Thursday, September 26, 2013

When it Makes a Difference--by Linden Malki

Last weekend’s church bombing in Pakistan reminds us that being a Christian is no guarantee of an easy life. Pakistan was formed as an Islamic state in 1947; the five million Christians there are about 3% of the population, and it is illegal to preach the Gospel to Muslims.  A few years ago, a mission organization offered Pakistani church leaders a new translation of the Gospels, designed to soft-pedal the concept of the Son of God, which is specifically denied in the Koran. The idea was to make the Gospel "less offensive" and more approachable to Muslims. The reaction of local Christians was dismay and rejection--following a watered down imitation of Christianity is useless. It is precisely the truths that separate our faith from the rest of the world that make the difference.

One of the most amazing Christian communities in the world is in China. There were Nestorian Christian traders there about 600AD, but the churches were later overrun by invaders and disappeared. There were missionaries back in 1600, 1800 and 1900--and there are now over 100 million Christians in China, despite all that war and Mao could do. We will never know on this earth how many Chinese Christians were imprisoned, exiled or executed during those years. Even during the worst of it, refugees who got out to Hong Kong looked for churches and told of underground believers. When the Red Guard boasted of having burned the Baptist Bookstore in Shanghai, the Hong Kong believers noticed that the Red Guard knew where to find the bookstore—but nobody outside China had heard from them in years.

My father's brother was a missionary who had been in China before World War II, and after the war went back to a new mission field in West China. By 1950, our State Department was advising American missionaries to come home, but my uncle and aunt stayed because it was under persecution that their church grew: when it made a difference to be a Christian. When the Communists took over the area, he was arrested and spent more than four years in a Communist prison. Part of their failed attempt at "re-educating" him was to order him not to pray, and the guards beat him when they caught him at prayer.  Do we value prayer enough to risk a beating??


Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Prince of Peace by Linden Malki

"Peace is not an absence of war; it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence, justice.” * We live in a world of wars on the large scale, and not much peace on the smaller scales. Our cities, neighborhoods and homes are often mini war zones. Even when the surface seems calm, the attitudes underneath are far from benevolent or virtuous. It sounds easy sometimes—John Kennedy once said that “Our problems are man-made, therefore they can be solved by man.”** I have heard so many people, from major politicians to ordinary people, explain patiently that they are a person of goodwill, therefore, if the problem is explained rationally, then others will understand and cooperate.

We can see that it's not that simple. Even with a desire for a solution, we all come with differing experiences and expectations that we ourselves often don't recognize and understand. Someone who been cheated, for example, will read things into others' behavior that may or may not have any relationship to reality. In my business, state regulations require that we get a customer's signature on a repair estimate and approval of any necessary increases. Our customers' expectations may not match our estimates, and the discussion may not be peaceful. I remember a lady who came in one day with her husband's shopping list of items that averaged about $5-10 each. He had told her not to pay more than $2 each. Sometimes the problem is information, but people’s hearts are not that simple.

What makes it difficult is that from a Biblical point of view, our problems may not be man-made, and not solvable on a human scale. We see evidence throughout history and Scripture that there is evil in this world; the “prince of this world” does not promote true peace. Jesus told his followers that “In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Recently when a pushy customer was being loud and unreasonable out in the shop, I was led to pray hard for peace. And about an hour after the customer stomped out muttering threats, he came back, apologized for his behavior, and was willing to make peace. The change was in his heart. Even when we figure out the tricks our minds can play on us, recognition is only the first step in breaking the hold of longstanding hurts and reactions. Once again, we are back to a key choice: are we willing to give up whatever is interfering with the peace of our own hearts, and peace with the others in our lives? The track record of our ability to make peace on our own effort is not good; true peace comes from the Prince of Peace. 
*Baruch Spinoza, 1670
** “A Strategy for Peace” 1963                 


Thursday, September 12, 2013

Seeing Ourselves Clearly--by Linden Malki

"Pure" is one of the most powerful words out there. Everybody claims to want pure water, pure air, pure food, pure this, pure that. What do we mean by "pure?" That something is exactly, truly what it says it is. Nothing more, nothing less.

On the other hand, we tolerate a lot that isn't pure. Like the Peanuts cartoon where Linus reads a label and says "I'm not eating this. It's full of ingredients!" Pull a package at random off of your pantry shelf and see what's really in there; it can be scary. There are things that appear to be just what they say they are, but you could be surprised at the things that have little or none of whatever it wants you to think that it is. I found one label that listed a dozen possible ingredients it doesn't have, implying that their competitors' products have all this other stuff. Being curious about a cleaning product (which usually doesn't list its ingredients), I checked out the manufacturer's website, and discovered that the aerosol spray version, with the same product name, has totally different ingredients than the original liquid product. And that's part of the world we live in--most of the stuff in our lives are some sort of "products", all full of unknown ingredients.

What about us? How do we label ourselves, and how true is the label? What do we think is down there in our heart of hearts? "..God understands that part of us which is more than we think we are. A real problem for most of us is that this "more than we think we are" is not necessarily recognized as good. It is difficult for most of us to recognize, accept, and affirm those large areas of ourselves which are not compatible with the image of ourselves we would like to project, or which the world has taught we ought to project. Jesus was very clear about these projections, referring to those who projected them as 'whited sepulchres, clean and white without and full of dead bones and decay within'. ... But this is no suprise for the Christian. Two thousand years ago Paul of Tarsus admitted quite openly that the things he wanted to do were the very things he didn't do, and the things he didn't want to do were the very things he did. And yet Paul did not despair, nor drop out. ... when God took him by the scruff of the neck and shook him, he was able to let go, to let go of himself and his control of himself, and instead trust God, and experience a total reversal of his life." (Madeine L'Engle, Walking on Water).

Jesus said that the pure in spirit would see God. This works both ways: when we look at God, we see both what we are and what He has made us to be. It is the light of God that shines through us and shows up all the impurities. The best way to recognise the wrong ingredients is to let Him show us the right ones, and to understand how the other stuff leaves ugly dregs in the bottom of our glass. And the clearer and less clouded our spirit is, the better we can see God.

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Bread of Life--by Linden Malki

Yesterday, a customer in my store asked if we had any washers the size of a quarter. I asked what size bolt they were for, and he said the inside didn't matter. He "needed" them for a washing machine--for the quarter slot.  It seems like I hear this sort of thing all the time--people will say outrageous things with a straight face,  not interested in truth or fairness or right.  It seems that when some  people want something,  it doesn't matter who is paying, who is being inconvenienced, or even whose it is or what damage is caused.  The world seems hungry for everything except God.

One wealthy person, being asked "How much money is enough?" answered "Just a little bit more."  Our whole world is based on always wanting more--money,  stuff,  power.   There doesn't seem to be an end.   Every one of us probably has something that we want more of--gadgets, books, food, clothes, power tools--think about what catches your eye and tends to come home with you.  But do they really satisfy us beyond the moment?

Almost four hundred years ago. the French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal put it like this:  " There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus."

Jesus knew about hunger.  Part of His preparation for ministry was the experience of a 40-day fast.  At this point, His Adversary reminded Him that this hunger would be easy to fix--but Jesus knew that  the physical fix would be temporary.  On several occasions, He did feed large numbers of people bread, but the next day they were looking for Him, hungry again.  His answer to them was  that they should not "work for food that cannot last, but work for food that endures to eternal; the food that the Son of Man offers".  He had told them that those who hungered and thirsted for righteousness would be filled. What did Jesus offer to fill this need?   "I am the Bread of Life. He who comes to Me will never be hungry; he who believes in Me will never thirst."  The righteousness that aligns us with God is not something that we do in our own strength,  but Jesus Himself. On the last night of His human life, He gave Himself to His disciples--and His followers forever after-- in the form of bread and wine, which, as we eat, becomes part of our own bodies as His Spirit becomes part of each person that accepts this gift.