples an unforgettable dramatization of serving: John also tells us that  as they were getting ready to eat their Passover meal, Jesus took a towel and a basin and washed the disciples' feet. And He did this at the very beginning of the evening--when all the disciples were there, including Judas Iscariot! The lesson here was that they were servants, as He had served. Luke goes on to say that the disciples were still fussing about their own positions in the group; Jesus tells them that they should not seek position and authority like the Gentiles who call themselves Benefactors--who used their so-called charitable deeds to gain social and political favors. Jesus is preparing Himself and His disciples for the most major act of sacrifice possible--the ultimate purpose of His time on Earth--telling them that they need to love each other, serve each other, and not seek influence or status for themselves.

One of the major temptations the Church has always faced is that of building empires with power and influence in this world, based on the attraction of the good that can be done, but with an undercoat of authority and fear. The church has grown through  political power, which is usually not Godly; but ideally through God's power. The church can do good things, but the spiritual value is measured by the motives. If we do "good works" for political and social capital and influence, as Jesus pointed out in the Greek and Roman politicians of His day, as well as the religious establishments of the Judaism of the time; the credit received is of this world, and that's all it is. God does not reward this.

The Kingdom of Heaven is intended to show love for others, service to others, for the benefit of the others. We are called to keep our eyes open to what needs to be done and how we can serve, but let the reward go to God. We should be witnesses in our lives, not necessarily our words--which are only as much value as they match our love.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Expanding Kingdom--by Linden Malki

How do we know Jesus? He often said "Go and tell what you have seen Me do."  We are to know Him by His works, from the smallest attention to a child to the masterwork of His Resurrection. Everything He did was in the context of building the Kingdom of God, not by compulsion but by example.

How do we know God? By His works--from the magnificence of His Universe to the tiniest detail of His creations. I am constantly amazed at the beauty, complexity and variety of what He makes! He didn't tell us everything about it (that would be impossible); He put it out there for us to see and study and learn.  We are still constantly learning, and will probably never know everything about it in out own lifetimes. The more we learn about it, the bigger we realize that it is, and are reminded that it will never be bigger than its Creator.  It's easier for our little human minds to shrink the image down to what we can understand. We need to remember that we cannot understand; we can appreciate and share our wonder and awe.

Everything He makes is is individual, unique in its own way.  We, His people, are amazing. We are made more complex that we understand ourselves; we can only truly be what we were created to be in relationship to Him. We can learn about God from looking at the creatures He made--remembering that there is more there than we know; that He has built us for relationships; with each other and with Him. We are created in families; related and with things in common, but constantly changing. We are related to, but different  from, our parents. Just the developing relationships between the first three persons in the beginning family is a constantly shifting and challenging and growing  thing. Add this to the rest of the world, and learning how to love each other is a project worth a lifetime.

Families expand into tribes, which become communities, nations, kingdoms. What does knowing about God the Creator tell us about the Kingdom of God? First, it has a King;  who is the authority and shaper. It is intended to be a growing organism; God makes things to grow.  Who are the subjects? Intentionally, all of the people He has made. The problem here is that He wants those who wants Him; people who are not willing to accept His offer and recognize His authority have no place.   Where do we fit? First, we become part of the family.   Then as we grow up becoming His people this will show what He has done for us--not things that make us look good as ourselves, but the things that show His love and care for us.  As we grow spiritually, we attract others to the Kingdom, not because we nag, but because we live a true story that expands the knowledge and shape of the Christian life. Yes, that sounds scary; no, we're not doomed if we aren't perfect. In fact, dealing with failure, repentance, forgiveness and restoration is an important part of the story.

The Kingdom has expanded, unevenly, sloppily at times, and with apparent setbacks here and there. We do not know the whole story; it is like leaven, which cannot be seen as it spreads. We do not know when it has been growing underground; who has been touched without our noticing. But we know that it went from 12 to 120 without a lot of public notice, but then to 3000 in a day. One way and another, we are looking at numbers today in the billions. We do not know who is affected by who we are and how we live; but in the long run the only Person we need to worry about is God.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Water of Life--by Linden Malki

 The concept of a new life through water is a very old one in Scripture; during the Exodus when Moses was setting up the Tabernacle as a place of worship, the priests were required to wash with water before they approached the altar, and when the Levites were assigned their duties they washed, and an atonement for sin was made for them.(1)  At the beginning of the message of the prophet Isaiah to God's people includes the instruction to "Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil from your deeds, from before My eyes. Cease to do evil...though your sins are as scarlet, they wht be as white as snow."(2) King David's response when he confronted with his sin, is a prayer to God: "Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from by sin. ..wash me, and I will be whiter than snow."(3)

The relationship between forgiveness and a new life through water comes out in Jesus' words: When Jesus told Nicodemus that "you must be born again", He also told him, "No one can enter the Kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit."(4)  John the Baptist's explanation of what he was doing: "The reason I came baptizing with water is that He [Jesus] might be revealed to Israel."(5) Jesus told the woman at the well in Samaria that "The water that I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." (6)

I see the image of a spring of water bringing new life not only as the rebirth of baptism, but also being a continuous image of  life in the Kingdom. A spring of water is a continuous thing; it not only continues to bubble up water but the water flows out to an everwidening area. Baptism--a literal experience of death and rebirth through water--should make us noticeably different people. People came to Jesus because they saw a different sort of person than they were used to seeing--especially in contrast to the religious authorities who worried more about their position and politics than about God, and who thought any Messiah should have checked in with them first. It is interesting that what Jesus told people to tell about, and what people did tell about on their own, were more likely to be stories of what He did, rather than what He said. Yes, what He said is important--but what He said grew out of what the prophets and followers of God--and God Himself!--had said for two thousand years. What He did was unprecedented and irrepeatable--and changed history.
1. Numbers 8:21  2.Isaiah 1:16,18  3. Psalm 51: 2, 7  4. John 3:5  5. John 1:31 6. John 4:14  

Saturday, August 26, 2017

The True Kingdom--by Linden Malki

God's concept of "King" is different than ours.  The Word of the Lord had come to a series of people called to learn and follow Him over a series of years--Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and then Moses, Joshua, and a series of Judges culminating in Samuel.  During the years in the wilderness, God had given Moses the instructions on formalizing the sacrifices  under Aaron and his descendants from the tribe of Levi.  Samuel was a Levite who had grown up in the sanctuary at Shilo, and served as a judge, one of the sages who were sent by God as advisors and tribal leaders  There was no central political authority during this period--the continuing theme of the book of Judges is "In those days, Israel had no king; everyone did what was right in his own eyes."

Finally, we read that the people of the land came to Samuel and asked him to appoint a king, like all the other nations.   This displeased Samuel, so he went to prayer. "The Lord said to Samuel, Obey the voice of the people in relation to all that they say to you. For it is not you they have rejected, but Me they have rejected from reigning over them.  Just as all the deeds which they have done to Me, from the day I brought them up from Egypt even to this day, in that they have forsaken Me and have served other gods, so they are doing also to you now.  Now then, obey their voice. Only you will testify against them and proclaim to them the judgment concerning the king who will reign over them.” (I Samuel 8:7-9) Samuel then warned them of what a king would be like: taxation, conscripted labor, bureaucracy..(sound familiar?)

It looks like God's concept of King is Himself--with messengers to teach, but with the intention that people voluntarily recognize His authority to rule.  In just a few hundred years, it was apparent that this wasn't happening.  The subsequent history of the  kings after the split at Solomon's death  includes only a few kings in the southern kingdom of Judah who followed God, and none at all in the north.  Within a few hunded years, both kingdoms were overrun by foreign empires, and there were no kings of Judah or Israel until 163 BC, with a revolt against a Greek successor to Alexander the Great.  There was a century of war and intrigue, and then the Roman general Pompey attached this area to Rome.  The people of Judea recalled the glory days of King David, and the ideal grew of a king anointed by God who would rise up, kick out all the pagan rulers, and re-establish a Godly kingdom.

This is the atmosphere into which Jesus came, talking about the Kingdom of the God of Heaven.  Looking all the way back, we can see God's original ideal of a people who would come to Him, follow the leadership of His called people, and under the words of God spoken by His people bring all the world into knowledge of Him.  Many of the people whom Jesus taught saw him as heralding the return of the ideal King David, and even his handpicked disciples asked, as their last question as he was returning to His father, if he was going to restore the kingdom to Israel, obviously thinking of a human kingdom.  We see now that this didn't happen the way they expected; we need to look past David, to the words of God to Samuel: a kingdom of this world is a rejection of His spiritual Kingdom; that power and glory comes by total allegience to Him.  

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Gateway to the Promised Land--by Linden Malki

Jericho is a very ancient city located in the lower Jordan Valley just above the Dead Sea, at a place that the Jordan River can be crossed.  When Joshua and the Israelites were ready to enter the Land that God was leading them to, the first major obstacle was the fortified city of Jericho. The people living in the area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan river were commonly referred to as "Canaanites", possibly referring to descent from Noah's grandson.  They spoke a related language, but there was one huge difference between the Israelites and the other tribes in the land. Abraham had lived in that area 500 years earlier, and at that time there was a priest in Jerusalem, then a city of the Jebusites, who knew the true God.  By the time of the Exodus, that knowledge had been lost, and the people who then lived there worshipped the pagan gods of the surrounding tribes.  (The worst of these were Molech, to whom children were sacrificed, and Ashera, the goddess of fertility.  Jericho was later rebuit by a Canaanite King who sacrificed two sons in the rebuild: 1Kings 16:34.  Archeologists have found tiny skeletons in the walls and gates of Canaanite buildings.  This is part of why God judged these tribes, and was so strict with the Israelites about becoming involved.)

We read that Joshua's spies, sent to Jericho as they prepared to begin their conquest of the land, met a local woman, an innkeeper and prostitute (Canaanite morality was different). She had heard from travellers about the invaders who had overcome other tribes as they moved north toward the Jordan crossing point, and something about their God, so she made the decision to throw her lot with the invaders, because "I know God is with you."

We see that God planned for all mankind to know Him. God made a covenant with Noah that is for all of Noah's descendants: "I am now establishing my covenant with you and all your descendants after you.." (Genesis 9). God's covenant with Abraham is that he will be the father of a host of nations.  Moses was told "When an alien resides with you in your land...treat him no differently than the natives born among you, have the same love for him as for yourself." (Leviticus 19:33-34). Solomon, when the Temple was being dedicated to God, prayed that God would listen to foreigners who came to learn of God (I Kings 8:41-43).  David, in Psalm 22, prophesied that " All the ends of the world will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will worship before You.  For kingship belongs to the Lord, and He rules among the nations."  God told Isaiah to tell His people that  " I will also make you a light to the nations so that My salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6) God's calling was not only for Israel, even before the coming of Jesus; they were called to witness to God to all nations.  It is not suprising that there was an admixture of "outsiders" coming into the family of Israel: Joseph's sons were part Egyptian; Moses' wife was Midianite, and here we have Rahab and her family becoming part of Israel, and then we see Ruth becoming part of the family.

God's calling was not only for Israel, even before the coming of Jesus;  Israel was called to witness to God to all nations.   The real breakthrough was not teaching Jewish Law to Gentiles, but to break the power of sin and enable everyone who believed to live a more powerful life through His death and resurrection.  He became the true Gateway!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Ruth, the Good Example--by Linden Malki

Across the Jordan  Valley and the Dead Sea to the East there were several tribal kingdoms that were related to the Israelites. One was the Edomites, who descended from Jacob's brother Esau; the others were Moab and Ammon, descended from Abraham's nephew Lot, whose family barely escaped the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. They apparently married into pagan Canaanite peoples and ignored anything they'd known of Abraham's God.  When Moses and the Israelites were migrating back to the Promised Land, the route they took was east of the the Wadi el-Araba, the rift valley below the Dead Sea. It was high ground and included good pasture land for sheep. Moses contacted the various kings and asked for safe passage through these territories, promising that they would not attack or damage the countryside.  The Amorite king refused,  attacked the Israelites, and was defeated.  The king of Moab saw this, and  hired Balaam, a prophet, to come and curse the Israelites. Instead, Balaam received only blessings from God for Israel--which annoyed the King of Moab,  but then  Balaam suggested that Moabite women go to the Israelite camps and invite the menfolk to their religious festivals--which included fertility rites and child sacrifices. Not anything that was healthy for anyone. The Israelites did not travel through Moab, but their political relationship was mixed, and there were  hostilities between them.   Later, when David became King, he annexed Moab, who later rebelled, were defeated, and eventually absorbed by the invading Assyrians.

Apparently at the time of Ruth,  relations were good enough that Elimelech and his family did not have problems living in Moab during a famine in Judah, and David sent his parents to Moab for safety during the years he was hiding out from Saul.  We see Ruth accepted in Judah when she came back with Naomi, but she had accepted Naomi and Judah's God as her own.  She is also depicted as a loyal and responsible daughter to Naomi, willing to work at a job kept for the poor.

There were continuing problems with Israelite men marrying outsiders, and allowing them to continue their worship of pagan gods.  This was the downfall of Solomon, who even built sanctuaries for his political wives' gods.  We see King Ahab marrying a aggressively pagan Phoenician princess, who not only kept her own gods, but tried to eliminate the prophets of God and the worship of Israel's God from the kingdom. Jezebel's daughter Athaliah, who had married King Jehoram of Judah, was her mother's daughter, and brought the worship of Baal to Jerusalem.  After the "premature" deaths of her husband and son, she  killed off all the other heirs to the throne of Judah, including all but one of her own grandchildren. The infant Joash was rescued and hidden by an aunt, who was married to the high priest. Six years later, the high priest brought out Joash for his coronation, and Athaliah was killed by the temple guards as she tried to escape.

When the Jews returned to rebuild Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity, Nehemiah, the governor, and Ezra, the leading priest, were concerned about the number of foreign wives among the returnees.  Looking back at the "bad examples", it was  decreed that they all had to be divorced and deported; there is no record of any consideration given to the religion of the wives.  The Book of Ruth was written and promoted during this period as an antidote to the wholesale discrimination against foreigners.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

BIGGER THAN LIFE--by Linden Malki

King David was a man who knew and loved God; a strong man who had, as we all do, amazingly good sides, and less-than- good sides.
  We see him first coming in from the fields, where he has been shepherding his father's flocks. Samuel the prophet was led to anoint him as being called of God.  He was recommended to Saul as a musician, when Saul was having attacks of depression.  He became Saul's armor-bearer, and after his defeat of Goliath, a leader in Saul's army, the best friend of Saul's son Jonathan, and eventually Saul's son-in-law.  Everything appeared to be going his way.
Success has its dark side--David was so successful that Saul became worried that David was going to take over the kingdom, and tried to kill him. David, on the advice of Jonathan, fled for his life. He spent the next several years in exile, moving around in remote hiding places, accompanied by men who had also left their homes or were unhappy with Saul's leadership. There were several times that David could have killed Saul, but each time he refrained, saying that Saul was still God's appointed King.
One thing we know about David is that he was a gifted musician and poet, and about half of our book of Psalms are credited to David. There is a group of them from this period of being on the run from Saul, and we see David's faith and confidence in God overcoming the discouragement and fear of his situation, as we see in others his thanksgiving and prayers that grew out of other events in his life, the good and the bad.
Saul eventually finds himself in a full-scale war with the Philistines, a group of sea people who had migrated to the coast adjoining Judah over the previous several hundred years. (They are the source of the name that came to be used for the whole area: Palestine.) He and his son Jonathan were killed, we have David's lament for them in II Samuel 1.:19-27.
On God's instructions, David went to Hebron, the central city of tribal area of Judah, and was anointed King of Judah by the local leaders.  After seven years of political and military strife and the death of Saul's surviving son Ishbaal, David became the king of the northern tribal federation of Israel, after which he conquered the fortress city of Jerusalem (which was not part of the Judah/Israelite territory at this time, but was in a strategic central location), and had the Ark of the Covenant brought to Jerusalem.  He expanded and fortified the city, subdued the Philistines, Moabites, and most of the other surrounding tribes, as far as the  Euphrates River, but not the Ammonites on the east side of the Jordan.
           And then things didn't go so well. His family was a mess. He blew it with the Bathsheba affair, had his oldest son Amnon killed by his brother Absalom for the rape of Absalom's sister , and then Absalom led a revolt against David and David had to flee the city. David's army was able to put it down, but Absalom was killed and David grieved over that until his general Joab chewed him out for showing more concern for a criminally rebellious son than the supporters that had saved his kingdom.           David has left us a great legacy of both heroism and mistakes, but he never lost his faith in God, and was willing to repent when confronted with his sins. The Psalms we have from his life have been called "The Gospel of the Old Testament", for the number of times he makes prophetic statements that are part of the lead-in to the Messiah, who is also said to be the Son of David.  David shows us that we don't have to be perfect; we do need to be humble and honest about what we do. And always he shows an amazing faith and dependence and obedience to God--which has inspired people for 3000 years, and is still as fresh as the young man who started out as a shepherd,became the Shepherd of the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel, and the ancestor of Jesus.