Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The God of Surprises--by Linden Malki

Once there was a man who only survived babyhood because of a determined and clever mother, a brave sister and a God who arranged for him to be nurtured and taught his heritage in spite of the law of the land. He was adopted into the royal family and educated to be a leader. It looked like he blew it in a fit of vengeful temper, when he intervened in the beating of a slave and killed the abuser. He then ran for his own life, and apparently disappeared.

We next see him finding a well in the wilderness, after a long and arduous trek. Fortunately, the nomadic tribe who used the well were not only hospitable, but distantly related to his own original clan. And their leader worshiped the same God that our man's mother had told him about. Once again, he was adopted and educated in another way of life. Herding sheep in the wilderness was a long way from a royal palace. He didn't choose any of the three lifestyles and educations that he had found himself in, but from what we know, he learned well. but he had never had the freedom to choose his path.

The next step came from totally out of his experience--he saw a bush that was on fire but not being consumed. He'd lived in the wilderness long enough to have seen brushfires, but not like this one. God was stepping into his life. It was time to use the seemingly random pieces of his experiences. He had learned how to live as a desert nomad, with only the native plants and a herd of sheep to supply the necessities of life. He had learned the ins and outs of one of the most sophisticated kingdoms of his time. And he had learned about the God of his birth family, who now offered him a direction that not only took over his life, but changed the destiny of his people, and many more over centuries and even millenia. When he doubted his ability to speak adequately, God was ready for that with a brother, who had also been spared the political hazards of his childhood, and was a capable speaker. We see God spending eighty years preparing this man, and the next forty being a leader in a situation that he could not have dreamed of earlier in his life. Had he not had those earlier experiences, he could not have become the man God called to save and mold a nation. 

As this man summed up his life, he told his people "Follow the whole way that the Lord has marked for you, and you will live, you will prosper and shall live long in the land." (Deuteronomy 5:33)We may not understand why we are put in some of the places we find ourselves, but we will find His direction for us if we follow Him. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Mexicali Advance Day Two

 After a great taco meal and a good nights sleep in a five star bunkhouse Chris and I awoke to begin Day Two.

V, Israels wife, made us all a great breakfast, and then we headed out for a drive through the valley around Mexicali.  The countryside is beautiful and reminded us of Fresno.  We visited three churches and and meet three pastors. 

One church seemed a bit traditional.  One church was a bit urban, on a busy street corner.  The other church clicked for Chris and I both.  The pastor, his wife, and their kids were very gracious.  They are a small church of 12 adults, 8 teens, and 12 kids.  The sanctuary is located in a Ejido, or small town.  It is a rural community of dirt streets and 1,000-1,500 people.

 They are looking for a new approach to reaching their city.  We talked about Oikos Evangelism, Cell Groups, Mentoring and they were very excited.  Chris and I are sensing an opportunity to do a VBS with the children for a week.  And to leave a fresh vision for outreach that will impact the church all year.  We are also sensing there might be a long term opportunity for us to partner with this gracious pastor, his family, and this church.  In the past, American churches have partnered with this church and done VBS's for 30-50 local children.

I feel God stirring in this opportunity.  When Chris and I left the church we both found many ideas swirling in our hearts and minds.  Our prayer is that God will put a call on 5-10 others in our church who would like to go on a ministry adventure!  We have a great opportunity to do ministry with children, and to sow a fresh vision in a faithful church!  I pray God taps you to go with us!  I also sense our church will experience a fresh sense of purpose as we encourage churches in Mexico and Africa.  What a great opportunity!

Have a blessed day,
and be praying for our next trip!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Mexicali - Day 1

Hello Church Family,

Pastor Paul and I arrived in Mexicali this evening. We left San Bernardino about 1:30 pm and had a nice drive down into Mexico. Crossing the border was no problem at all and we felt a very warm presence as we entered into the country.

From the border it was about a 30 minute drive to the base camp in Mexicali. It took a little while to find it, as there are no street signs. We did get off the main road once and got a little stuck in some mud, but a really nice man came and helped push us out.

When we arrived at Base Camp, Israel, the in country missionary and a native of Mexicali, welcomed us into their home. We visited for a while and then headed to dinner. Israel took us to a great restaurant called Las Brasas. We discussed life in Mexicali  and what kind of ministry opportunities there are for us here. It looks like the primary ministry we will be doing is a VBS for the kids of the church we partner with. We will be meeting a few pastors tomorrow and hopefully will decide which church we want to partner with when we come back in March.

Please be praying for us as we are down here, and be praying for God's call on you to come with us.

God Bless,
Pastor Chris
Mexicali, Mexico

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Goal Setting: Pastor Chris - Enjoy the Detours

Noah, Moses, Abraham, Jonah, Paul... What do all these guys (and many other men and women of the bible) have in common. God diverted their paths and took them on a detour.

What did Noah do before God asked him to build a boat? What did Paul do before he became a pharisee? What did Jesus do from the age of 12 until he was 30? The bible does not give us those answers.

I am sure that each of these men had goals for their lives and they may have been great goals, but God took them on a detour. Does this mean that Goals are bad? Nope, not as long as we allow God to interrupt them. I think God uses our goals to prepare us for his goals.

I once had a professor say, "if you are trying to make a decision between 2 good things, than flip a coin to finalize the choice." As a young bible student I was looking for a much more profound answer. But the truth is, God leaves a lot of our lives up to us, and when he wants to direct us he will make it very clear. Burning bush, vivid dreams, whales, talking donkey's, etc...

When God speaks to people he is clear, listen carefully, stay in his word, connect with him in prayer. I would encourage you to live the day to day life that God lays out in scripture and then expect His detours.

Pastor Chris

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Finish Line--by Linden Malki

We are constantly told that we need a "goal in life." For some people, that is an easy concept. They may have career goals that override everything. Some people have financial goals, and everything is subordinated to the dollars. Often we tell our kids that they can do anything if they try hard enough. However, after my first year in college, I found that what I had thought was appropriate career goal would require 25-hour days and giving up other things that I wanted to do. I had to rethink the whole subject of goals. What I finally came up with as an educational goal was to take as many opportunities as I could to learn as many things as I could about what interested me, with the idea that I would be prepared to take advantage of opportunities that came my way. What I found was that many of the things I had learned were just right for the place God plonked me.

Sometimes we have goals that are not healthy. We live in a culture that is rife with goals that grow out of pride, envy, revenge, laziness, greed, pleasure, all in the name of "freedom". There a several problems here: These are goals that are unattainable; they will always demand more. What kind of people will we be if we chase these goals? If we believe that we are accountable to God for what we have made of the life He has granted us, what will He see in us?

I was surprised to find that in my KJV Bible search program, the word "goal" was not found. What I did find is St Paul's goal for his life: "I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given to me--the task of testifying to the good news of God's grace." (Acts 20:24 NIV). And we find that Paul was confident that he had reached his goal: "I have fought a good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith." (2 Timothy 4:7)

I find that I have a variety of committments in my life; I don't know if I would call any of them "goals" in an ultimate sense. I believe that the Christian life requires that my personal goals be secondary to the obedience to God's goals for us. Thinking about St Paul's metaphor of a race set before us, a picture that came to mind was a race horse. The horse has a course in front of him, and he has to have the strength and desire to race. He has to be disciplined enough to stay on the track and do his best to deal with the challenges of the track. Ultimately, though, he has to submit to the instructions of his jockey, who is responsible for the winning strategy and final result.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Best Book--by Linden Malki

My favorite memory of my grandmother is the time that a cousin and I, about eight and nine years old, saw Grandma, then in her 80's, reading her Bible. One of us asked "Grandma, you haven't read that yet?" Her reply, "Yes, I've read it several times, and I find new things every time." I couldn't even guess how many times she had read it; she had grown up in a house church organized by her father, and was an amazing, tough, Godly lady. I remember thinking that if she was still finding new truths in the Bible, there had to be something to it. I have found it to be true. We owe an eternal debt those who wrote down what they saw and heard of God, and those who collected and preserved it. For some years now, I've been compiling daily Bible readings to follow up on readings included in the class material we used up until our adult Sunday morning class became a life group discussing the week's sermon topics. I've made them available to people in groups I've worked with, and they are posted each week on the NorthPoint Christian Fellowship, San Bernardino, Facebook page. Pastor Paul has asked me to get them to the office in time to be included in the Sunday church bulletin. I'd like to share why I take the time to do this, and what my guidelines are for what is included.  I grew up in a strong Christian family, and the Bible was always an important part of our lives. I can't say that I've read it every day my whole life, but l was blessed by a solid church background, and a New Testament LIterature class in college that got me seriously reading. Later, I had opportunities to teach Sunday School at Calvary at various times and various age levels, and developed a passion for Biblical context. It is too easy to read the Bible as isolated verses and passages, and pull out "proof texts" to prove specific ideas, too often without appropriate context. I am constantly impressed with the consistency and one-ness in the Bible message. It is miraculous that a compilation of writings collected over fifteen hundred years, covering the story of God's working with people over an even longer period of time, hangs together the way it does. There is value in reading it front to back, Genesis to Revelation; I do recommend having commentaries that explain how it all fits together. (I re-read it in a different translation each time.) It is useful to get an idea what is there and where it is, and the more I read, the more cross-connections, quotations, and relationships I find. The daily readings I put together, however, are topical. My goal is to help people develop the habit of reading daily passages that show how the same concepts come up in different times and places, but that they all point to the same message and the same God, and enrich our understanding of what our pastors have said and our Life Groups discuss. I am constantly struck by the human-ness we find in the people we see in the Bible; they are much like people we all know today. Yes, there are language and cultural differences, but basic human nature shines through. We can get under their skins.  I put these together as a discipline for myself as well as anybody else. When I am choosing them, I use one of my favorite study Bibles, and when I read them each morning, I read them in a different translation. Our growing understanding of God's calling for our church family includes discipleship and spiritual growth, and the more of us that are spending time and attention in God's word, the better God can use us in His plan.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Reality of God--by Linden Malki

"If there is no God, then everything is permitted."  This sounds too much like our world today, but it is the cry of Ivan Karamazov,  the intellectual brother in Dostoevsky's 1880 Russian novel The Brothers Karamazov. He rejects God in the name of the existence of suffering, but finds that this rejection causes even more suffering. 

It seems like one of the standard responses to overwhelming evil in our society is that "we have taken God out of the schools, our government...". It usually means that we should reimpose religious observance, as if having everybody go through the right motions will cure evil. I may be getting in way over my head here, but it looks like imposing rules doesn't automatically work. The ancient Israelites had 1500 years of experience with rules brought from God through Moses, but it didn't create a perfect, sinless society--it brought a cycle of disobedience, restoration, and rules imposed on society that did not reach the heart. It wasn't that there weren't enough rules. Jesus said that He didn't come to bring more rules but to fulfill the original plan of God--to change the human heart from the inside. 

This is our challenge, I think, of God-followers: to show by our lives that God is real and will make us into His family. We are to confront people not with law, but with the power of God. We will never do it perfectly, but if we don't submit to His power, we won't do it at all. In trying to make a "good" society through human effort, we impose more and more regulation and more and more limitations on what we can say and do. But we don't have much of a human answer to those who reject those regulations than more rules and limitations.

Jesus came to those who were living in the shadow of God's law, to bring light. So how do we tap God's transforming power? That is where I see the NorthPoint experience going--not imposing rules on the outside of our lives, but imposing the life of God's Spirit on hearts--our own first of all. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The God Who Makes All Things New--by Linden Malki

We seem to fascinated by calendars.  We just saw people all over the world believing that the Mayan calendar denoted the end of the world. Just  few years ago, we saw all sorts of reactions to Y2000. A thousand years ago, people got all in a tizzy about Y1000. I've gotten several emails about how certain combinations of dates have cosmic significance--even though it is a common characteristic of the calendar we use. Our calendar, which has developed over centuries to give a better and better correlation to the seasonal changes, is not the only possible one. When I asked at the Post Office for Christmas stamps, they were out, and the best they could offer (other than designs that I had no interest at all in) was the Chinese New Year stamp with a very classy dragon design. (If you're into celebrating New Year holidays, this one comes up on Jan 23 this year.) The Islamic calendar, used by a whole lot of people in the world, is a lunar calendar that is not synchronized with the seasons, and the holidays crawl around the year. The Hebrew calendar, also based on the changes in the moon's appearance, adds another month every few years to keep it tracking with the seasons; the Jewish New Year celebration, Rosh Hashona, starts at sunset on our September 4, 2013. 

We read in Genesis that God created the sun and the moon with a consistent pattern of day and night, phases on the moon, and a cycle of seasonal weather. We find Moses being given a commandment to the Israelites in Numbers 10:10, to make celebrations and sacrifices on the time the new moon is sighted, and plantings, harvests, and major festivals are organized around a calendar based on the lunar months. It would seem that God built in cycles of renewals and reminders. Each year brings new fruits, new births, renewals of life. He called His people to new places and new understandings. 

The traditional church calendar begins the year with Advent, which heralds the biggest New Thing that God has done in human history. It is interesting that this includes the winter solstice, when in our half of the planet, the daylight hours stop diminishing and the day becomes longer, leading into a season when God's creation brings out new life. This applies to His people as well: the point of Jesus' coming is described by St Paul: If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come; the old has gone, the new is here. All this from God, who reconciled us to Himself, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:17-18)

Our best New Year's Resolution? But one thing I do:forgetting what lies behind, and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize for the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14)