Saturday, July 15, 2017

Walking on Water--by Linden Malki

At the very beginning of Jesus' ministry, this incident with Peter is a fitting beginning to their relationship.  Jesus had been preaching alone to this point. He was on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and the crowd that had come to hear him was pushing him out toward the water.  He noticed a couple of fishing boats, one of which was Peter's, pulled up on the beach. He got in the boat, asked Peter to pull out a little ways, and continued to teach from there. When the lesson was over, he told Peter to pull out into the deep water and let down the nets. Peter replied that he had been fishing all night and caught nothing, but if You say so...and there were so many fish in the net that they also filled the other boat. Peter's response "Leave me, Lord. I am a sinful man." Jesus' answer: "Do not be afraid, from now on you will be fishing for men." (Luke 5:1-8)

Then there was the time that calmed a storm (Mark 5:35-41), and Matthew and John tell of times that the disciples ran into wind and waves--and Jesus walking on the sea toward them.  Matthew tells of Peter tried walking to Him, and lost his nerve; and the winds died down. Peter's reaction here was "Beyond doubt you are the Son of God!" (Matt 14:24-33)

At the very end of Jesus' earthly ministry, we find Him again at the Sea of Galilee and the Peter and the others are back in the boats, fishing. And again, they had been fishing all night for nothing.  Then a voice from the shore told them to drop the nets on the other side.  Again, the nets are totally filled; Peter jumps in and swims to shore, and they are just in time for Jesus to give them bread and fish for breakfast. And Peter gets his last words from Jesus: "Feed my sheep" and "Follow me."  Peter's apprenticeship begins and ends with a boat full of fish and the knowledge that even the fish and the sea obey Him.

Jesus' mastery of the sea should not have been a surprise to His followers. They had all had a good yeshiva education (the Maccabees who ruled in the previous century had established schools throughout their territory) and they knew their Scriptures.  God had sent a Flood--and boatmaking instructions to Noah. Moses had parted a sea for the Israelites leaving Egypt. Jonah had been on a ship caught in a storm, and realized that he was the target--"He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”... Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm." (Jonah 1:9-15)

Seas are a good metaphor for the power of God; stronger than we are , incredibly useful in some ways and incredibly dangerous in others. We have some understanding of it, but not nearly as much as we'd like.  We can enjoy the beauty and opportunites that it gives, but we also need to respect its power.  God gives us the seas to enjoy and use--on His terms, the rules built in from Creation.  God Himself is like that--He gives us many good things and opportunites, but there are things He cannot allow.  Peter's nets were full of fish--when he followed Jesus' instructions, even in the face of his own discouragement.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Who do we ask? --by Linden Malki

" Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." (JFK's Inaugural Address, Jan 1961). Looking around today's America, there seems to be a lot of talk about what our country should be doing for everybody, as if "the government" (whatever that actually is) can solve all our "problems".  But we have to be careful with the second half of Kennedy's advice as well. Who decides who to ask? My first  idea of what I should do is political, or social, or economic, and it is not the same as anybody else's idea. We've already got all sorts of people trying to do all sorts of things for our country, and some have already been tried and failed at everything except making their perpetrators feel good.  This is a question for somebody a lot smarter than I am. There are lot of people out there who think they're smarter than anybody, and they scare me. If you look at the last century's list of who thought they knew more about running a country than anybody, what they actually accomplished is a whole lot of people dead and a whole lot more refugees fleeing for freedom.

Ok, then who's really smart enough?  Let's look at the Creator, who made the whole thing. We can think that there are things we'd have done different had we been in charge, like maybe a fence around that tree and keeping better track of that snake, but apparently the Boss wanted us to have meaningful choices with meaningful consequences. We haven't done a very good job with the choices, on the whole. We've seen what happens when we try to do it all on our own. We don't do a very good job trying to use what He gave us to make a good world.

But is a "good world" what we should be looking for? There's a lot of talk out there--even in what is supposed to be the church--about asking God to do what we want, telling Him what we think and demanding it on our terms. Unfortunately we really don't know what is best for us or anybody.  Asking our country, or even God, to do what we want isn't the smart option. Who do we ask? Solomon had the right idea, but even the smartest man in the world got in his own way.

We already have a lot of the answers available; they've been around for at least 3500 years.  The problem is that we're not smart enough to apply them rightly by ourselves. Jose told us last week that the best answers to who we are and what we're supposed to do about it come from the One who designed us and knows what He intends for us. But He didn't make us puppets; we have to be willing to become His children, the sheep of His pasture.

So what can we do? We can tell God that we are open to His leading, His assignments, being His people. This is what we can do for the country (not to mention the world)--we can be connected to a dimension outside of this world, and let Him open doors for us. We can be different from the people around us; --it's not just following the rules; that's been tried and doesn't get where we need to be. Even within the church there have always been those who think all they need to do is not murder anyone and keep out of trouble and go on their own way as they want. They miss the surprises that God as for us--I've had big ones and little ones scattered through my life. We can do what He calls us and empowers us to do, not what we think we can do in our own limited strength.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Called to the Extraordinary--by Linden Malki

Ordinary Christians are called to do extraordinary things--within a generation after Jesus' return to His Father, his followers had spread from Britain to India with the Good News .  There are still Christians in both of those places--our own Pastor Paul spent several weeks in India recently demonstrating his JumpStart discipleship series, invited by Indian pastors. The other day, I was visiting with a cousin who had been born in China to a missionary family, and she told me about a book written by a British missionary in Tibet in 1950 who had been taken prisoner by the invading Communist Chinese, at the same time that her father, then in West China, was also imprisoned in China. I said I think I had read it; a niece had sent me a similar book several years ago. I discovered that the two books were by different Britons who had been in Tibet at the same time and both spent several years in Chinese prisons, and at least one of them had been in the same prison as my uncle for a time. Right now I'm reading both books at the same time, in some sort of chronological order. The missionary, who had gone to Tibet in response to a felt calling there without any backing or support, found God giving him the strength to endure and be blessed in extremely difficult circumstances.  The other man had gone to Tibet as a radio operator hired by the Tibetan government.  He did stand up for his faith as a Christian, but did not actively preach.  He did, however, recognize in the attempted "education" sessions in the prison,  my uncle's stubborn faith and his acceptance of beatings for his faithful prayers. It is also amazing that after 40+ years of attempts to eradicate religion, when China opened up a few years ago, there emerged millions of Christians that had been growing underground.

We've been blessed in the past few weeks to have visits from two families, both of whom had been active at NCF when they were in the local area with Mission Aviation Fellowship and Campus Crusade. The MAF family had spent time in Africa responding to needs for transport and supplies by local Christians and missionaries, and the Crusade family has been in Asia, teaching and befriending people who had no knowledge of the Gospel. In both cases, God has done amazing things through them, and our support has been a part of that.  These are ordinary people who were called and empowered to do amazing things through faith.

At a cell church conference in Waco in 2009, there were pastors from Asia, Africa, Latin America as well as the US.  Most of the pastors from areas that had been significantly impacted by Christian missionaries from the US and Europe expressed their gratitude for these missionaries, and recognize the good that this witness is still having in their home countries. I occasionally read comments by people who criticize missionaries for messing with other cultures, but hearing firsthand  of the traditions of idolatry and fear that they are still facing, it has been worth the effort. There are also stories of elements in some farflung cultures that are steppingstones to the Good News.

Most of us have been called to San Bernardino, or places closer to home. I certainly did not plan to move here; God transplanted me here and has been growing me here.  God has a place for each of us;  our challenge is to recognize it and see what He is calling us to do where He has put us.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

GOD AS FATHER--by Linden Malki

   The role of Father is built into Creation.  All living creatures were created to be self-replicating; even the simplest single-cell creatures exchange genetic material and reproduce. The continued existence of every form of life on the planet is dependent on its ability to leave descendants. (Yes, not all of them do succeed, but that  is part of the dynamics of constant change that we see.)  The first human beings were created with the ability and responsibility to have children. It is interesting that people were not given the programming that most other creatures have; we were expected to teach our children.  The other half of the story is that we also have the ability to choose our behavior.  Hopefully, our parents instruction will enable us to make good choices. We find that Adam's record was't that good. Of the first two sons, one did it according to the instruction, and one didn't--and didn't seem to understand or pay attention, other than to take it out on his brother. 

          It is interesting that almost all references to God and fatherhood refer God as "the God of your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob."  The only referrals to God as our Father that I could find are in Psalm 89:26 "He will call out to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, the Rock my Savior.’"; Isaiah 9:6 "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace;" and Malachi 2:10 "Do we not all have one Father? Did not one God create us?"  The coming of Jesus, prophesied in the Isaiah passage, refers to Jesus as the Son of God the Father. At the very end of Jesus' time on earth, we find  Jesus saying, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

          St Paul is very specific about this relationship; every single one of his letters, begins like this:" Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." (I Corinthians 1:3) You could make an interesting study just from these verses--all slightly different in emphasis. Also, Peter, John, James and Jude say something similar as well.  I especially noted this:"I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better" (Ephesians 1:17)  Think about the role of father: one of the main jobs of a father is to teach; not only his children, but his community.  Paul says here that the source of wisdom, revelation and knowledge come from God through His Spirit.  

          An important way that He communicates with his children is through prayer. Think for a moment in how we usually pray; and also how we communicate with our parents. Most of our prayer time is spent telling God what we want and what we think He wants to hear. Is this how we usually talk to our parents, grandparents, and others? If we want to learn from our parents, the best way is to listen to them. I recall when I was a kid out camping with my family, Dad would make a bonfire on the riverfront near where we were camped, and we'd sit around and Dad would tell stories of his life, and other family and friends and their stories. Dad loved to listen to people, as well--he would say that he'd never met someone he couldn't learn something from. He'd even ask me questions that come up in things he read.  This makes me thing that prayer needs to be more like this--more listening than talking.  It's not an easy thing to learn, we tend to be afraid of "dead time".  I find one question, or observation, or even a tree to stare at, and then wait for a response. If something comes into your head, give to to the Spirit see what He does with it.  Praise isn't meant to be flattery or an attempt to get something in return, but thankfulness and acknowledgment of who God is and who we are.  This is God, the power behind everything that is, and He loves us and wants His best for us. 

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Mentoring for Life--by Linden Malki


The practice of "mentoring" is basic to human society. The term goes back to Homer's Odyssey, roughly 900BC; where an old man named "Mentor"(assisted by the goddess Athena) guides a young man through a crisis.

We are created knowing very little, but gifted with the potential to learn. We all have a different mix of the ways we learn, but we start out in life with built-in mentors--our parents, grandparents, and other people who are part of our lives. We spend good part of our early life watching,listening, imitating and growing. We learn different things from different people in different stages of our lives, but very often there are one or more special people in our lives that take specific interest and time with us to help us learn. One of the most important thing in the lifelong journey of learning is the people we learn from. Good parents and friends will teach us good things we need to know, irresponsible parents or friends can teach us things that are not good for us. We need to recognize those people who have the good knowledge that we need. Most ancient cultures have a traditional story of a supernatural wise and poweful being that appeared to their ancestors with wisdom, instructions, and rules. We believe that a creator God is the ultimate source of wisdom and knowledge; in some cases it lost its connection and got off track.

Back in Eden, God told Adam what he was expected to do, and one thing he was not to do. This is was the first step in the having to deal with the results of doing what put us all on a path that has its wide and narrow, its goals and pitfalls. We see that our faith tradition goes back to a man who had the best mentor of all: God Himself. We see Abram/Abraham's calling in Genesis 12, which includes his obedience as well as his mistakes. We find that God gives Abraham both promises and instructions, a covenant that still recognized. We have a Scriptural record of what God told Abraham and his descendents to learn; the record of a 2000 year story of people who have mentored others, some of whom were listened to and some who weren't. We still have this record of what we need to know to be in a right relationship with our Creator. We also have had another 2000 years of people teaching others--some for better, some for worse. It is amazing that the story of God and His people has survived, but it is the plan we were given in the beginning. We also have the responsibility to learn what He has to teach us, and teach others in turn in gratitude for His love and patience.

We are always learning, one way or another. We need to choose the best, and recognize what falls short of that. For about the last 15 years, the Calvary/NorthPoint community has been learning how to teach, how to mentor, how to learn who God is and why we have been called to follow Him. It has been exciting to watch the passion for teaching the Word grow, with some ups and downs. We have seen the program that is now JumpStart develop and become ready to spread a new telling of an old, old Story here on Sierra Way, to San Bernardino, across the US, and to some amazing parts of the world. If you are interested, there will be someone available in the back of the church with information and sign-up opportunities. Come join the adventure!

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Moses, Aaron, and God--by Linden Malki

Moses, on the shore of the Red Seal,  the Israelites with him, frightened,  and the Egyptians coming up behind them: "Fear not! Stand your ground, and you will see the victory the Lord will win for you today...The Lord Himself will fight for you, you have only to keep still." And the next day, they crossed the sea on dry seabed.
When they got to Sinai, God told Moses to call the people together. They agreed that "Everything the Lord has said, we will do." Then God delivered ten commandments to the people, and dictated four chapters of instructions to Moses for the people.   God called Moses out of a cloud to come up the mountain for 40 more days.  Meanwhile, back at the camp, the people got restless, and asked Aaron to make a god for them.  God told Moses to go back down, as the Israelites were running wild, and He was ready to wipe them all out and make a nation from Moses. Moses faced up to God with the promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the Lord relented.
As they approached their promised destination, Moses sent a team of spies, one man from each tribe, to move up through the Negeb into the land beyond and check it out. The spies came back in 40 days and reported that the land was fruitful but the inhabitants were too strong. Amid the wailing and grumbling, Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before the people with no reported reply, and it was Joshua and Caleb who stood up to the whole community and said, "..You need not be afraid of the people..the Lord is with us." The Lord told Moses, "of all the men who have seen my glory and the signs I worked in Egypt and in the desert, and who nevertheless have put Me to the test already and have failed to heed my voice, not one shall see the land which I promised on oath to their fathers."--except Caleb and Joshua.
After another attempted rebellion, they moved back into the desert to Meribah, where there was no water--and the usual complaining from the people. God told Moses and Aaron to gather the people, and tell the rocks to give water. They assembled the community, and Moses said "Listen to me, you rebels! Are we to bring water for you out of this rock?", and  struck the rock. But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you were not faithful to me in showing my sanctity before the Israelites, you shall not lead them into the land I will give them."
Reading this by itself, it looks like this is a punishment out of proportion to the offense.  However, look at it in the context of the whole relationship between God, the Israelites, Moses and Aaron. After starting out speaking in the name of God, Moses more and more talked about his frustration with the people, and less and less about God. At Meribah, Moses did not even mention God when he came in front of the people; his answer was to do something himself when he had been told to command the rock in the name of the Lord.  They had not only failed to invoke God at this time; they had not taught the people to respect the plans of God and have faith in His promises. At the time of the golden calf incident, the people --and Aaron--had just a few weeks earlier heard God tell them to stay away from idols. When the spies came back, Moses and Aaron said nothing, and Joshua and Caleb said what needed to be said--and when God said that no one there except Joshua and Caleb would see the Promised Land--Moses was there.
We don't hear a lot about Joshua in the books of the Torah, but he's there when he needs to be. And it was Joshua who did lead the Israelites into the Land--with strict injunctions that they were not to profit by the conquest; that it was to be for the glory of God. A thousand years later, when the descendants of these people had been in captivity again, this time in Babylon and were coming back into Judea to rebuild, the prophet Zechariah said “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel (the leader of the returning exiles) 'Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty."*  This was true for Joshua; it has always been true for the people of God.                              *Zechariah 4:6


Saturday, June 3, 2017

One by One--by Linden Malki

God is the most amazing Creator--the variety of everything He creates is beyond our capacity to appreciate.  Look at a garden--each twig on each plant is different. Animals--there is an amazing number of species, and even within a species, each individual is different. Look at people--the possible number of variations on one basic pattern is mind-boggling. Even in a family,  everyone is a little--or a lot--different.  Even twins are slightly different. Someone recently posted a picture of my brothers as very small children--and it was possible to recognize which twin was which.  I think that within any group of people you can describe, the differences between members of the group are greater than the average between that group and another one.  That is why it is important to deal with people as individuals--judging people by a broad brush does not tell what you may need to know about any individual.

Jesus is our example here--at one point, there were scholars in the Temple that were amazed by a 12-year-old who wasn't like one  they'd ever known;  but when he returned to Nazareth, most of the neighbors dismissed him as just another one of the neighborhood kids.   Look at his experiences with Samaritans! The woman at the well (John 4) was surprised that this Jewish man would speak to her--a woman, a Samaritan, and someone with a checkered past, but he knew that she needed what he offered.   There was an incident where a Samaritan town refused to sell the disciples food, and they wanted to destroy the town, but Jesus reprimanded them and went on to another town. (Luke 9:51+) Then in the parable he tells shortly after this, the supposed "good guys" avoid the man in need, and a Samaritan shows mercy.  The result is that  the Samaritans responded to the Gospel more openly than Jesus' own people. (Acts 8).

The early church had to work through this: we find animosities between Jews, Gentiles, Greeks, and others, but we also see God working with all sorts of people, such as an Ethiopean official and  a Roman Centurion.  The church ever since has had its ups and downs--excluding people, including people, persecuting people, rescuing people. We are called to be wise in our dealing with people--evaluating them with His eyes, praying for His heart.

The church as its best answers His call to "go to all the world"--next door and across the oceans.  This last Thursday, we were honored to have  Jim & Cathy Abell, longtime staff members  of Mission Aviation Fellowship, visiting and sharing what they and MAF are doing. MAF was headquarted for some years at Redlands Airport, and the Abell family was active at NCF; they are now in Nampa, Idaho. MAF is an amazing arm of God, supporting missionaries and coping with disasters in many parts of the world.  They serve people who are bringing the Word of God to people who are in remote and difficult places, who may be of different cultures and colors, but each of whom is one of God's children.

MAF is one of the missions that our church supports; 10% of your offerings goes outside our family to those who are serving God in a special way.  You can learn more about MAF at www.maf.org, and can give additional support through our church by designating additional offerings for MAF.