Tuesday, December 22, 2015

It Starts with a Baby--by Linden Malki

It is interesting that Christmas has become a major cultural celebration even among those who do not share the spiritual significance of the event, and may not even have historical roots in the tradition.
I think it is at least partly because babies are little and cute and non-threatening. In this time and place, we tend to be fascinated with babies as such; sometimes to the point of regretting their growing out of babyhood. This particular baby was seen more in terms of his destiny.

The first description we find is Gabriel's announcement to Mary, that "He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David..." (Luke 1:32-33.)

After Jesus was born, The angels told the shepherds "Today in the City of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:11)

In the Temple, when Jesus was taken for his presentation at eight days old, an old man named Simeon had been waiting for the Messiah. He told Mary that this child " is destined for the fall and for the rising of many in Israel; destined to be a sign that is rejected--and a sword will pierce your own soul too-so the thoughts of many may be laid bare." (Luke 2:34-35). And a prophetess named Anna: when she saw him, she praised God and "spoke of the child to all who looked forward to the deliverance of Israel." (Luke 2:38).

Joseph also had word that this child was no ordinary baby: "you must name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." (Matthew 1:21).

The most surprising prophecy was when "wise men" from the East showed up in Jerusalem, having seen a star that they believed was a prediction of the birth of a King of the Jews. When they found the house where the family was, they gave homage to the child and gave them prophetic gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

All these prophecies were beyond the family's comprehension at this time; but they were powerful enough to attract a different kind of attention. The puppet king of Judea, King Herod, hearing of the expectations associated with this child, responded by trying to kill the Him. Joseph was warned in a dream, and they fled to Egypt for safety, and stayed until after Herod's death.

People saw Jesus in many different ways during his earthly life; but the one thing they didn't see is what they expected of a Messiah--the hero on the white horse with legions of angels at his command. When God fulfilled His part of His Plan, it was totally in character: a baby, who was destined to grow up into the fulfillment of the prophecies. He came to grow up and live with people--ordinary people, who did extraordinary things after being touched and taught by the very Son of God.

We too are born as babies who depend on parents and others to help us grow into the people God designed us to be. When we are born again--spiritually--we also are not intended to remain spiritual babies, but to grow as Jesus was described: growing "in wisdom and stature, in favor with God and Man." As we enjoy this season when we remember God's great Gift of His Son, let us remember also Who He was sent here to become.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Created to Grow--by Linden Malki

Pine nuts (or pinion nuts) are widely used in Lebanese foods. Some years ago, my brother-in-law brought us some seeds for the pine trees that provide the nuts. I tried over and over to grow Lebanese pine trees. I could get them to sprout and grow into little Christmas trees about 10-15 inches tall, but  that's all. We gave seeds to friends with green thumbs, and I don't think any of them got anything bigger than that, either.  Somehow I finally got a few seeds to sprout in a flowerpot, and grow big enough to transplant it into a flowerbed.  Could never make it work again, but one of those sprouts grew into a big tree.  From what I can find out, these are similar to the Italian stone pine; they grow into an umbrella or lollipop shape with a conventional trunk and a round top. The flowerbed in question is a raised bed between a driveway and a fence, and the tree roots got big enough to crack the rock and cement retaining border, and the county fire inspectors required us to keep the lower limbs trimmed to about 10 feet above the ground.

Jesus used the illustration of a grain of mustard seed as a starting point for faith. This small seed can become a large tree; this is how God works. It's OK to start out small when we first learn about faith. Sometimes it never grows much more than houseplant size,  but is designed with the capacity to grow into a large and productive tree.  If you look at the way the world is made, all living things start small, as single cells. Everything in the universe is made of less than a hundred different kinds of atoms, and these are made of three basic smaller particles which interact in ways that we are just beginning to understand.

What does it take for a sapling to become a full-sized tree? Basically, air, water, soil  and light, all provided by the Creator.  The seed provides the startup nutrients; as it grows, the tree is able to suck up water and nutrients from the soil, and the miracle of preloaded internal programming that makes not only everything else the tree needs from water, air and sunlight--just make your own list of what all the environment gets back from the tree.

Last night I attended the graduation of a grandson from Biola University. This group of 200+ young people transitioning from dependents and students to adults, prepared to give their energy, effort, and expertise back to their communities and the wider world, was a great reminder that God creates us to grow.  We are all intended to grow from seedlings drinking in,  to disciples continually growing and giving back to God, each other, and  our world.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Door is Open--by Linden Malki

Once upon a time there was a father who worried about his son. Nothing newsworthy about that; as parents, worrying about your kids is part of the job. But sometimes it's worse than others.

This father didn't know where his son was or what he was doing. We don't know how old he was; could have been a bored teenager or a burned-out sufferer of midlife crisis. All we know is that the father was at least reasonably well-off, and that the son had , as they say in British novels, expectations. It has been said that nothing can mess with a family more than an inheritance, or the feeling of entitlement that comes with looking at your parents' bottom line and thinking......

One day the son stopped daydreaming and did something about it. He asked his dad if he could get his share of the family estate NOW. We don't know if he begged, or pleaded, or tried to sell Dad on the amazing opportunity that was just waiting for him to invest in a sure thing. if this were a traditional folk tale, the son (he was the younger one) would have gone off to seek his fortune, and been very brave and very clever and wound up on the top of the heap. This being more like the real world, and like people I have known, when he was out of his father's sight, he collected lots of friends that were only to happy to share his good fortune. The world has always been full of people who gravitate to easy money. It's also always been true that easy come, easy go, and even a big barrel has a bottom. And all those friends that were so willing to eat on your dime evaporate when the bucks stop flowing.

At least he looked for a job rather than panhandling, and was willing to take the worst job out there. And when he sobered up and got tired of sharing the pig slop, crawling home was better.

There have been those who see a righteous God as one who waits for you to trip so He can slam His door in your face. In this story, both the father and son truly understood the definition of "home": it's where you go that they have to let you in.

The father understood something the prophet Ezekiel had said: If the wicked man renounces sin and lives with integrity, he shall live; and one who renounces integrity to practice sin shall die. "Shake off all the sins you have committed against me, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. Why are you so anxious to die, House of Israel? I take no pleasure in the death of anyone--it is the Lord Yahweh who speaks. Repent and live!" (Ezekiel 18:31-32) It's not where you've been but where you end. When you turn your back on your stupidity and sin, and repent and come home, the Father's door is open.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

JACOB'S LADDER--by Linden Malki

In the old gospel song we sing  "We are climbing Jacob's Ladder, " but in the Genesis account,  Jacob did
not climb it.  In fact, we do not read of anyone climbing it from our end.   God sent angels down to draw Jacob's attention to Him.  In most of the world's religions, people are trying to climb that ladder with their own strength.  We do it ourselves, too.   But it is God who calls us; our responsibility is to respond.

In Eden, before their banishment, Adam and Eve walked with God as a friend, but still, He came to them.  God spoke to Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, the Judges, Samuel and the prophets; David & Solomon.  He spoke to others through the prophets.  He reached down when he spoke to others through the prophets.  He Himself came to us in the person of Jesus.

Jesus spoke of the blessings for those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.   Physical hunger and thirst are something we all experience. Think about how our physical bodies are nourished and strengthened.  The food and drink we need comes from outside ourselves; from God's creation.  We can't keep ourselves going by chowing down on our own flesh.  If we do not have access to food and water from outside ourselves, we cannot live very long. Every physical thing we have comes from God's created world. Not only what we eat, but what we wear, where we live comes from God's provision.   The air we breathe is given to us. All life on this earth depends on energy from outside, from the Sun.  If it were to somehow be cut off from us, everything would die.  There would be no heat, no rain, no wind, no days and nights. As St Paul told the Athenians, God is not dependent on anything that human hands can do for Him, since He can never be in need of anything ; on the contrary, He gives everything--including life and breath--to everyone. ... Yet in fact, He is not far from any of us, since it is in Him that we live, and move, and exist.  (Acts 17:24-29 JB)

And yet, we keep trying.  We bring offerings, which are but a portion of what He has given us.  We try to do things that we think with get us "points" with Him, when all He asks is for us to follow Him and allow Him  to make us into what He created us to be. (But of course this means doing it His way, not our own human way.)
We have seen far too much in our history and daily news of what can happen when we take it upon ourselves to be judge, jury and executioner, whether it is out of revenge or greed for power. Too often it has been in the name of God, thinking that He needs us to run His world.  We have even seen those who do not acknowledge God belittle our prayers, claiming that prayer is a waste of time when we should be "doing something."  The scary thing is that  "doing something"  is too often another case of playing God and making things worse.  The need for wisdom and clarity is very obvious in a very scary world;  we need to find His way and walk in it.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Reflection from tragedy

I was driving in my truck when Karen called to tell me there was an active shooter in San Bernardino.  My mind immediately went to my grandchildren, and their school.  Fear gripped my heart as prayers took form on my lips.  When Karen told me things were unfolding in the South section of our city my mind turned from my own grandkids to those caught in the midst of the moment.

Pastors and chaplains responded to the Rock Church where all of the occupants of the building were taken.  The shock and horror on the faces of the people getting off the buses told the story.  We spent our afternoon passing out water, and listening to the witnesses of the tragedy share their pain.

When I came home I was emotionally exhausted.  All I could think about was the families of the fallen, and wounded.  The looks on the faces of co-workers, friends, and loved ones had penetrated my own heart and deeply impacted me.

Life is so short, and so precious.  Just last week Karen and I were watching the news and talking.  I actually said, "Maybe it is good that we do not live in Washington, New York, or Los Angeles.  Who would want to attack San Bernardino?"

The error of my words remind us of the uncertainty of life.  Anything can happen, anywhere, at anytime.  We are not promised tomorrow.  I do not say that to frighten or depress.  My take away from this experience is very simple.  Be right with God through Jesus Christ so that when my earthly journey is over I can enter eternity with joyful expectancy.  Then, live this earthly life in love, service, and a spirit of humble forgiveness.  Love your spouse, kids, parents, and family.  Love your church family and community.  Pray for the nation, and the world.  Do what you can to make life better for those around you each and every day.

Take time to pray for those who lost so much this week.  Take time to pray for the first responders who did an amazing job.  Stop and tell a police officer, fireman, or medic how much you appreciate the daily sacrifice they make for you!  Pray for our leaders and military around the world that God would guide them and protect them as they serve to keep us safe!

One tangible step you can take is to attend your church this Sunday.
Gather with your community of faith.
Vote for God's plan with your presence.

If you worship at NorthPoint I will see you at 10:00 a.m. Sunday.

Peace and good will to you all,
Pastor Paul    

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Confessing our Thankfulness--by Linden Malki

Thankfulness is a state of mind, not that far from confession. In both, we are looking back analytically, but there are several ways we do this. For example, we can look at the Pharisee in Jesus's parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14). The Pharisee was thanking God for his success in life, which he saw as his just due for his own goodness, fueled by pride in his own efforts.
We see no appreciation for God's having had any part in this. He comes across as one of those who can be generous on his own terms, assuming that he knows best what everybody, God included, ought to want. We remember the Old Testament prophets who told the people that what God really wants is not the rituals and lip service that people actually offer in place of humility and justice. He's definitely at the point of "I'm OK and you're Not."

On the other hand, the tax collector is Not OK. He has the advantage, however, of knowing it. When he looks at his life he knows that it is not right, and he knows that he cannot fix it himself. This is what I've come to realize is the core of Jesus' message. It's not hard to find out what's OK. What's hard is admitting that we cannot do it on our own. The world is literally full of folks who think they're OK, that whatever they want to do is OK. Some of them think that their "feelings" are the guide; if it "feels right" they're good with it. Some of them think that as long as they define the rules and subordinate everything to their interpretation of that, they're OK and anyone who is not on their track is doomed. Sometimes they are just waiting for God to zap everyone and see the bad stuff that happens to people as God's judgment. We've all heard "God's gonna get you for that!" as if God is just waiting for us to slip off the rails. Sometimes they will go a step beyond it and supply the doom, and expect God to reward them for having picked up this ball and run with it.

To get back to the tax collector, Jesus sees him not only recognizing that he's fallen short of God's mark, but that what is OK is to ask for mercy. This is what God is waiting for--He can't fix us if we don't admit we're broken. This is what sends us home right with God. And this is what we should be thanking God for--the blessings that we don't deserve, the times He picks us up when we fall, the times that He pulls us out of the quicksand. We don't even know all the times that He goes before us. He does allow things to happen that we don't like, but my experience is that we do get help--but not usually what we expect or want, but what is the correct piece for the puzzle we're in. The best people to share Thanksgiving with are those who have seen God work in their lives, who can appreciate where God has taken us so far, and look forward to what He has next.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Humblest Man in the World--by Linden Malki

Moses was described as the most humble--the "meekest" man alive (Numbers 12:3).  This did not mean that he was weak, or wimpy, and he did have a few major problems with anger. After his blowup with the Egyptian overseer and forced exile, God spent 40 years making him into the man He needed.  From the hotshot at the Palace, he became a desert shepherd whose reaction to God's calling was to say he couldn't do it--but he did it anyway.   Later, when he came down from the mountain to find the people out of control, his first reaction was anger and frustration.  When God mirrored Moses' anger, Moses sobered up really fast, and did what I think God really wanted him to do--start thinking  rather than just throwing things.   There was nothing weak about Moses--the key is that he was willing to listen to God.

Moses' greatest legacy is what became called The Law of Moses.  Moses, however, never claimed credit for any more than listening to God and being His messenger.  The idea of Law wasn't new; there were already law codes in use by early civilizations at the time. One of the amazing things about this legal tradition is that it wasn't the work of a king or politician.  In fact, the ideal is that it had the capability to develop a community that didn't require a human king as long as the people took it seriously.  Of course, what happened is that the community that received it didn't live up to its potential, and finally asked for a king.  But even the Kings of Israel were held liable for following it themselves as well as leading the people in its way.

Jesus lived in a country under two sets of authorities: Roman law and the Jewish law.  He dealt with Jewish law by offering a way to live with it--with humility, recognizing human inability to follow it on their own, and offering mercy and forgiveness to those who want to do the right thing enough to turn over their self-will to God's will. He is not asking us to be weak--He is offering the strength to live up to God's calling for us. Jesus said surprisingly little about the politics of His world; paid his taxes as required, and at one time answered a challenge by recommending giving Caesar what he was owed, and God what He is owed. (There is, of course, the underlying understanding that that the land promised to Abraham actually belonged to God, as does the whole world.) Jesus refused to get drawn into politics beyond dealing politely with honest politicians and scathing with those who played the letter of the law into earthly status for themselves. 

The New Testament writers in general recommended going along with the local governments as far as was consistent with their calling to spread the Gospel, and not get hung up on the traditional law that did not lead to humility and service.  The classic opposite to this is Islam, which teaches that any law outside of God's law (as given to Muhammad) is blasphemous and idolatrous, and religious law cannot be altered or updated. What happens is confrontation between varying interpretations and traditions, most of which see the others as illegitimate. I don't forget a Lebanese friend some years ago pointing out that under Islamic law, Muslims can only legitimately be ruled by Muslims;  that non-Muslims have no rights or privileges under a Muslim government except as  granted them by Muslims, and land that has ever been ruled by Muslims is rightfully theirs forever.

We live in a country based on a respect for God's law but respect for individual  conscience  as well. This has always led to tensions, hopefully handled with humility. We need to remember that human governments make lousy churches, and churches make poor governments.  We need, as Jesus said, to be as "wise as serpents and harmless as doves." (Matthew 10:16) 

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Our Dangerous World--by Linden Malki

Friday's terrorist attacks in Paris were reminders that we live in a very troubled world.  They followed  major  attacks in Beirut and Baghdad earlier this week. We've become too used to the news out of the Middle East,  but when it hits the West, it gets our attention.  There were also similar attacks in Turkey last month, and Egypt a few months ago.  There is evidence that the recent crash of  a Russian aircraft in the Sinai desert was not an accident.

There are also the ongoing massacres and displacement of Christians and other minorities, and also rival sectarian communities.  And it's not the first time.  My father-in-law  fled Turkey as his people were slaughtered along with the Armenians before, during and after the First World War. All of these pale in comparison with the Holocaust of the 1930's and 1940's when not only six million Jews but also about the same number of Christians were  systemically killed.  And too many more, in too many different places, by too many perpetrators.

There was one posting from Paris that asks people NOT to pray for Paris. The claim is made that "religion" is the cause of it all.  I've heard claims like this for years, especially having been around the Middle Eastern cultures.  It is easy to say,  but my own observation is that too often, "religion" is a code word for tribe. It has always been a way that people distinguish "us" from "them, "  often with little attention paid to the actual content of the beliefs.  And too often, the teachings are "cherry-picked" for quotations (often out of context) that reinforce one's own prejudices and goals.

The whole existence of violence and injustice in this world does not have easy answers.  We hear things that are easy to say, but lead places that are not so easy to live with.  Scripturally, there is more support for protection and help to victims than self-protection.  Yes we should seek peace, but we do need to recognize that it is not necessarily valued by everyone, especially those who with a tradition of revenge--and they can be found in many places.

One of the side-effects of the horrors we ae seeing is that while there are people who use radical answers for their own ends, there are also those who are having their eyes opened to  dangerous realities, and are standing against evil.  

One thing we can do is to seriously pray against evil, and for those who are victims, and especially for those who are in strategic positions to influence events, on small scales and large.

This we do know: "In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33  NIV)

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Power of Spiritual Poverty--by Linden Malki

"Blessed are the poor in spirit.." seems like an odd kind of blessing!

The truth of  this statement has to do with the desires of the heart. We usually do not want to be poor! But one of the paradoxes of the Gospel is we need to have a spirit that is not obsessed with what the world values . "For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it, but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it. What them, will a man gain if he wins the whole world and ruins his life?" (Matthew 16:25-26)

The most influential people in the history of the Church have been ones who gave up the world for a life of worldly poverty but spiritual service. The first ones that comes to mind are the first followers of Jesus, who walked out of their previous lives to tell of what they experienced and learned about Jesus.

There have been many since who have recognized the power of the spirit of God, accepted earthly poverty and brought God's riches to our needy world. We see people like St Francis of Assisi, who walked away from family wealth and spent his life serving, teaching and discipling others to a life of radical service.

There is George Muller, the subject of a new book "Delighted with God", which tells the story of a man who demonstrated the power of faith. Starting in Bristol, England, in the 1830's, he established 117 schools and cared for over 10,000 orphans--without ever asking anyone for money but depending totally on God to provide the finances necessary.

In our own times, Mother Teresa was moved by the plight of the poor and homeless of India, and later in other parts of the world, and not only ministered personally to those in need but trained and discipled others to follow. In fact, we find in most stories of radically selfless followers of Jesus, they not only served hands-on themselves but also  developed followers who worked with them and carried on the work.

Not all of us are called to totally drop out of our lives in this way, but we are all called to recognize our own spiritual poverty and learn to live through God's spiritual strength wherever He calls us.

Where is your treasure?

Saturday, October 31, 2015

He is Risen Indeed! by Linden Malki

Peter was running on pure Spirit-power, that day in Jerusalem. And he had the most important message: "Fellow Israelites, listen carefully to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man thoroughly accredited by God to you—the miracles and wonders and signs that God did through him are common knowledge—this Jesus, following the deliberate and well-thought-out plan of God, was betrayed by men who took the law into their own hands, and was handed over to you. And you pinned him to a cross and killed him. But God untied the death ropes and raised him up. Death was no match for him." (Acts 2:22-24 The Message)

After watching and learning, Peter began to "get it." We see Jesus putting him on the spot: "And how about you? Who do you say I am?" Simon Peter said, "You’re the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God." ( Matthew 16:15-16 The Message) But even after seeing what he'd seen, and hearing what he'd heard, it wasn't enough. When the chips were really down, we see this: "Aren’t you one of his disciples?"He denied it, "Not me." One of the Chief Priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, said, "Didn’t I see you in the garden with him?" Again, Peter denied it. Just then a rooster crowed. "(John 18:20-27 The Message)

This is where it begin to really change for Peter and the others: " Peter and the other disciple left immediately for the tomb. They ran, neck and neck. The other disciple got to the tomb first, outrunning Peter. Stooping to look in, he saw the pieces of linen cloth lying there, but he didn’t go in. Simon Peter arrived after him, entered the tomb, observed the linen cloths lying there, and the kerchief used to cover his head not lying with the linen cloths but separate, neatly folded by itself. Then the other disciple, the one who had gotten there first, went into the tomb, took one look at the evidence, and believed." (John 20:6-10 The Message)

After the Ascension and the Pentecost experience, Peter knew what was really important. This is what he wrote after years of serving Jesus: " What a God we have! And how fortunate we are to have him, this Father of our Master Jesus! Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven—and the future starts now! God is keeping careful watch over us and the future. The Day is coming when you’ll have it all—life healed and whole." (1 Peter 1:3-5 The Message)

Jesus has a well-deserved reputation as a great teacher; but this is not be enough to explain 2000 years of changed lives. It's worth listening to what He said because of what He did and who He is--the risen and living Lord. There is a story from the early days of the USSR, when a Communist activist had given an impassioned speech against religious belief. A priest in the audience (probably required to be there) asked to speak a few words. They were "Christ is Risen!" To which most of the audience replied, as their automatic response, "He is Risen Indeed!" Fast forward--

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Happy 20th Anniversary at Calvary/NorthPoint, Pastor Paul! -- by Linden Malki

I am constantly amazed at the lengths God goes through to connect people. Some years ago at Calvary there was a family who had two daughters the age of my girls, and they were in Sunday school and church groups with us. One of the girls later worked in the office at Sunland First Baptist Church. She heard from her mom, who was our church secretary at the time. that our church was in the pastoral search process. Marcia had kept in touch with a previous staff person at Sunland, who had gone on to seminary back East, and had graduated and wanted to move back to California. Marcia gave her mom the info, and the rest is the history that we are celebrating this evening. There are only two members of the search committee that researched and recommended Paul Reinhard to our congregation who are still here in the church--Gary Yetter and I--so if you want to blame someone, you can start with us.

I've been on the Ministry Board with Paul for a good part of the last 20 years, and it's been an interesting experience. Like almost every other pastor I've known since high school, he's been the patient recipient of comments and questions on sermons or classes. He's lucky that he doesn't have to deal with my handwriting any more, now that we have email. Paul's pretty good with computers, sometimes he's too good--every now and then my phone gets clogged with group messages that come in faster than I can answer them and my poor little dinosaur phone spits my unfinished replies into a stacked-up draft file.

We've been through some tough stuff in the past 20 years. I was church treasurer during the worst of the financial disaster of the fire and insurance collapse. We both spent way too much time dealing with the poor soul at the credit union who got stuck with us. The loan person I originally dealt with told me that our application had the biggest faith factor of any load he'd ever recommended.. Over the last 13 years, we've skated on some thin ice, but praise God, never gone completely under. One of the good days was when TM sent us a significant chunk of money as a grant. and an even better day was when Paul and I went as guests to a TM board meeting to pay it back with a bonus when we got our first partial payment from the trustees of the insurance company's liquidation.

Probably none of us know how many zillions of hours that rebuild project cost Paul. I got a glimpse of it when they finally sent the adjuster back to review our paperwork. Paul and I spent a couple of days with paperwork all over the conference room table, because the adjuster wanted an explanation of each of the 79 change orders that came up during the construction. Paul could describe each of these, having been there almost every day for the more than three years of planning and rebuilding.

The city was another thorn in our flesh as well; we're not surprised at the delays The Way is experiencing. One of the most annoying whas when an inspector decided that our second-floor baptistry, which had been approved in the original design stage at least a year earlier, was not "handicapped accessible" within his definition. After about a month when the whole thing got put on hold, Paul called the inspector's supervisor one evening and told them that if this wasn't settled immediately he was going to call the reporter from the Press Enterprise who had been reporting on our project. By the end of the conversation, it was agreed that the baptistry was not a public space within the meaning of the rules.

In the spring of 2008, Paul and I went to a leader training seminar for L3. One workshop involved developing ministry programs, and Paul's dream project at the time was training small group leaders and coaches. We didn't follow up on it at the time, but a few years later Paul's D.Min final project was a mentoring program. His next step is an upcoming John Maxwell training program designed to stretch him in whole new directions growing out of where he's been .

It's been a rough road; the best writer in the world couldn't have dreamed up where God has taken us.
Look out world, here we come!
From the 20th Anniversary Celebration 10/23/15

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Love Story--by Linden Malki

God is Love--and He made us to love Him and each other; that men and women were made to love and become "one flesh".  When St Paul in his letters commands husbands to love their wives, he is not saying anything new; he is drawing on this very old pattern.  We see Abram/Abraham's love for his wife--that even when she had no children, he still did not send her away, which would have been common in his situation, and only took Hagar on Sarah's instigation.   We are told that Isaac loved Rebekah at first sight; and years later, he found himself in a situation where he was afraid to say she was his wife, thinking that Abimelech, a Philistine king, might kill him to get her.  What blew that story was that when Abimelech saw them together it was obvious what their relationship really was. 

One of the amazing love stories in the Bible is Jacob, who worked for fourteen years to earn the right to marry Rachel, and was inconsolable when she died, even though he had a houseful of available women.  In the story of Ruth, Boaz shows  his love for Ruth.  At the beginning of the story of Samuel, Elkanah tells Hannah of his love for her. 

We read that God not only commands the Israelites to love Him, but also expresses His love for them. He explains in the incident where Balaam is hired to curse the Israelites on their exodus trek through the wilderness, that "Yahweh your God turned the curse into a blessing for you, because Yahwah your God loved  you." (Deut 23:5 Jerusalem Bible). We see the relationship between God and Israel expressed when King Solomon was told, "Blessed be Yahweh your God who has granted you His favor, setting you on the throne of Israel. Because of Yahweh's everlasting love for Israel, He has made you king to deal out law and justice."  By the time of Hosea, God is describing Israel as an unfaithful wife,  who turns her back on the covenant given them by God and messes around with the idols of their neighbors.  Unfaithful--but still loved.

And then Jesus came into a Judah that had finally gotten the rules down, but had somehow forgotten the reason: God's love. Jesus makes it clear from the beginning that He has come to restore the relationship, staring with John 3:16-17.

We see Jesus' referring to Himself as the bridegroom, and implying that His followers are the bride. In the final act of the drama,  in Revelation 21, we have the image of the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, where the Family of God is complete.

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Law of God (Part 3) by Linden Malki

Islam is all about Law. In fact, the main characteristic of the Islamic community is total submission to the Law as revealed to Muhammad. As an Indonesian former Muslim put it, "In the Quran, Allah is depicted as the Creator who is not only far above the world he has made but also far from every human being. He is the one who keeps an accurate record of our deeds so that he can recompense us with final rewards or ultimate punishment on the last day. This filled my heart with terror and dread, for I knew I had often fallen short of the requirements of true virtue and righteousness. ... Each one of us has to face judgment alone, on the basis of his own achievements and failures. ... I learned long passages from the Quran and I learned all of the prescribed ritual prayers [which can only be said in Arabic, even by those who do not speak the language]. ...Nothing was more important to me as the final preparation for the final judgment. My constant preoccupation was the fulfillment of the will of Allah in my daily affairs." (p28-29, The True Path, Mark Hanna)

There is very little mention of forgiveness in what I have read of Islamic tradition. The second day of the Hajj (the Pilgrimage to Mecca that takes place yearly and is one of the five "Pillars of Islam"--every Muslim is expected to make at least one Hajj in his lifetime--is devoted to repentance and prayers for forgiveness, but the final question of forgiveness is made by Allah himself at the final judgment, and the only hope for mercy is in his hands alone.

The idea of forgiving each other is not often seen. Offense is taken easily and grudges last forever. The law itself is enforced by the community and the family. A traditional Islamic state's main function is to support the law, and the honor of the family depends on its everyone's right behavior. Even a suspicion can lead to beating, or even execution in order to restore the reputation of the family and community. There is much judgment and little mercy shown, although it is not uncommon for a male to be judged less harshly than a female.

It has been claimed that Islam is a "religion of peace." The difficulty is that in the Islamic tradition, there can only be peace when the whole world is in submission to Islam. In practice, there is little peace even in the Dar al-Salaam, the world of submission to Allah; there have always been rivalries and tensions between factions within this world.. Even in today's world, there is not only persecution and attempted genocide of unbelievers, but between factions of Islam itself.

My husband grew up in Lebanon and Palestine (before Israeli statehood).His parents were from historic Christian communities, but they lived within the Muslim environment. He commented once that many of the Middle Eastern immigrants that he knew in America "lost their manners" when they got here. It wasn't as much a basic change in their personalities, but a large part of their behavior back home was determined and enforced by the environment--even among Christians. When they left the environment, they lost the rules they had grown up with, and didn't have the internal rules that is the Christian ideal. (Yes, many American Christians' behavior is imposed from the outside, as well, unfortunately.)

Islamic law does not allow tolerance of "infidels" except in special circumstances. Christians and Jews have limited respect as ones who have holy books that are precursors of Muhammad, but are second-class citizens in Islamic countries and are subject to much restriction. It is not proper for non-Muslims to have political power over Muslims. Muslims living in the Dar al-Harb (house of war, the part of the world not yet submissive) are allowed some compromise as a temporary expedient, but are expected to work toward expanding toward power.

Studies and interviews with Muslims in the West have described people who resent the freedom of the Western cultures, and find that the temptations of freedom undermine their attempts to live by to Islamic law, and they develop a resentment of us "infidels". The 911 terrorists fit this pattern, and many of those who have left the West to join ISIS have expressed a wish for the security and purity of the enforced observance of their law.

Muslims are taught that our Bible has been tampered with and is not reliable; and that Jesus, who they recognize as a prophet, cannot be the Son of God. It is illegal in Muslim countries to preach our Gospel to Muslims, and a convert from Islam to Christianity or Judaism is subject to imprisonment (until they convert back) or death, which can be enforced by a convert's family or community. Even still, there is an increasing response from Muslims who hear about a God that can be known and a Savior who can forgive and change lives. Do our own lives show our appreciation of the God we know and the Jesus who saves?
(Part 3 of 3)

Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Law of God (Part 2) by Linden Malki

Jesus grew up with the Law-but He was harassed and crucified in the name of the Law.
The early Church struggled with the issue of Law, and there there is still no universal agreement on the place of Law in the life of a church and people.  The break with rabbinical Judaism came over the issue of Law.  The basic moral and ethical principles of all three Abrahamic traditions are very similar; the differences are in the details,  interpretations, and custom.  The huge differences between Jesus' teaching and the codes of Moses and Muhammad is in attitude. Observant Jews and Muslims try very very had to do it all by the Book and the associated traditions.
 Jesus knew and respected the Law, but He recognized and dealt with the knowledge that God's creation--free people-- are not able to fully and perfectly live up to it. 

When we are first told of a new rule, regulation or requirement, what is our reaction to it? First, it depends on where it comes from.  Do we respect the source? Do we agree with and want to cooperate with it? If so, all is good and we have few problems going with the program.  Think back to Abraham: God came to him and offered him a relationship and a covenant.  God chose Moses and Joshua, and they established the relationship between God, and the people they led, and then asked the people to ratify the covenant they were being offered.

There is always the choice to reject the rules. It might be ignorance, stupidity, laziness,  defiance,  rebellion, and any of the "seven deadly sins" :pride, envy, wrath (anger), sloth (laziness), avarice (greed), gluttony, lust.  It can be outside influences--there are personal, social and spiritual forces that are do not have our best interests at heart.  As individuals and a community what do we do with this rejection?  All three traditions believe that the ultimate Judge is God.  There are examples in Scripture of God's judgment being immediate and unmistakable.  There are times when the real world provides consequences. Political or social  authorities may be called upon to provide consequences.  In some cases, individuals feel called upon to provide consequences. Part of the job of parenting is to teach and enforce appropriate rules. Church communities have had varying responses to this question--some church communities have had the politcal power to supply judgment. The main the  principles of  God's Law are necessary for a safe and civilized society, and require enforcement as the community. One question is drawing this line--different communities draw it in different places, and this there are "hot button" questions we face in today's world as to community enforcement vs personal responsibility vs letting God deal with it, now or later.

St Paul, who was the equivalent of a PhD in Jewish Law, spent his early adulthood as an "enforcer" of what he believed to be his responsibility to God. I believe that the reason that God chose to change his life was that He recognized that Saul of Tarsus truly wanted to obey God. Getting to know Jesus as the Son of God taught him that Law was inadequate to bring us into harmony with God; that Jesus was the Way to overcome what a hymnist called "our bent to sinning" and to be released from the consequences of our inevitable failures.  Jesus pointed out that there were two Commandments underpinning all Law: totally loving God and loving our neighbors. Committing to the Godly way to live by both of these changes us for eternity.

(Part 2 of 3) 

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Law of God (Part 1) by Linden Malki

Every human community that has ever existed has some sort of rules.  It may be as minimal as a high tolerance of anarchy, or the most rigid totalitarianism.  Even at the minimum, there has to be some sort of consequence to intolerable behavior.  The question is one of defining "intolerable" and "consequence".  Where do the rules--and the consequences--come from?

 In the very beginning of our history, we see God giving Adam and Eve one assignment and one warning.  As long as he took care of his wife and of the Garden, all was well.  But then God gave them the choice of obedience--and we know what happened, and the consequences.  We see then, and now; in the history of every human community and in our own experience, that we are capable of obedience and of defiance.  We see the two sides of mankind in Moses' final message to the Israelites as they are finally approaching the Promised Land:  " I set before you today a blessing and a curse; a blessing if you obey the commandments of Yahweh our God that I enjoin on you today; a curse, if you disobey the commandments of Yahweh your God and leave the way I have marked out for you today.." (Deuteronomy 11:26-28, Jerusalem Bible)  Very simple--but not easy in practice! 

The Jewish community has struggled with this for 3500 years now; first with judges and prophets, priests and kings. The kings were not religious leaders; they were supposed to be God-fearing examples, but the primary responsibility for the worship of God was the tribe of Levi.  The first king, Saul, was from the tribe of Benjamin; David and his successors were from Judah.  The kings of the northern Kingdom of Israel were a motley lot of who knows who; very few dynasties lasted more than a generation or two, and none of the political authority survived the Assyrian conquest  just 300 years after the northern tribes rejected Solomon's son Rehoboam.  There were only three times  Israel was something like an actual theocracy--rule by religious authorities. One was the period of the Judges, whose job was to interpret the Law and settle disputes.  Another was after the return from Babylon; Nehemiah was an appointed provincial governor who worked closely with the religious establishment.   The last was the period of the Maccabees (165-63BC) when the rulers were a priestly family.   The new nation of Israel is the first self-governing Jewish community since 63BC,  and they struggle with the relationship between a modern democracy and a long tradition of religious law.                                                                                                                  

By the time of Jesus, the Jews had learned to take God's laws seriously; in fact, almost too seriously. Jesus pointed out that they too often were compulsive about small matters and compromising in the big stuff. If you look at Jesus' reactions to the "sinners" that the religious establishment brought to Jesus for judgment, we see that He was more interested in transformation than condemnation.  He did, however, show no patience with overt,  determined evil. In only one case did he actually take action--when the Temple itself was being used for unholy greed.  As the early Church, following Jesus, the Apostles and St Paul, moved away from the obsession with Law and stressed the grace and mercy of God as demonstrated in Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. In contrast, the Jewish rabbis and scholars went the other direction and went even farther into Law--spending several hundred years studying, discussing, and looking for ways to insure the Law could be meticulously observed, to the point of expanding the law to remove the possibility of even getting close enough to prohibited behavior to transgress.  Orthodox Jews recognize 613 commandments, and some communities have gone beyond that.  They are seen as obligations of their own people; they do believe that  the rest of us are obligated to follow the seven laws given to Noah after the flood,  but that this is our own responsibility before God.
 (Part 1 of 3)

Monday, September 21, 2015

A Muslim President?

Dr. Ben Carson ignited a firestorm this week by suggesting a Muslim U.S. President would create conflict within our Constitutional form of government.  People from both sides of the political isle railed against his bigoted and Muslim-phobic world view.  Sadly, their hysterical shrieks revealed a frightening and potentially dangerous lack of study on their part.
African Muslim thinker and writer Nassim Kamdar writes in his book 
Shariah-The Best Kept Secret...
"Parliamentary Democracy is theoretically a brilliant form of Government, but only to those who believe that man has the power to make his own laws (those who worship themselves) and actively promote that world view. A pre-requisite for it's establishment is rebellion to God and His exclusive authority."  Kindle Location 96
Hamed is the resident theologian at the Islamic Studies Center in Dubai, UAE.  Last month I had the privilege of attending Friday prayers, and enjoying a four hour lunch with Hamed.  He invited me to ask any and all questions regarding Islam.  At one point in our lunch I took out my Kindle and shared Nassim Kamdar's quote.  I explained my understanding of the issue, and asked Hamed if he agreed.  This is what he told me.
The Quran, the life of Muhammad the Prophet, and Shariah Law form the basis for Islamic faith and practice.  They see Law as divinely inspired and revealed by Allah.  The role of clerics, leaders, and courts is to apply the Shariah justly in a contemporary context.  American Democracy is based upon laws passed by leaders elected by the populace.  While American Democracy is "of the people, by the people, and for the people" Shariah is just the opposite.  American Democracy is bottom up.  Islam is definitely top down.  The very thought that humans should create their own laws is offensive to the mind of a Muslim committed to the supreme revelation of Allah.  How can humans create what Allah has already given?
I would encourage those who are angry with Dr. Carson to do some more studying.  His comments were not offensive in there nature.  They were simply challenging to those unaware of Islamic teaching.  How could a devote Muslim, who believes one true Law was given by Allah, function in a Democratic system where men enforce man made laws?  There is a built in philosophical juxtaposition.
Just to muddy the waters, I must add that I am challenged by the words of Hamed and  Nassim as I watch America's elected officials passing laws that defy the historical teaching of the Old and New Testaments.  American law is built on British Common Law that built on the Bible.  What will American Christians do when their elected officials pass laws that conflict with their faith?  That is another blog for another day!
As I continue to study the Quran and Shariah Law, I am persuaded that most political leaders in America do not yet understand the questions they are busy trying to answer.  I write this as a committed follower of Jesus Christ who has a growing conviction that Christians and leaders in America need to understand Islam.  It will be a key economic, sociological, and military topic for decades to come.  We, the West, must be ready and willing to respectfully and knowledgeably engage it!  If we do not, we will pay a terrible price for our ignorance!
Pastor Paul

Friday, September 18, 2015

Dead to the World--by Linden Malki

NEW! NEW!  is considered the most powerful marketing tool out there. What is there about "new!"  One suggestion I recently ran across is that many of us are looking for something outside of themselves to fill a discontent inside. What actually happens is that New! wears off and the discontent is still there. Reaching for Newer!  doesn't help in the long run, either. In today's world, we see lots of advice to try this! try that! have experiences! push the limits! You can wind up with a lot of stuff, a lot of disappointments, hurts, betrayals and pain. We can wind up with stuff we don't need, never use, just clutters up our lives. We can have people in our lives that don't fill the empty spaces, and entice us into places and things that leave us with scars and a resume full of disasters. There are people who try to use us to fill their empty spaces. In the long run, people will leave us one way or another, and we will leave people as well.   It has been said that "none of us get out of this world alive", which is true of our physical, mortal bodies.

Most of us human beings want a lot out of life. What did Adam and Eve want?  They wanted to "be like God"--which is a noble ambition. The problem is that they were looking in the wrong place.  Think about it: they had God readily available in a sense that we will not know on this earth.  But who did they ask? A being who rejected God, in the form of a passing snake, who pointed the way of rebellion rather than imitation. They had been told that defiance would lead to death.  It did--you could say that in some way we are all dead.  Some of us are spiritually dead, and recognize nothing beyond this world; and some of us are dead to this world, and alive with Christ.                                                                                           

There is an old spiritual that starts "This World is Not My Home"  which is an amazing truth.  We were not originally created for this world, and it is not ultimately satisfying.  If we insist on living our own life our own way, we are dead to a life beyond ourselves.  If we are willing to die to this world, we will be raised with Christ to the life we were created to live.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

WHAT IS A CHURCH?--by Linden Malki

    What's the first thing you think of when you hear the word "church"?  In most cases, an image of a building comes to mind--a little country church with a steeple; a large cathedral, or a building you know personally.  It's a good thing to feel a connection with a place that you associate with worshiping and serving God, and to want to give it the best possible care--as long as the place itself does not become a distraction and idol between you and God. Cleaning the building can become a substitute for cleaning up your life and attitudes.

"Churches" do not necessarily need a building--the early church transitioned from groups of believers meeting in the Temple to meeting in homes, outdoor or community space, and even in underground spaces.  It was later, as the communities grew and became more socially acceptable that special buildings began to be built. As the church spread into more areas, most of the young communities began life in homes, throughout the history of the church. My grandfather in Sweden became a member of an illegal house church, and was kicked out of his home by his father.  He later went on to build church buildings in Washington and Oregon in sawmill towns he built, which are still in use.  There are still places in today's world where Christians meet in secret places, but it is interesting that they do feel the need to meet and worship as congregations.

The other extreme is the idea that one doesn't need a church to be a Christian.   I recall a major political figure some years ago who said that he felt he could worship just as well on a horse in the mountains as in a church (but still promoted school prayer.) Yes, you can feel the presence of God in the beautiful places He has made, but there are things you miss out on. Church communities, like any human group, have stresses and strains because we are human, but a healthy Christian community has the Spirit which works to make us more than human. Looking at the earliest church, there are several things that are still being done that can only be done in community (not necessarily in a special building)--communion, which was commonly held in homes, and baptism, which requires at least two people--and usually has the added significance of welcoming the new believer into the community.

Calvary Baptist Church (now NorthPoint Christian Fellowship) wasn't born in a church building. The organizational beginning was a group of concerned Christians who met in the basement of the local YMCA to commit themselves to becoming a church community, 90 years ago next month.  Over the next few years, they met in several other local facilities before settling in a church building at 19th and E streets. When that building was felt to be an inadequate space for their ministry, they built the original sanctuary building on Sierra Way, dedicated in 1964. (The only building on the property before that was the quadraplex building on the north edge of the property, which was remodeled into offices and educational space. )  That was followed by the Children's Building, then Fellowship Hall, the modular building on the east side behind the Children's Building, and the Infant Center, built with the school that was on campus for some years.

The Sierra Way property is a beautiful church, dedicated to the service of God.  This doesn't mean that it has escaped the attention of forces opposed to this ideal. We have had the sanctuary fire, the hassle of rebuilding, the financial stresses of the fire insurance company's bankruptcy, and the financial issues at the school that resulted in its closure. Now, after five years of rebuilding our community at the Elks Lodge, we are back at Sierra Way, seeking to use this facility for His glory, not ours.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

GOD SPACE--by Linden Malki

According to Google, the largest church in the world is in Ivory Coast. The largest church building, that is; renown for not only its size but its beauty. . It is the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace, in Yamoussoukro.  It was built by the insistence of founding President of Ivory Coast, Feliz Houphouet-Boigny, in his home town, which he named as the national capital,  in 1985-1989. It was dedicated by Pope John-Paul II in 1990.  This was one of the only two times the church was full; it has 7000 inside seats, each with its own airconditioning, and standing room for 11,000 more.  The other time was at President  Houphouet-Boigny's funeral in 1994. It is said to have an average worship attendance of about 350 people.

On the other hand, the Works and Missions Baptist Church in Abijan couldn't get all of its members under one roof if they tried--they have an estimated 250,000 members spread over not just Ivory Coast but other parts of Africa and Asia.  Their core organization is the house church, and goes up through training classes. spiritual gifts classes, evangelism, worship, deliverance and more. (This is the church Pastor Paul recently visited  for their 40th anniversary celebration. See NorthPoint Christian Fellowship Facebook for lots of pictures!)

We, as a church that is coming up on 90 years old this October, have experienced small spaces and big buildings; small numbers and larger numbers. We know what it is like to have the demands of a building sap our energy. Can we keep the goal of having God-honoring space and and the goal of sharing God with people, aligned properly, with each one supporting the other?

Saturday, August 29, 2015

ARE WE RICH?--by Linden Malki

 What does it take to get rich?  We're  surrounded by what we think of as the rewards of riches; all sorts of things to spend money on.  There are studies showing, however, that the more choices we have, the more time we can spend on evaluating all the possibilities, and finding less enjoyment  with what we do finally choose.

  Assuming that we're starting from Ground Zero, there is all kind of advice out there.  Saw one the other day that boiled down to: Work hard, long hours; live cheap; develop your mind,  and never lose track of your goal. We do live in a world that requires work, one way or another.  Sounds a little like the cost Adam paid, doesn't it?

It's the last item that draws the line between the world and God.  What is the goal?  We often focus  our time and attention on  getting rich as a guarantee of security.  How secure is this? Paul advised Timothy, who apparently was dealing with this issue in his congregation in Ephesus,  "If it's only money that these leaders are after, they'll self-destruct in no time. Lust for money brings trouble and nothing but trouble.  Going down that path, some lose their footing in the faith completely and live to regret it bitterly ever after." (I Timothy 6:9-10, The Message)

He doesn't mean just that money can come, and money can go.  Even if the money is there, "losing your footing in the faith completely" is, in the long run, scary--even with money in the bank.  Or as Jesus once put it, "what do you gain if you lose your soul?"

Can we keep our eyes on God,  earn the rewards of being good and faithful servants, and build a treaury that will last forever?  

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Life of Choices--by Linden Malki

Choices can be tough--but they are a constant fact of life. Especially in our society, we are constantly faced with decisions.  And more to the point, we are unavoidably faced with the results of our decisions. 

Some of the decisions we make have long-term results, and may eliminate others.  The major example is a decision to follow Jesus.  if taken seriously, it will keep us out of many major pitfalls. It will also bring other issues in our lives in sharper focus.  We are also provided with not only the instruction book, but with relationships with others on the same path, and with God-in all three Persons--Himself.

The whole concept of "choices" tells us something about God.  If you chase the concept of "chosen" in Scripture, you find both that He has chosen to interact with His creation; and that He wants us to choose to interact with Him.  And our response is a choice that will determine  our life here and forever.

I have heard believers in God who see Him as too big and overwhelming to deal with minor details like us. The evidence that we have, however, of God's Personhood and His desire to love and care for us, includes records of a whole bunch of folks over thousands of years--not just ancient documents, but historical records of real people, including some we may even personally know; not to mention our own experiences.  Choice is part of God's DNA, and  our responsibility  as creatures made in His image.

In addition to the obvious, major decision points that we have faced, some of the stickiest results of our choices are those that are not matters of life and death, or of major commandments, but things that we really wanted and that seemed logical and good at the time.  I find that not having thought things through enough, or paid attention to little warning flags in my brain, or not knowing enough, can create situations that may have repercussions down the line that drastically limit my options; or even bring something to a painful end.  This may not be completely negative;  there are good memories and good lessons.  But then my prayerful response is: OK, God,  how do I get through this, and where are You taking me from here?

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Pass the Salt!--by Linden Malki

Salt has been recognized as essential to life just about as long as we have historical records. The land that became Israel was blessed with mineral salts, both rock salt cliffs and sea water that can be (and still is) evaporated into salts. In addition to the practical, everyday uses for salt, its significance and value is reflected in some important ways. It is included in the recipe given to Moses for the incense to be used in the Tabernacle worship, and the sacrifices brought for worship were to have salt added to them. (I wonder if the fact that salts add colors to flames may have been one reason for salting sacrifices?)

Salt is still used as a symbolic gift to seal a covenant or a relationship by the exchange of salt or sharing salted food. God's promise of the continuing kingdom to David and his descendants is described as a Covenant of Salt.  The prophet Elisha's first miracle was anointing an unuseable well at Jericho with salt at God's command to produce sweet water; it is still a major water source to this day. 

By the time of Jesus, the use of salt both in worship and in households was common.  When Jesus described His followers as "the salt of the earth" they would have seen it as part of their traditional sacrificial system, as well as the common use to enhance and preserve food.

 What we find odd is Jesus' warning about salt that has lost its ability to be "salt"; we wonder at how that could happen.  We need to remember that much of the salt they had available was not the pure salt that we buy today; it was a mixture of various mineral salts. In some cases, the actual "salt" was the most readily soluble, and if it got damp, it could get leached out of the mix, not leaving enough available sodium chloride to do the job. The remaining mineral salts were often used on paths and roadways—makes sense, keeps the weeds and mud down. (Salts, in higher concentrations, makes land barren; there are recorded cases of conquered cities made uninhabitable by being “sown with salt”)

So if Jesus told His followers that we are like “salt”, what does it mean? Our lives should add savor to our communities; our presence should enhance worship; our lives should make a difference.   

Qur'an, Questions, and Kabobs

I am sitting here in Abidjan after a 10 hour flight from Dubai. Yesterday was a  most amazing day. I woke up and took myself for a swim in the Persian Gulf. Then I took a taxi to the Al Manar Islamic Studies Center for Friday prayers.  It might frustrate some Christian Brothers & Sisters to hear me say that it was one of the most challenging experiences I've had in a long time.  I sat on the floor in the back of the room and watched 160 men get on their knees, faces to the floor, and prayed to the God of Abraham.  The young man giving the message challenged us to be better husbands, father's, business men, and servants of God. He challenged the men to search their hearts for any sins committed since last Friday. They then needed to repent, and walk the right road.
 After prayers Hamed, the resident theologian, spent an hour answering my questions.  Hunger sent us next door to an Afghanistan restaurant where we ate lamb kabob, pita bread, and rice with our fingers. We spoke and ate for two hours. It was delightful conversation between two men committed to their faith.  We talked about the Qur'an, shariah law, veiled faces, democratic government in a Muslim world, and those committing crimes against humanity in the name of Allah. Our conversation was deep and wide.  It evolved as we spoke and took on an evangelistic tone.  Hamed was showing me the need to recognize Jesus as a prophet, and give up my polytheism.  He challenged me to worship only the one true God.  As our conversation headed to a zenith I shared with Hamed that I agreed with almost everything his young preacher had said.  I could kneel beside him, face to the ground, and worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  But my problem was the blood.  Lambs blood on the doorpost facilitated the exodus.  God gave Abraham a ram to save his son.  There was blood in the tabernacle, and blood in the temple.  Finally, there was blood shed on a cross.  In fact, without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.  As Hamed firmly testified that there is no God but Allah I was reminded of 1 John 5:11-12 which I memorized in 1977.  For this is the record, God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his son.  He who has the son has life and he who has not the son has not eternal life. I concluded by sharing with Hamed that for me to declare Jesus as less than I believe Him to be is as difficult as for Hamed to declare Jesus more than he believes him to be.  I left a Christian, and Hamed remained a Muslim. But I made a new friend, ate a great meal, and respected that Hameds seven year old son sat with us and listened attentively to an hour of prayer, and three hours of adult theology.  I now have a friend who can give informed answers about Islam to my far ranging questions.

I will ccontinue to be challenged by the preachers Friday charge that we live for God as if we are in the midst of an emergency, never to be mired in passive complacency.

Keep prayng that I get everything God has for me in this coming week of prayer, evangelism, deliverance, and instruction.

I love you.

Pastor Paul