Thursday, April 24, 2014

FORSAKEN--by Linden Malki

Easter morning I heard two preachers speak on the same text: 2 Corinthians 5:21: "For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God." Up to this point, Jesus had never not been God. As God, He is immortal and has no sin; although He knew about sin because he knew us (John 2:25) and lived in our world, but that wasn't enough--so in order Him to die, the human part of Him had to be severed from the Godhead. (Hebrews 2:17-18) That cry from the Cross is more painful that we can image. It must have been worse than an amputation--not only for Jesus, but for God the Father as well--who also had never been without Jesus.

At this moment, Jesus was totally part if the human race--connected with everyone who had ever lived and would ever live--so he was dying every death that every human being had died or would ever die (Hebrews 2:9) Because He rose again in His true Body, we now have the potential to be part of His family. (Hebrews 2:10-11) It is however, an option--we are free to reject it. When we accept it, we also accept the Holy Spirit, the part of the Godhead which is the connecting link.

At the Community Easter Sunrise Service, Rev Joshua Beckley pointed out that St Paul didn't say "sins" but "Sin". In this context, it is talking about attitude: about rejecting belief in Jesus, in who He is and what He did. No matter how many good things we do, and how many bad things we do not do, God can't see them if He has not been a part of them. If we do believe, He can deal with "sins" if we let Him. As long as we are in this body, we have both the ability to connect with God, and our humanity. When the human body dies, the connection with humanity is lost, and if we have rejected the spiritual connection with God, He no longer can see us. That is a tough one to grasp! But if you don't know the Host, how can you expect a ticket for the banquet?

It's a little bit like an electrical circuit. As long is it plugged into the grid, it can power all sorts of interesting things. If it loses the main connection, it cannot be restored from the grid; it has to be reconnected from the user end. If we turn off the switch from our end, He won't override it; and when it is unplugged, the connection is lost. The grid can't even "see" it.

The other side of this coin is that if we are connected with God, He separates us from our sins forever! I was reminded of a Gospel chorus:

Down in the depths of the deepest sea.
Lie all the sins that belonged to me.
Buried for time and eternity,
Down in the deepest sea!  

(Norman J Clayton, 1946)

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Greatest Commandment--by Linden Malki

It is only when we truly love God that we can truly love anybody.  Jesus was quoting the Torah--already 1500 years old--when He said the greatest Commandment is "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength", and its corollary "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." A quick reminder is to see the word "Joy" as an acrostic of Jesus, Others, and then You. If we get these out of order, our world doesn't work the way it was created to be. Putting either other human beings or ourselves ahead of God not only doesn't let us tap into the power of God, but can easily become a trap and idolatry. No human being--any of us or anyone else, is up to God's fighting weight--and the "other team" knows it. 

A recent book * describes five ways that people act within a relationship.  The actual mix is different with different individuals, but each one of them plays a role in the relationship, positively or negatively, and if the mix is too divergent between those in a relationship, it can cause major misunderstandings.  In thinking about Dougie's message on Sunday and the discussion questions for the week, I realized that these also apply to our relationship with God, which reflects back on our human relationships.  Let's look at them:

Words:  What we say and how we say it can express love or its lack. An old proverb says that "sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me." This is so not true! Words can lift us up, or create deep hurts that will stay with us until we deliberately forgive, if ever.  It is important that we share the words each week that the Spirit lays on our hearts and minds.  St John wrote that "In the Beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Do we respect God's Word? 
Deeds: Do we do what God wants, or what we want, or what we think someone else ought to want?
Time: How do we use our time?
Gifts: How generous are we? Do we value God's gifts to us? Do we use gifts to please ourselves, God, or others?
Touch: Do we connect with God and others, or are we totally wrapped up in ourselves? Do we truly connect with God and others, or does our own gratification come first?

Look at these components of a relationship in the terms of the Great Commandment: Where is our heart? Do we feed our soul with God's Word? Do our actions live up to what we claim to believe about God and each other? What do we put in our mind? Do we apply our intelligence to the situation at hand, and think about what we say and do before we do them? Do we put forth an appropriate amount of effort in our relationships with God and others, or are we compulsive on one hand or lazy on the other? Where do we look for strength--or own efforts, other people, or God?  We can be lazy and dependent; aggressive and arrogant; or humble and cooperative--do we ask God to teach us how to make choices in our lives?  

*The Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Egypt: Frenemy of God's People--by Linden Malki

In Biblical history, Egypt was both refuge and trap--often at the same time.                         
  Abram was willing to listen when God told him to go to Canaan, but seems to have decided all by himself to go to Egypt during a famine. It seemed like a no-brainer..and it's not easy to really believe God can take care of you better than you can.  I have learned is that God doesn't prevent all the possible disasters that might happen to you, but He does get you through it.  One thing that did come out of this soap opera situation was that we read that Pharoah gave them, among other things, "male and female servants".  There is an Islamic tradition that Hagar was a king's daughter and  was originally intended as a wife for Abram before he admitted to being married.  That whole triangular situation was probably more complex than it appears. 

On the other hand, God did set the situation that got Joseph and then his family to Egypt--and then eventually out.  Egypt was actively trading and politicking in that whole area, and by the time of the Assyrian expansion in the 7th Century BC there was a Jewish community on Elephantine Island in the Nile near Aswan, complete with military outpost and operating Temple, the only other temple to perform sacrifices.  Archeological research has shown remnants of pagan practices there as well-which illustrates one of the problems--Egypt was both powerful and pagan.  We find in Isaiah 30 and 31, written when the Assyrians were besieging Jerusalem: "Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariots, and in the great strength of their horsemen, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel or seek help from the Lord.  ..But the Egyptians are mere mortals and not God; their horses are flesh and not spirit. When the Lord stretches out his hand, those who help will stumble, those who are helped will fall, all will perish together." 

A generation later,  King Josiah of Judah marched into battle between Egypt and the waning remnants of Assyria, despite messages from Necho, the king of Egypt, that God had told him that Josiah should stay out of the way.  Josiah (who was one of the "good kings" of Judah) went out to battle anyway and was killed.  At the time of the Babylonian conquest in 586BC,  Jeremiah was told that the people who were not taken to Babylon should stay in Judah, work the land and God would take care of them and they could rebuild.  (Jeremiah 42-44). However, the people didn't listen, led everyone to Egypt, by force if necessary, and continued the idol worhip that had gotten them into trouble back home. 

During the period of Alexander the Great and his successors, a large community of Jewish refugees and captives from Ptolemy's capture of Judea grew up in Egypt,  mostly in Alexandria. This became a very Hellenized, Greek-speaking culture, and it was in Alexandria that the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into the Greek version that is quoted in the New Testament.  It is not surprising that when Joseph was warned that Herod was looking to kill the baby Jesus that Egypt was their refuge. It is possible that they had relatives or connections there. Alexandria also had one of the first major Christian churches, founded by St Mark.  The Egyptian church became a large and vibrant community, but after the Muslim conquest of the 7th century, political and economic pressures made it a  minority by the 12th century. The Coptic Orthodox church in Egypt today lives under under pressure and persecution by the Muslim majority, has seen major emigration, and is now estimated at about 10% of the population. What had been a major Jewish subculture in Egypt was pretty well pushed out in this century, and is now estimated at less than 40, mostly elderly women.

Egypt and Israel's current uneasy coexistance is just the latest chapter in a long and entangled history.  There have been times that God used Egypt for His people's good, and many times Egypt was the exemplar of where people who should have known better turned their backs on God's words and thought they could solve their own problems.  It is today a place on the front lines of struggles between people who all claim to worship the same God.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

We've Been Redeemed!--by Linden Malki

The story of God's people is a story of redemption. We constantly find ourselves in bad circumstances; not necessarily  material poverty but often spiritual poverty. Noah lived among evil people, and by following God's instructions, was saved. Abram lived in a pagan culture, and knew that there had to be a better God.  God found him, and began a plan that developed over thousands of years.  Joseph was saved from slavery and imprisonment, and in turn saved his family--in spite of their having almost killed him. God redeemed their descendants through Moses--and a tough trip to a promised land.  We see Rahab and Ruth, natives of wicked and idolatrous cultures, recognizing God, being redeemed because of their recognition and commitment to God's people, and being adopted into the bloodline of the Messiah.

 We see repeated stories of His people getting off track.  We see them rescued from their aggressive pagan neighbors time and time again. We see the southern kingdom of Judah being saved from the Assyrians, and even though conquered by Babylon, redeemed under the Persians. In Persia, we see Esther redeem her people from the evil plotting of Haman. In other Jewish records, we see God using the Maccabees to rescue His people from the attempts to force them into idolatry. We see them waiting for redemption from the Romans--not realizing that God was less concerned about politics than hearts. We see Jesus reaching out to people,  offering each one of us redemption from the sin and cares of our lives.

The concept of "redemption" involves something that is owned or owed.  Leviticus 25 tells the people that even though God led them to a promised land, they do not own it: it is God's. They can use it, but not sell it--all they can sell is the use, like the ground leases that some Native Americans offer on their tribal lands. His people could not be made slaves; they could be servants but there was always a right of redemption.

God owns us--when we recognize this, He will redeem us and adopt us into the family we were created for. We tend to put ourselves and each other into cages we cannot find our way out of--but He can open them up and bring us out into His freedom.  However, one of the saddest stories in the Exodus is when the Israelites who had been raised in slavery looked back and yearned for the security of captivity.  The freedom of the desert was harsh! They were like a caged animal who is afraid of the outside, and paces back and forth inside an open gate.  Captivity is mental, as well as physical, and not always recognized.  But the freedom God offers is not anarchy,  the other extreme, but freedom within His safe boundaries.