Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Read the Instructions! by Linden Malki

It's a picture that we can identify with--people standing in a long line waiting for the Help desk. Looking at the context of Jethro's advice to Moses in Exodus 18, it is possible that Moses was deciding each question, case by case, as individual problems. The first step in the advice that Jethro gave Moses is "Teach them the statutes and the decisions; show them the way they must follow, and what their course must be" (Exodus 18:20). Without a consistent set of principles, you have to deal with every situation that arises on its own. Children are easier to live with and learn more effectively if parents and teachers have consistent and responsible expectations. In years of managing a business, I learned that procedures that are basic, simple and practical get followed better than theoretical systems that look good on paper but not so good in reality. 

First question: where do these statues, decisions, ways and courses come from? Moses has already said that the advice and decisions he gives come from God. Jethro is saying that Moses is on track with this, but he needs to educate the community as a whole, not one person, one crisis at a time. So in the next chapter, we see Moses moving his mob to the base of Mt Sinai, and preparing them as a community for an encounter with God. God tells Moses "If you obey My voice, and hold fast to My covenant, you of all the nations will be My very own, for all the earth is Mine." After all, He made it and knows better than we do how it’s supposed to work. Then Moses "summoned the elders of the people, putting before them all that the LORD had bidden him. Then the people said as one, All that the LORD has said, we will do." (Exodus 19:3-8) Note that God, and Moses, asked for a commitment to obedience before they were given the covenant; that it was not negotiated between equals but taken in faith that God was a lot smarter and more powerful than they were. Their faith was an obedience based on their knowledge of God. 

Then, and only then, in Exodus 20, does God call Moses up the mountain and outline the system.  It's pretty simple and straightforward; ten basic principles that, if everybody gets on the page together, will enable them to live together in peace. In fact, if done right, Moses' management team would have had an easy job. However, considering that God's creations are not puppets and have ambitions and ideas beyond their own capacities…we are still struggling to make it work.

God has given us a lot of leeway in how we deal with His commandments. On one end, we can make them a god in themselves, and become slaves to the letter of the law at the expense of His calling to charity and love; Jesus found that was where too many of His people had gone.  At the other end, we can decide we can't do it, don't want to do it, and then find out in the long run that we are are not as smart as we thought, and even find ourselves at the end of that long line outside Moses' tent. Look at the world we live in today;every day  what we see from our own homes and in our immediate neighborhoods to all the way across the planet, we see what I've seen described as "moral-free". And how many people do we see offering advice--good, bad, and scary? 

This is what Pastor Paul's JumpStart program is all about--answering the question that I once saw on a label right next to the plug on a small appliance: "Honestly--have you read the instructions?"

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The King's Speech--by Linden Malki

We were all created with a "thorn in our flesh" . Some of them are more visible than others.

Once upon a time there were two brothers. (Actually, there were more, but this story is about the oldest two.) The older one was the Golden Boy--handsome, a popular playboy,  knew he was going to grow up to be King.  Unfortunately, he was not necessarily a nice person; irresponsible, did not always make the best choices.  When it came time to live up to his heritage, he walked away.

The younger brother was the responsible one; did what his family needed him to do. His "thorn" was that he could not speak well; he had a stammer.  He also had a wife who found a speech therapist that was able to help him learn to speak well enough to do what needed to be done.  It might even have been the handicap that made him the person that was needed at the time.

At first glance, it looked like the younger brother was dealt the worse hand.  But with the right attitude, the right person by his side, and the right mentor,  this three-fold cord held in a situation that literally had the fate of the world at risk, and prevailed.  The younger brother, King George VI of Great Britain, ended his Christmas message in 1939, as Europe was descending into war, with this:

"I believe from my heart that the cause that binds together my peoples and our faithful and gallant Allies is the cause of Christian civilization.  On no other basis can a true civilization be built.   Let us remember this through the dark times ahead of us and when we are making the peace for which all men pray. A new year is at hand. We cannot tell what it will bring. If it brings peace, how thankful we shall all be. If it brings us continued struggle we shall remain undaunted. In the meantime I feel that we may all find a message of encouragement in the lines which, in my closing words, I would like to say to you: 'I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year , "Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown." And he replied, "Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light, and safer than a known way."' May that Almighty Hand guide and uphold us all."

Friday, July 11, 2014

God's Mosaic--by Linden Malki

Mosaics, built up one tile at a time, can be unique works of art. Human beings, created one DNA molecule at a time, are also unique. We are told in Scripture that we are created "in the image of God", so why are we not the same image? Think how big God is, bigger than everyone who has ever lived, or will live, put together. Imagine a mosaic, each one of us the image of a single tile, all together making an image of God. Each tile is comparatively small and different, but each is important to the whole

We are not only the product of our physical DNA, but we each have responded to outside inputs through our whole lives. Some things are inborn--not just our obvious physical characteristics but our temperaments and reactions. I have four children; they were all different from birth. One of them refused to eat on the hospital's schedule and screamed for 20 minutes--at 2 days old. She knows what she wants and goes for it. One of them took whatever was offered and went with it. . One of them would start out in a place that that was usually about five steps away from what she was really after. One of them would lay out what he wanted, and is very talented at getting people to go along with truly amazing things. Even my husband, whom I knew just about as well as anyone on the planet, was a different person with a different brain in a different head, and I learned that I could not expect him to think the way I did.

One of the reasons many people come to this country is that it is relatively open to differences. Many cultures in this world are very other-directed, and much of what is expected of people is forced from the outside into a fairly narrow range. One thing that is characteristic of such cultures is that a strong-willed person can mold those expectations in line with his own self-interest. Often there are habits and traditions that may not be healthy, but they've always been done that way and there is a lot of inertia behind them. And then, there are cultures and sub-cultures that become enamoured by change for its own sake, without adequate evaluation of the results.

It's easy to forget that we are all different, and see things differently and value them differently. We can judge narrowly by a single facet of a person, and give it too much weight, either negatively or positively, as if nothing else about them is of any value. Sometimes we haven't learned how to peacefully deal with differences. We once knew a man who was an honest, ethical, straightforward person, but had a terrible time keeping a job. He would get a job, but if asked to do something that he thought was wrong or dishonest, would refuse--in a way that usually ended up with "then I hit him and got fired."  On the other hand, we see people who are persons of good will, assuming that everyone, given the opportunity, will respond rationally and cooperatively. Unfortunately, they are often facing people whose motives and characters are not what they appear.

This is another place where we do not often understand the value of spiritual discernment. There are times when we need to pray against an evil that is working through someone we have to deal with. We can pray for people who are judging us--sometimes rightly, sometimes wrongly, in situations that we cannot handle on our own. We can hang onto an attitude at the expense of a relationship; God showed me some years ago that a cause of my own anger was usually self-pity.. We can listen to good friends who talk good sense into our lives. We not only have Jesus' example, but His strength, wisdom and presence. We can allow Him to make us the person we were created to be, and to appreciate His working in other people as well.  John describes Jesus in John 2:24-25: "He knew them [the crowd in the Temple] inside and out, knew how untrustworthy they were. He didn't need any help in seeing right through them." We can ask Him to show us who is open to Him, and who He needs to protect us against.

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Declaration--by Linden Malki

July 4, 1776 was a turning point in the history of our country. We are still today struggling with the implications of what happened that day. It had been almost 20 years in the making; actual battles over who lived where and what kind of society they were building had been going on since before 1760. Most of the colonists had come to America to do something or make something that was different than what they had been doing. It wasn't just Englishmen; there were Spanish in the south and west, French in the Mississippi Valley, Dutch in New Amsterdam (that became New York) who brought the stories of St Nicholas; Germans and Swedes in the middle colonies, Africans almost everywhere. They had come as farmers, entrepeneurs, religious refugees, adventurers and explorers, indentured servants and slaves. In some ways they had freedoms that they had not had "back home", but still they were not on their own; the strings were being pulled from London. The political philosophy of the day was "mercantilism;" the idea that colonies exist for the benefit of the home country. The Englishmen knew their rights as English subjects, but they were not being respected.

There is no such thing as "government". There are assemblages of people who have acquired power and influence, and their own ideas as to what a central authority could or should be doing or not doing. I am often reminded of I Samuel 8, when the Israelites come to him and ask for a King. Samuel gives the folks a laundry list of what a King will do. Up to this point, the Israelites had not had a central authority other than God, as revealed by prophets and judges. One reason the people gave for wanting a king was the incompetence and corruption of Samuel's sons. What they did not stop to think of was that people are people; kings are people, bureaucrats are people, leaders of all kinds are people, each with upsides and downsides. What the American colonists knew was that the people in England who had authority over them were not listening, did not think of the colonists as real people, created by God. One reason many of them had emigrated is because they were not getting economic opportunities or religious freedom back home. What was started in 1776 wasn't perfect, but it did set forth a recognition of God's creation and both the potential and shortcomings of real people. Can we recognize today that God has made all of us with potentials and problems that we cannot deal with well without His strength, guidance, faith, hope and love?